Many people I talk to are worried that it seems to them that the ‘wrong’ sort of people are having all the babies – those who are not in stable relationships or who are, rightly or wrongly, perceived to have lower morals and to be less educated. Concerns are voiced especially among my parents’ age group (in their 50’s) who generally had their babies earlier.
This is largely because more educated young people often feel that having a baby will interrupt their hard earned career paths, or they simply settle down later after finishing university, establishing a career, travelling, buying a house, finding a similarly educated partner willing to marry them!, setting themselves up well financially, etc. and then find that they can only have one or two children (often using some sort or fertility treatment) or that they can’t have them at all.
However, this phenomenon is not actually all that new according to a recent study. Childlessness among college-educated women actually peaked in the 1990’s, when about 30 percent had no children, according to a new analysis of U.S. data (although I assume less women overall actually went to university then). Now for the first time a recent study has found that a greater number of highly educated women in their late 30’s and 40’s in the United States are deciding to have children, something that Newswise describes as ‘a dramatic turnaround from recent history’ in an interesting article based on a new study by Ohio University (reported here in the Journal of Population Economics). In fact, fertility increased at almost all ages since the late 1990s or 2000 across all groups of women studied.
Bruce Weinberg, co-author of the study and professor of economics at Ohio State University comments in the article that:
“One of the major economic stories of the second half of the 20th century was that highly educated women were working more and having fewer children. It is too early to definitively say that trend is over, but there is no doubt we have seen fertility rise among older, highly educated women.”
It is not clear from this research whether women are actually leaving their jobs to have children or are employing childcare, but it is clear that they are increasingly opting to have a family – and that’s surely positive for the future of our society.
It is interesting that the findings on women’s fertility were very different depending on education level – giving some weight to my mother’s friend’s concerns. However, Qingyan Shang, an assistant professor at the State University of New York and the first author of the study, reports that the numbers of children are not actually all that different: “For the less educated women, it is more a story about the timing of their fertility. They are having their children earlier now than they used to, but they are not having any more children overall,” he said.
The study notes that, with the data available, there is no completely accurate way to calculate how many older women are using fertility treatments to achieve this higher fertility – and of course fertility treatment often results in twins and triplets so more babies. In their analysis, the researchers found that multiple birth rates began increasing around 1990 – especially among highly educated older women, who would probably be most likely to be using fertility treatments. Among college-graduate women in their early 40s, the multiple birth rate more than tripled from 1990 to 2006.
However, the researchers insist that the use of fertility treatments is not the only cause of the new trend so perhaps some of it really is women going back to good old fashioned families. Dare we be so quaint!