Tuesday, February 13, 2018

Marriage and Fertility

Total fertility continues to decline in the US. And the reason is pretty clear:
Total fertility rates controlling for marital status have not changed very much over the last 15 years. But with marriage coming later, the share of women at peak childbearing ages (20 to 40) who are married has steadily fallen.
One of the biggest fertility declines across the US is taking place in Utah, because age at first marriage is rising for Mormons just like for other women.

The number of children women say they want is not declining; according to the government's "Social Survey", it has hovered around 2.5 since the 1970s, and right now it is 2.7. But the average woman in her 20s today is likely to have only 1.8 children, leaving a gap of 0.9 children per women, the largest ever measured.

I wonder, what does that gap measure? The hard reality of raising children in a two-career world? The physical hardships of older mothers? Or the myriad distractions of life in our 20s that keep people from focusing on marriage until they are too old for a third or even a second child?


JustPeachy said...

I'm that statistic. I wanted four. I grew up as one of four, and it seems like the right number. Out in real life, though, it's difficult to find a marriageable man: someone gainfully employed, wants to have kids, committed to monogamy, shares one's religious and moral convictions... I married at 29, and got everything on my "husband wishlist" except a reasonable financial situation (and frankly, if I'd held out for perfection, it never would have happened. I'm not that pretty). We're doing better over time, but still have to lean on family some to afford the luxury of me being able to raise the kids while they're little. We have two. I'm on the far side of 35 now, and not completely ruling out a third, but... risk for all sorts of complications and disorders goes up steeply at my age, and finances are precarious. Probably not. This is how it happens.

G. Verloren said...

One factor not mentioned is that the cost of raising a child has been steadily climbing for decades.

I'd have to do some digging for more recent data, but I found numbers from 2010 that show "the cost of raising a child from birth to age 18 for a middle-income, two-parent family averaged (not including college)" rose 40% compared to the year 2000.

This is compounded by decades worth of stagnant wages but continually increasing cost of living and inflation in this country.

Simply put, you need a lot more money overall to have a certain number of kids these days than you used to, even after adjusting for other factors. And many people simply don't have that kind of money. It's not enough to merely want to have kids - you also need to be able to afford to have them.

JustPeachy said...

@Verloren: I find the "cost of raising children" statistics really quite strange. There seem to be a lot of unnecessary things in that calculation: a house with a separate room for each kid, sports expenses, music lessons, electronics, new clothes (secondhand costs next to nothing), tutoring, daycare, etc. etc. If a woman gives up a $100k/year career to raise her young children, does that "cost" $100k/year? Is it then discounted for each additional child? If that same woman has more kids, does that mean each kid "costs" less? Bulk discount? (in that case, having more would make more sense, mathematically, no?)

If a woman who only earns $20k/year gives up her crappy customer service job for the far more rewarding task of raising a few decent civilized kids and, as a result, loses $20k/yr in income, but also doesn't have childcare expenses, slashes medical expenses to 1/5 because the kids aren't bringing home every single bug going around the daycare, and saves a bundle by preparing food at home instead of getting by on takeout and heat-and-eat (because you never have time when everyone's working), and puts far fewer miles on the car by not having a commute... is that a net loss or a gain? If it's a loss, how big a loss? do Ms. Master's-in-business' kids actually cost more than Ms. high-school-diploma's kids? Or are wealthier people just spending more on their kids because they have the money to spend? How much of that expense is really necessary?

One does wonder... at what point in our history did offspring go from being calculated as wealth, to being calculated as expenses?

pootrsox said...

My offspring (my *only* offspring, since I knew as an English teacher I'd never have time to be truly "with" more than one kid) never really wanted kids. In her early 30's she felt a faint stirring of the old biological clock, but the significant other of that time was unwilling to commit to marriage. The relationship ended.

Since then she met, became involved with, and ultimately married a fine man, who thought he'd like 1 or 2 when they talked about it. Then his sister had a premie, who was in the NICU for 2 months. Sis and her husband have become worse than helicopter parents: they literally never put the baby down except when she was sleeping for the first year of her life. And even now, after almost 2 years, they're rather absurdly protective. (Yes, I understand why, but it's hard on everyone else around.)

Evidently, my son-in-law was so off-put by what appeared to be "how to have a baby" that he's lost interest. He has a few years yet (he's 34) but my daughter will be 40 this summer and has never had a truly reliable reproductive system. So I'm guessing she'll be the end of the family line.

I've never been particularly enamoured of grandmotherhood, so I'm fine with that. My equivalent on the husband's side not so much.

Besides, both of them race cars; it's time-consuming and expensive. I don't think *either* of them is interested enough in kids to give that up.

Strangely, kids *love* my daughter-- they flock around her like she's a giant animatronic toy for them to play with. And she indulges them.

G. Verloren said...


You can argue about the metrics used, and prefer one set of metrics over another, but in the end, the cost of raising a child has been steadily increasing for decades across essentially all metrics.

As for when children stopped being considered wealth and started being considered expenses, that at least in part appears to have coincided with the introduction of child labor laws and the drastic drops in infant mortality brought on by modern medicine and sanitation.

It also, likewise, generally coincides with a shift away from economies based chiefly around subsistance agriculture. It wasn't that long ago in this country that the vast majority of people were poor, uneducated farmers working small plots of land almost purely to feed themselves and their families - only three or four generations back, in most cases.

Additionally, it further coincides with things like the widespread adoption of compulsory education, literacy rates rocketing skyward, and at least some degree of social mobility becoming a reality even for the poor masses.

It used to be that children were valuable because it was difficult to keep them alive, and you could put them to work all day in the fields or in the early factories and take all their wages from them. But once children were likely to survive infancy, and once they could no longer be exploited as child labor, their value dropped substantially, and no longer served to directly match or outweigh the cost of raising them.

Instead of a short term investment with fairly immediate payouts, it became a long term investment which you had to wait decades to see any real profit from. The notion was that the youth would go on to become successful, and would support their parents in their old age. But that expectation itself has slowly eroded as well, for a variety of complicated reasons.

Of course, nowadays the general cultural valuation is that children aren't property - they're human beings. Some might lament that change in worldview, but I for one do not.

Anonymous said...

In a world in which, for whatever reasons, marriage and children are no longer seen as necessary or inevitable, and where it is no longer shameful if one does not do them, but in which they still represent challenges with real consequences for failure (in the broadest sense, as in being a bad parent, never really being adequate economically, etc.), it is certainly understandable that many people would put them off as long as possible. While many women may tell an interviewer that they want three children, or whatever, they may understandably hesitate when it comes to having a baby NOW, or THIS YEAR. How about next year instead? Likewise many people may want to get married, but things look very different when it comes down to deciding to marry THIS PERSON, NOW.

On some level, civilization is an effort to palliate and/or put off the inevitable individual failure that reality imposes on us as living beings. Think of the simply spectacular, astounding rates of failure and death that are an integral part of most biological life. One may meet one challenge, or another, but sooner or later you'll be the antelope that couldn't run fast enough, the parent who couldn't love their child, the employee who became redundant--you'll be something failed. For a lot of humans, civilization is about making all that hurt less, and come less often. If a risk is not imposed by necessity or shame, most humans (including our heroic Laschian ancestors) will avoid it most of the time.

leif said...

perhaps some people simply don't want them. we didn't, and are happily childless.