The educated want more children than they have

By Razib Khan | September 27, 2011 2:30 pm

 

The post below is probably going to elicit a lot of comments. Some of it will repeat chestnuts of historical wisdom which illustrate the ignorance of the typical modern. For example, it is false that the lower classes always have more children than the upper classes. In general it is the reverse, because the lower orders are more squeezed on the Malthusian margins (this explains how downward social mobility worked in early modern Europe; the less successful children of the elites drifted down to replace the masses who were not replacing themselves).

In any case, Angela M. Cable asks:

Has it not occurred to anyone that perhaps the more educated a woman is, the less she *wants* children. How do we know these women are not child-free as opposed to child-less?

If I was Angela I would go look for the literature on this. I’m not one to ask questions imperiously without taking the time out to actually do some legwork. But I’m a peculiar beast. Let’s satisfy Ms. Cable’s curiosity, which probably remains unsated by any compulsion to find out the truth of the matter. The General Social Survey has a variable which asks the ideal number of children an individual would like to have. Let’s replicate the analysis with that variable, and look at the difference between ideal and realized number of children.


 

Mean number of children of women by highest degree
attained for age cohorts surveyed after year 2000
Highest degree 1951-1960 1961-1970 1971-1980
Less than HS 2.98 2.78 2.39
HS 2.08 2.05 1.5
Junior College 2.06 1.96 1.52
Bachelor 1.49 1.47 0.85
Graduate 1.46 1.37 0.75
Mean ideal number of children of women by highest degree
attained for age cohorts surveyed after year 2000
Highest degree 1951-1960 1961-1970 1971-1980
Less than HS 2.84 3.26 3.6
HS 3.03 3 2.92
Junior College 3.72 3.17 3.11
Bachelor 3.09 3.14 3.02
Graduate 2.78 3.23 2.9
Different between mean ideal number of children and mean number of children of women by highest degree
attained for age cohorts surveyed after year 2000
Highest degree 1951-1960 1961-1970 1971-1980
Less than HS -0.14 0.48 1.21
HS 0.95 0.95 1.42
Junior College 1.66 1.21 1.59
Bachelor 1.6 1.67 2.17
Graduate 1.32 1.86 2.15

Some of the difference has to be the fact that more educated women have children later. So they’ll get closer to their “goal.” But I don’t think all of it is due to that. Interestingly the variation in the ideal number of children is smaller than that of the realized number of children. That suggests that the gap between educated and uneducated isn’t simply an ideological preference chasm.

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Culture
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  • http://jonfwilkins.blogspot.com Jon Wilkins

    So, do the age cohort dates refer to the birth years?

  • http://blogs.discovermagazine.com/gnxp Razib Khan

    yes.

  • Clark

    That’s fascinating. My wife was commenting that people from back east judge her for having 3 kids (although that’s not a lot out here) but these statistics suggest that 3 really is the ideal for many women.

    I wonder if there are region effects to this?

  • http://blogs.discovermagazine.com/gnxp Razib Khan

    #3, to my surprise, not really much of a regional effect! perhaps the sample size should be larger to get a finer grain. i’ve encountered the more-than-2-child-is-taboo as well. a lot of it might be group conformity?

  • Nameless_

    This seems directly relevant (at least the first half)

    http://youarenotsosmart.com/2010/10/27/procrastination/

  • chris

    I suppose that the 1971-1980 cohort hasn’t finished having kids, so the gap between actual and ideal is inflated for them. Doesn’t appear to make much difference.

  • Jason Malloy

    If we could partition these same questions into “planned” and “unplanned” children, the more educated women would probably appear closer to their ideal number of children than less the educated women. …Check it:

    “We examine how completed fertility varies by women’s education, differentiating between intended and unintended births. We find that the education gradient on fertility comes largely from unintended childbearing, and it is not explained by child-bearing desires or opportunity costs, the two most common explanations in previous research. Less-educated women want no more children than the more educated, so this factor explains none of their higher completed fertility.”

  • http://www.quora.com/Alex-K-Chen Alex K. Chen (InquilineKea)

    Hmm: I do have a thought: Here’s a definite region where we could significantly reduce the unemployment problem. The educated have very little time – it’s often this time that prevents them from raising children. Many of them also willing to spend money to have more time (this is explained by the growing popularity of TaskRabbit – see http://www.quora.com/Are-there-any-startups-that-could-help-address-our-unemployment-issues-at-scale-i-e-need-a-lot-of-labor ). So it’s possible that the prospect of extended babysitting (and other related duties) could help alleviate the time-related stresses of parenting *and* unemployment at the same time!

  • ben g

    As an undergrad, I actually wrote a research summary on teenage childbearing for a behavior genetics lab, which was never published. The two surprising things from the research:

    -There doesn’t seem to be much of a negative effect to early childbirth, economically or psychologically. There’s tons of correlational studies out there which claim to find terrible effects, but when you compare the teen mother to her sister there’s no significant difference. Actually, one study found a small economic boost because of teenage mothers taking a faster track to college.

    -No one has done a twin study of teenage childbearing. This, despite strong inter-generational transmission, familial aggreation, and the obvious role of heritable traits like self-inhibition, conscientousness, IQ, etc. In fact, it’s apparently taboo to mention any of those for fear of blaming the victim. The research, like most of developmental psychology is based on the outdated blank-slate model.

  • http://lorenzo-thinkingoutaloud.blogspot.com/ Lorenzo from Oz

    The difference between expressed preference and revealed preference perhaps? (The latter in particular incorporates actual trade-offs rather than abstracting away from them somewhat.)

  • Nameless_

    “If we could partition these same questions into “planned” and “unplanned” children, the more educated women would probably appear closer to their ideal number of children than less the educated women”

    No. The story in the data is that all women, regardless of education, consistently claim that they want to have 3 children (give or take), but equally consistently end up with an average of 1.5, excluding unplanned pregnancies. For a possible explanation, see my link above. You’d probably see an analogous gap between the percentage of people who answer “yes” to questions “do you want to watch the movie ‘Schindler’s List’, learn a foreign language, or climb Kilimanjaro before you die”, and the percentage of people who actually do so.

    But, among the least educated, you have to add 1 to 1.5 unplanned children/woman, which gets them closer to their claimed ideal.

  • http://backreaction.blogspot.com/ Bee

    Sorry to be a nuisance, but might you add what country(ies?) the respondents are from?

  • http://blogs.discovermagazine.com/gnxp Razib Khan

    #12, the greatest nation in the world. USA! USA! USA!

  • fish

    Interesting. But I think the ideal number can change with age, education, and experience. My wife and I are are expecting our second child. Initially, before our current child was born we were on the 3-4 kids ideal, now it is 2 and that’s enough. Essentially, between our jobs, we just don’t have the time we would want to spend on our kids – specially if we had more than two. She could become a stay at home mom, but then she feels her education would have been wasted. On a side note, the director of the facility I work at (a government facility) has 5 kids!

  • Archduke

    I always find this distinction between “planned” and “unplanned” births somewhat laughable, as if you can plan a pregnancy like planning a vacation. Almost everytime a couple of childbearing age has sexual relations there is the possibility of pregnancy, but the contraceptive mentality assumes that pregnancy can be so easily planned.

    The contraceptive mindset is sex without pregnancy but we’re now in the post-contraceptive phase of pregnancy with out sex — ie IVF.

    My wife and I happen to have 5 children and we’re both well-educated and my wife has cut back from full time employment to a consulting business that gives her a better balance of work and family. And the fact is, we know pelnty of couples with 5 or more children in our area, all of whome are educated professionals.

  • Cathy

    Chalk me up as one of those child-free, graduate educated women. Until genetics comes up with a cure for the entire range of mental illnesses from my family and my husband’s family combined, I love my children enough not to have them. We’ve looked into adopting or fostering instead, but I need to actually finish graduate school first.

  • Jacob Roberson

    ben g Says:

    As an undergrad, I actually wrote a research summary on teenage childbearing for a behavior genetics lab, which was never published. The two surprising things from the research:

    -There doesn’t seem to be much of a negative effect to early childbirth, economically or psychologically.

    That’s odd. I’m one of those “underclass” types whose family is busy accidentally making the babies at the wrong age, and (here comes the anecdote-trumps-real-science moment) it sure seems to be a pain to deal with. But then again what do I know? This is what real stats is for.

    One important question: Was this sampled cohort-style or geographically? “Undergrad” suggests not cohort atleast, which somewhat invalidates.

  • 5371

    I fear your first paragraph is too heavily informed by the dubious work of G. Clark. In any case, whatever the result of comparing the number of surviving descendants of higher and lower social strata, drastically reduced family size first appeared in modern Europe among the uppermost French nobility, early in the 18th century.

  • Alam

    Re #15 “The contraceptive mindset is sex without pregnancy but we’re now in the post-contraceptive phase of pregnancy with out sex — ie IVF”

    But IVF still costs more than 12 grand, even if the sperms, eggs and (surrogate) pregnancy are all free !

    Not many can afford it , even with insurance

  • http://berkekeysscot@wordpress.com Margaret Tong

    Then are those of us who are ‘recycled.’ Conceived by accident and recycled to couples who cannot conceive.

  • Douglas Knight

    fish, the numbers claim to have been surveyed after the year 2000, largely after childbearing.

  • http://www.imnotherzog.wordpress.com Fake Herzog

    Related to this post and the previous one, especially Greg Cochran’s concern about Western Civilization being able to sustain itself, maybe Israel will turn out to be “a light to the nations” (Isaiah 42:6) as they seem to be the only Western country willing to crank out the kids:

    http://www.ynetnews.com/articles/0,7340,L-4127858,00.html

  • pconroy

    @22,
    I consider Israel to be a Middle Eastern country. Yes they do have a high birth rate, but the average IQ is around 92, which is low by Western standards.

    Now when I look at myself and my first cousins – all Irish and largely in the 30-mid40’s, or similar to the 1971-80 cohort above. Almost all are professional and average family size is around 4 kids. The families with 5 or more kids all feature professional but stay-at-home Moms.

    Living in Brooklyn, New York, with 3 kids myself, I can say that the biggest limiting factor on kids is the cost of 0-5 childcare. For 2 under 3 yo kids, we pay our Nanny – including taxes – about $50,000 pa.

  • Nameless_

    @23, the IQ of Israel is probably depressed by the minority Arab population. For the neighboring Arab countries, Lynn gives IQs of 84 (Jordan), 83 (Syria), and 82 (Lebanon). And even so the numbers given for Israel are surprisingly low – there are many studies showing that Ashkenazi Jews have higher scores (on average) than Western whites.

  • Hisham

    There is this controversial book I was skimming through few days ago, the Bell Curve, and it sort of mentioned that the number of kids is a reverse function of the degree of education

    http://www.indiana.edu/~intell/bellcurve.shtml#part1

  • http://www.imnotherzog.wordpress.com Fake Herzog

    @24 — I don’t want to stray too far off topic, but the IQ numbers for Israel might be depressed by Sephardic Jews. I suspect they never developed the high IQ that the Ashkenazi did as theorized by Cochran, et. al.

  • Nameless_

    Indeed, I looked up Israel in Lynn’s book on books.google.com, he gives the IQ of 100 for Israeli Ashkenazi Jews, 88 for Israeli Sephardic Jews, and Arabs are apparently not included in the average at all! The reference he gives is Kaniel & Fisherman (1991), and I can’t see the full text, but the abstract clearly refers to “Israeli Jews” rather than simply “Israeli children”.

  • http://christiandrugrehab.us/ Simon

    I’m not seeing where these statistics are from – are they from Israel or the U.S?

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This blog is about evolution, genetics, genomics and their interstices. Please beware that comments are aggressively moderated. Uncivil or churlish comments will likely get you banned immediately, so make any contribution count!

About Razib Khan

I have degrees in biology and biochemistry, a passion for genetics, history, and philosophy, and shrimp is my favorite food. In relation to nationality I'm a American Northwesterner, in politics I'm a reactionary, and as for religion I have none (I'm an atheist). If you want to know more, see the links at http://www.razib.com

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