Razib Khan One-stop-shopping for all of my content

September 27, 2011

A college degree as contraceptive

Filed under: Culture,natalism — Razib Khan @ 11:57 am

Update: The Slate piece is not accurately representing the original research:

Lerner’s article is spreading misinformation. What the Guttmacher Institute study shows is not that the educated are having fewer children vis a vis the uneducated, but that there is a growing gap in family planning: the children of the uneducated are increasingly unplanned.

Knocked Up and Knocked Down: Why America’s widening fertility class divide is a problem:

You hear about the “haves” versus the “have-nots,” but not so much about the “have-one-or-nones” versus the “have-a-fews.” This, though, is how you might characterize the stark and growing fertility class divide in the United States. Two new studies bring the contrasting reproductive profiles of rich and poor women into sharp relief. One, from the Guttmacher Institute, shows that the rates of unplanned pregnancies and births among poor women now dwarf the fertility rates of wealthier women, and finds that the gap between the two groups has widened significantly over the past five years. The other, by the Center for Work-Life Policy, documents rates of childlessness among corporate professional women that are higher than the childlessness rates of some European countries experiencing fertility crises.

Childlessness has increased across most demographic groups but is still highest among professionals. Indeed, according to an analysis of census data conducted by the Pew Research Center, about one quarter of all women with bachelor’s degrees and higher in the United States wind up childless. (As Pew notes, for women with higher degrees, that number is actually slightly lower than it was in the early 1990s—but it is still very high.) By comparison, in England, which has one of the highest percentages of women without children in the world, 22 percent of all women are childless. According to the new Center for Work-Life Policy study, 43 percent of the women in their sample of corporate professionals between the ages of 33 and 46 were childless. The rate of childlessness among the Asian American professional women in the study was a staggering 53 percent.

At the same time, the numbers of both unplanned pregnancies and births among poor women have climbed steadily in recent years. About half of all pregnancies in this country are unplanned, with poor women now five times more likely than higher-income women to have an unplanned pregnancy, and six times more likely to have an unplanned birth, according to the Guttmacher Institute’s recent analysis of government data.

It being Slate, the author does not broach what I like to term the “Idiocracy hypothesis”. I invite you to make some observations at a Walmart Supercenter as you stand behind the pregnant 16 year old holding her adorable chubby infant, and then deny the possibility of this outcome. But you don’t need to “go there.” If you have a strong environmental leaning you can still admit that the cultural traits of the middle class may be heritable through acquisition in childhood, while the dysfunctional tendencies of the underclass can also be perpetuated by modeling the behavior of parents and peers. The skewed parental origins of the next generation, and the inferred long term divergence in reproductive output, are issues of some consequence for the broader social order. Systems which shift out of equilibrium may eventually reach a new “stable state,” and one not to our liking.

In any case, here is some General Social Survey data on the mean number of children by age cohort broken down by education for women surveyed after the year 2000. Basically you’re looking at the number of children that women born in the 50s, 60s, and 70s, had by the 2000s.

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


Solutions? One quick one made by Randall Parker is to allow for easier acceleration of education of the academically gifted. Many school districts seem to discourage skipping grades from what I have seen for practical social reasons. But currently women with professional aspirations have a difficult time having children during their peak fertility years because of the necessary demands on their time of university and graduate or professional school. It is of course true that putting 14 year old teens in classes with 18 year old young adults is going to cause problems, but if a woman can make it out of medical school and into her residency around 22, rather than 26, it is going to be a huge difference in terms of options in their early 30s (beyond the peak fertility years, but not very much).


June 27, 2010

Why educated women are having children

Filed under: Culture,Data Analysis,Education,natalism,Women — Razib Khan @ 9:22 am

Matt Yglesias has posted some charts showing that

1) Childlessness among women is becoming more common

2) The variation of this state by education is disappearing

Here’s the chart which illustrates the second phenomenon:


I think the reason this may be occurring is a dilution of the sample bias of women who have higher education in relation to the general ppoulation. In other words, as more women attain advanced degrees the pool of those women become less atypical vis-a-vis the general population

To gauge the shift in education and peculiarity I only needed a few variables in the General Social Survey. I limited SEX to women, YEAR to 1992-1994 and 2006-2008, DEGREE allowed me to break down educational attainment, and finally GOD was a variable which probed them on a culturally indicative variable.

First you can see women as a whole have become more well educated. This is a well known dynamic. The absolute change in the proportion of women who have advanced degrees is small, only a few percent, but in the GSS the proportion increase is around 50%. This includes masters and doctorates into one category.


The sample sizes for GOD across the periods of interest are small, but look at the enormous increase in the proportion who have no doubts in the existence of God. There was no change in this result in the general population across this time period.


UPDATE: For the second chart I forgot to note that that’s only women with advanced degrees.

June 21, 2010

To be fruitful and multiply

Filed under: Culture,natalism — Razib Khan @ 8:14 am

Over at The Wall Street Journal Bryan Caplan has an op-ed, The Breeders’ Cup: Social science may suggest that kids drain their parents’ happiness, but there’s evidence that good parenting is less work and more fun than people think. Bryan Caplan makes the case for having more children. Much of the op-ed focuses on behavior genetic insight as to the relative lack of long term importance of shared environment (read: parental environmental input). But the section on happiness and diminishing returns on the misery cost of children piqued my interest:

…closer look at the General Social Survey also reveals that child No. 1 does almost all the damage. Otherwise identical people with one child instead of none are 5.6 percentage points less likely to be very happy. Beyond that, additional children are almost a happiness free lunch. Each child after the first reduces your probability of being very happy by a mere .6 percentage points.

The op-ed is a precis of Caplan’s next book, Selfish Reasons to Have Kids. Being an economist he focuses on rational individual behavior, but I want to point to another issue: group norms. In the left-liberal progressive post-graduate educated circles which I come into contact with in the USA childlessness is not uncommon, and bears no stigma (on the contrary, I hear often of implicit and explicit pressure on graduate students to forgo children for the sake of maximizing labor hour input into research over one’s lifetime from advisors). On the other hand, the norm of a two-child family is also very strong, and going above replacement brings upon you a fair amount of attention. The rationale here is often environmental, more children = more of a carbon footprint. But my friend Gregory Cochran has stated that as an individual who is well above replacement whose social milieu is more conservative that he perceives that more than two children is also perceived as deviant in Middle American society. In other words, the reasoning may differ, but the intuition is the same (in Italy the reasoning mostly involves the cost of raising children from the perspective of parents, both in cash and time).

The numbers in the General Social Survey tell the tale. In 1972 42% of adults had more than 2 children. In 2008 32% did. More relevantly in 1972 47% of adults between the ages of 25 and 45 had more than 2 children. In 2008 the figure for that age group is 27% for those with more than 2 children.

Of course the numbers mix up a lot of different subcultures. One anecdote I’d like to relate is a conversation I had with a secular left-of-center university educated couple. They expressed the aspiration toward 4 children. I asked them out of curiosity about the population control issue, and they looked at me like I was joking. It needs to be mentioned that they weren’t American, rather they were from a Northern European country which seems on the exterior to resemble the United States very much. But it reminds us of the importance of group norms in shaping life choices and expectations, the implicit framework for our explicit choices.

All that goes to my point that Bryan Caplan’s project will be most effective among demographics geared toward prioritizing individual choice, analysis and utility maximization, as opposed to relying upon the wisdom of group norms. Economists, quantitative social science and finance types, libertarians, etc.

Note: Here’s Will Wilkinson’s rebuttal to Caplan’s empirical case in regards to happiness.

May 18, 2010

Fecundity vs. lesbianism; what’s more atypical?

Filed under: Anthroplogy,antonin scalia,Culture,lesbianism,natalism — Razib Khan @ 9:52 pm

Sex Lives of Supreme Court Justices:

Now that the sex lives of Supreme Court justices have become grist for commentators, we are finally free to discuss a question formerly only whispered about in the shadows: Why does Justice Antonin Scalia, by common consent the leading intellectual force on the Court, have nine children? Is this normal? Or should I say “normal,” as some people choose to define it? Can he represent the views of ordinary Americans when he practices such a minority lifestyle? After all, having nine children is far more unusual in this country than, say, being a lesbian.

The GSS can answer this question. Sort of. It turns out that the highest number of children it asks about are “8 or more.” Limiting the sample to 1998-2008 so it has some contemporary relevance, ~1% of respondents in the GSS has 8 or more children. But that’s not quite fair, since many respondents are young adults, or just starting their families. Limiting the sample to those who are 60 years or older you have ~3.5%. Limiting to 70 and above it goes up to ~4.5%. Scalia is 74 years old, so I think it might be appropriate to judge him by his generation, though the relative gerontocracy of the Supreme Court, and American politics in general, might warrant examination. In 2008 in the GSS asked about sexual orientation, and ~2% of women stated they were lesbian, gay or homosexual. So whether Scalia is more abnormal than a lesbian measured against the general population depends on the reference population you use. For his generation, probably not, but for this generation, perhaps.

Powered by WordPress