Tuesday, May 06, 2008

More on the fertility bust

In two prior posts, reasons for long-term fertility declines among middle-class Americans were disussed.

The graph above (Fertility and abortion rates in the United States, 1960–2002. Hamilton, Brady E.; Ventura, Stephanie J. International Journal of Andrology, Feb 2006, Vol. 29 Issue 1, p34-45) shows overall fertility trends since 1930.

First, the large 1940-1958 increase corresponds with the prosperity of the period. After years of hardship, Americans didn't simply turn into mega-consumers like crazy when times turned for the better: following where the country was at culturally, they devoted a lot of their abundance on large families. Still, the pattern points to an economic as well as a cultural explanation.

But what about the subsequent fertility collapse of the 1960s? That was also a prosperous period, but the birth rate dropped by half. An obvious candidate is the pill: it gave couples the control over pregnancies, but why choose fewer when the money is so good?

In my view, an important part of the story was growing consumerism. The Boob Tube entered the scene, and Americans developed a real taste for stuff. Couples didn't just want a house, they wanted a huge one in the suburbs. They didn't just want a car; they wanted a Cadillac.

People bought like crazy, but soon realized that Dad's paycheck--large though it was--was not big enough. The service economy was growing, and it seduced more and more married women with better and better wages. Education is necessary for some jobs, so young girls turned increasingly to school and then the workplace, and something had to give. So family size dropped from 3 or 4 to 1 or 2. The graph shows us a bottoming out in the early 70s, and we've basically been there since.

All this happened before the economic turning point of 1973--the oil shock. So, at most, the subsequent loss of middle-income jobs, etc., can only help explain why fertility stayed down, not what caused the collapse in the first place.

Now, you might counter that my consumerism argument is an economic one and so supports economic determinism. While the changing of American values, standards, and tastes is certainly related to the marketplace, it is nevertheless cultural. Those three items I just mentioned--values, standards, and tastes--are cultural and have been manipulated by cultural elites. Madison Avenue being at the top of the list.

A standard comment among middle-class folks is that you just can't afford kids now. But people are "kidding" themselves. What they are really saying is that you have to live a little more like Grandpa did to have a large family, and consumption is simply more important.

Madison Avenue saw you comin'.

20 comments:

Anonymous said...

Supposing materialism has been on a rise since the 1960s and continues to rise to this day, why hasn't fertility continued to fall? The cost of children keeps going up and people's desire for stuff is going up as well.

Another possible factor in the fertility decline is the desire for everyone to have a college education. A degree knocks a good four years off a woman's fertile years.

El Presidente said...

"But what about the subsequent fertility collapse of the 1960s? That was also a prosperous period, but the birth rate dropped by half. An obvious candidate is the pill: it gave couples the control over pregnancies, but why choose fewer when the money is so good?

In my view, an important part of the story was growing consumerism. The Boob Tube entered the scene, and Americans developed a real taste for stuff. Couples didn't just want a house, they wanted a huge one in the suburbs. They didn't just want a car; they wanted a Cadillac."

I believe both you and James Bowery are incorrect as to the cause of the fall in white fertility rates in the US.

Bowery blames the pill and contraception for the fall, however, those two factors don't explain why fertility was close to below replacement in the decades before the baby boom when contraception was not really available.

Secondly, leftist cultural influences do not explain why socially conservative first world East Asian nations saw collapses in fertility in recent decades, nations such as Japan, China, South Korea, Singapore, et etc.

All those countries are very socially conservative and have no feminist movements of any note, yet they have even lower fertility rates than Europeans. Left Wing Culture is not a sufficent answer to this problem.

The real cause of fallen fertility rates are twofold:

1) Fertility rates per 1000 white women have been increasing among white women in the 30-45 age group since the mid 1980's. But rates per 1000 fell even more among white women in the 18-25 age group because of delayed entry of eligible young white men into the labor market due to the time needed for young white men to get a college degree so they can earn enough to raise a family. (Fertility rates for white women in the 25-29 age group have essentially been flat since 1989)

2) The second reason for fallen fertility rates among white women is the fact that white women entered the labor force in the late 1960's instead of staying home and raising children.

Fertility rates in the US actually fell quite a bit in the late 19th Century and early 20th Century as women entered the workforce in large numbers due to the economic changes caused by the industrial revolution.

Because of the industrial revolution, white women had the option of working in white collar jobs instead of staying on the farm and having 8 white babies.

Before the industrial revolution, most work involved too much back breaking physical labor for physically weaker women to take part in the labor market in any significant numbers.

The baby boom happened because prosperity and physical comfort was high enough after the war that women could afford to stay home and have babies and bake cookies all day. In the late 1960's and early 1970's, women started leaving the home and working in white collar jobs in large numbers because economic factors forced them to do so (Feminism is not really to blame for these economic changes). Once female labor force participation increased, the baby boom came to an end.

If WNs want to raise the birth rate they need to promote:

1) Putting intelligent white men on fast tracked high school and college education courses so they can enter the work force with a college degree faster, ie, become working MEN with BALLS earlier, rather than extending childhood into their 20's by being spoiled on a college campus listening to Marxist humanities proffesors spew bullshit.

(How about eliminating the increasingly useless college core curriculum needed to graduate so that white men can focus on their major exclusively and graduate in 2-3 years instead of 4-5 years?).

2) Use tax cuts, paid maternity leave, incentives for temporary work for white women so they can afford to stay home rather than work, and especially target those incentives at the 18-29 age group for white women.

Peter said...

Supposing materialism has been on a rise since the 1960s and continues to rise to this day, why hasn't fertility continued to fall? The cost of children keeps going up and people's desire for stuff is going up as well.

Most likely because there's an effective floor on fertility. People may want fewer children than in past generations, but that doesn't necessarily mean they want no children.

El President said...

http://www.cdc.gov/nchs/data/nvsr/nvsr56/nvsr56_06.pdf

See the above PDF on page 47 for the birth rates per 1000 for white women and see how they have changed since 1989.

RKU said...

The second reason for fallen fertility rates among white women is the fact that white women entered the labor force in the late 1960's instead of staying home and raising children.

Actually, hasn't the labor force participation rate for Japanese women been extremely low (relative to America/Europe) for the last few decades, but Japan's birth rate is also extremely low?

Anonymous said...

Secondly, leftist cultural influences do not explain why socially conservative first world East Asian nations saw collapses in fertility in recent decades, nations such as Japan, China, South Korea, Singapore, et etc.

The social conservativism of the Dharmic East Asian nations is different from that of Western civilization. They have a strict patriarchal world-view, but they don't believe they need to "be fruitful and multiply".

Jim Bowery said...

It simply is not plausible that an increase in the cost of real estate, as certainly occurred post-1973, would have virtually no impact on the total fertility rate -- all else being equal. The "McMansion" argument, while appealing, really isn't adequate. People have been paying huge sums of money, in real terms, for houses no more luxurious than the Levittown "boxes made of ticky tacky", relative to the prices for those homes in the 1950s.

An alternate explanation, more in line with "feminism", as well as being in line with the data presented, is what might be called "household patriarchy" which takes on two basic types:

Environmentally imposed patriarchy and socially (culturally) imposed patriarchy.

Basically, if the social status of the male in the household is high, the female will tend to become pregnant by him. This has the benefit of not only explaining the data, but also of plausibility:

Starting in the 1960's the social status of males started declining substantially -- even more so for white males. Certainly the television had a role to play here -- perhaps THE major role. And, certainly, a rise in a woman's TV commercial-driven expectations of her husband's earning power would tend to lower his status in the household. But there were other forces lowering masculine household status and some of those forces were also coming over the TV from indifferent, if not hostile, elites located thousands of miles from the affected household.

The data most interesting to me here are the by-State fertility rates topped by Utah and Alaska. Utah's Mormonism imposes patriarchy in the household socially by declaring as a matter of religious principle, the husband to be the moral equivalent of Christ in the home. Alaska's harsh environment imposes patriarchy in the household.

So -- when the real cost of reproduction rises substantially as it did post 1973, and women went into the workplace out of necessity and ideology even more than they did out of avarice during the 1960s, why didn't we see a further drop in the fertility rates? (We did, by the way, see an increase in the abortion rates peaking about when we would have expected given the entry of the baby boom to early adulthood.) I suspect the answer has to do with what might be thought of as perceived environmental (as opposed to household) capacity for children being so high circa 1980 compared to the 1960s when the Boomers were still children: The adult to child ratio in the 1960s was much lower than it was in the late 1970s and early 1980s. This may have compensated somewhat for what otherwise would have been an even more severe drop in fertility rate post-1973 (especially early 1980s).

BTW: Since the cases of Alaska and Utah seem so informative, it might valuable to gather by-State data for the early years of this so-called "demographic transition".

El Presidente said...

"Actually, hasn't the labor force participation rate for Japanese women been extremely low (relative to America/Europe) for the last few decades, but Japan's birth rate is also extremely low?"

Yes, relative to other advanced nations, but their participation rate is still much higher than in third world countries such as Yemen.

Nations such as France and Sweden have been able to use subsidized childcare to boost their fertility rates to 1.8, or higher.

Subsidized childcare seems to help fertility because it alleviates the opportunity cost women endure by having children, ie, women in France and Sweden don't have to choose between having children and working, subsidized daycare allows them to both work and have children.

Subsidized childcare significantly raised birth rates for Swedish and French women in the 30-45 age group, but those countries cannot *quite* get above 2.07 children needed for replacement because childcare does not raise fertility in the very fertile 18-29 age group because it takes a few years for young women to get a solid financial foundation to have children.

My opinion, and this is just my theory, is that the best way to raise birth in the 18-29 age group - and so raise births beyond 2.07 TFR - is to make it more affordable for women to stay home and raise children rather than work.

El Presidente said...

"The data most interesting to me here are the by-State fertility rates topped by Utah and Alaska. Utah's Mormonism imposes patriarchy in the household socially by declaring as a matter of religious principle, the husband to be the moral equivalent of Christ in the home. Alaska's harsh environment imposes patriarchy in the household."

As of 2002, Utahs white birth rate was a healthy 2.45.

But this rate is probably much lower than what it was during the peak of the baby boom years when the overall white TFR in America was over 3.5. During the baby boom, Utah's white birth rate was probably 4.5 or higher.

Religion and patriarchy probably explain why Utah's white TFR has not fallen below 2.07 replacement level, however, it is still reasonable to assume that if it were easier for young Utah women to be stay at home moms their fertility rate would be substantially higher.

Ron Guhname said...

Mormons are a perfect example of what I am talking about. Unlike other middle-class folks, they do not have the mentality that "We'll have kids when they fit in the budget." A budget, by the way, that includes a lot self-indulgent fat.

They believe God commands them to have large families, and that He will provide. So they get married and have kids while they're still in school, and before they have good jobs, and they are forced to live more modestly. They can't buy into conumerism like the rest of us because in a war between God and Madison Ave., God wins.

Jim Bowery said...

How do you explain Alaska, Ron?

Ron Guhname said...

I suspect that this is part of it:

"The fertility rate and live birth rates for Alaska Native women, 15 to 44 years of age is nearly double that of the combined rate of all races in the U.S."

(http://www.aaanativearts.com/alaskan-natives/index.html)

Arizona is tied with Alaska, perhaps for the same reason. Plus, Mountain States folks (and I suspect Alaska is similar) known for their social conservatism, evidently tend to have bigger families.

(http://www.prb.org/Datafinder/Topic/Bar.aspx?sort=v&order=d&variable=701)

El Presidente said...

Now that I think about it, I believe one could make a convincing case that feminism was made possible only by the industrial revolution.

Before the Industrial Revolution, women were dependent on men, both husbands and sons, for their survival because most jobs involved back breaking work on farms.

Once the Industrial Revolution and Urbanization kicked into high gear, new white collar jobs that did not involve back breaking work sprung up and women could become financially independent.

As technology progressed, women were no longer reliant on men to earn a paycheck, they could earn a paycheck on their own.

As women become financially independent due rapid economic changes, they became socially independent and so Feminism was allowed to come into existence.

Certainly, an ideology like Feminism would not have arisen in, say, Ancient Rome because women absolutely had to have a husband or sons to support them.

SFG said...

Here's a question I have for conservatives:

You support a high fertility rate. Doesn't this lead inexorably to increased population density, urbanism, and increased liberalism?

Ron Guhname said...

sfg: Why do liberals want population reduction, which would encourage small-town life and conservatism?

Anonymous said...

My desire regarding fertility is simple.
I want the aggregate TFR for the entire population to be close to 2.
I want the TFR for the group that I belong to to be greater than the TFR of any substantially sized identifiable group.

This is what most people want I suspect if they're willing to be honest with themselves. Being a minority sucks, whether you're a 'market dominant minority' or the more familiar underachieving variety.

Jason Malloy said...

Didn't we already agree just a few short weeks ago that having children does not make people happy?

So where is the mystery? Why would an expensive, demanding, and unrewarding lifestyle choice become more popular with the advent of secularism, birth control, abortion, and female self-sufficiency?

Anonymous said...

Consumption functions as a status symbol in western societies. Men instinctively pursue activities that raise their status and women are attracted to high status men. A couple that decides to live a less materialistic life might end up in a situation where the woman feels her husband isn't good enough.

SFG said...

sfg: Why do liberals want population reduction, which would encourage small-town life and conservatism?

Well, there are two questions here.

First, I could contest your premise: while increasing population density does lead to urbanization sooner or later, there's no reason people would necessarily go to smaller cities; you could wind up like a lot of European countries where half of everyone lives in the capital city. (Here it'd be NY/LA/Chicago.)

Second, there's an interesting possibility you bring up: that political programs may be effectively self-limiting. Immigration and the welfare state are both supported by liberals, but they conflict.
The Law of Unintended Consequences doesn't just apply to liberals, you know. ;)

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Monday, 12 May 2008
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