Saturday, February 28, 2009

Follow-up on happiness and fertility

There is one general and two specific points I'd like to make in relation to the previous post. First, in looking at the relationship between fertility and self-described happiness, there are many things associated with having children that are also associated with happiness. The purpose here is to provide a little more empirical insight into the issue. But certainty would require an objective measure of happiness, a difficult idea in itself, and a way to control for virtually everything that makes life what it is. The latter is particularly challenging, which is why there does not seem to be much of a consensus on how happiness and having children relate to one another. The Inductivist offers some sagacity:

Common sense dictates that people are happy when they are doing what they want to do ( in fact the statement is almost tautolgoical). In my view, what people want to do is influenced by what their culture tells them is worthy of pursuit, and unfortunately American society is telling women of all types that stay-at-home mothers are brood mares, while Hillary Clinton is what it's all about.
Probably the most obvious of those things associated with both fertility and happiness is marital status. Among married women aged 30 and over (so those considered have had time to start a family and also to avoid shotgun weddings that presumably do not provide optimal happiness), the childless report the highest level of happiness. With the exception of a slight bump in going from one child to two, as the number of offspring increases, happiness decreases.

Instead of suggesting that making babies is linked to happiness, I should just try to prod people into matrimony. Once that stage has been reached, procreation is 45% more likely than among those who are not married*. Lead a mare to water and she's more likely to drink than if you just leave her in the desert. Of course, a comparison of married and unmarried women is not apples-to-apples either, but most women can find marriage partners if they are willing to.

Also, the ebbing of time influences how barren and procreative women see their own levels of personal contentment. The happiness index for married women who have 2-4 children and those who have not had any, by age group:
Age2-4 kidsNo kids

To the extent that any speculation can be made, women who have had children seem to be happier once the children are out on their own relative to peers who never had any kids. Even though the variances are small, happiness moves in opposite directions for those who've had children and those who have not had them. Psychologically, that's noteworthy. With children, your best days still probably lay ahead. Without them, growing old looks drearier.

* Among married women 30 years and older, only 13% of respondents did not have any children. For those of the same age who were not married, 40% were barren.


BGC said...

Inductivist said: "American society is telling women of all types that stay-at-home mothers are brood mares, while Hillary Clinton is what it's all about."

No doubt media pressure and financial incentives do make _some_ difference to fertility, but people often resist media pressure and do what they want anyway despite losing money.

The stark fact is that apparently not one single group of secular, intelligent 'modern' women has resisted media pressure to the extent of reproducing at anything approaching above-replacement levels of fertility.

If secular, intelligent 'modern' (SIM) women wanted to have lots of children, then they would just have them. These are determined and able people. They would make whatever sacrifices were necessary - just as these same people make whatever sacrifices are necessary to stay in formal education and excel in exams until they finish law, medical or business school (even though it is likely that due to part-time working and career changes most women would never recover the investment they made on this kind of protracted elite education).

Indeed, if they really wanted kids they would pursue graduate education but marry a steady house-husband to look after the kids.

Of course these same women are not attracted by steady house-husband types, and implicitly prefer neither to marry nor to reproduce rather than marry such a male.

But if SIM women cared a lot about having babies, then this is exactly the kind of thing they _would_ do. The fact that they do not take such a course of action, very likely shows that SIM women are not strongly motivated to reproduce.

Little tweaks to media images and incentives are not likely to make much difference I feel. The big question is whether anything short of being a devout Mormon (or something analogous) will suffice to over-ride spontaneous, individualistic female preferences.

But is there really anything secular which is analogous to being a devout Mormon? I say that there does not seem to be any evidence of a secular, modern group that can support above-replacement fertility.

Is there anything to disprove this, or any slight hint of such a thing?

Audacious Epigone said...


Nothing quantitatively that comes close to an average above replenishment that I am aware of, though as Jason Malloy has pointed out here, there has been an increase in fecundity among the top income earners in the US over the last decade or so:

According to the National Center for Health Statistics, 12 percent of upper-income women had three children or more in 2002, compared with only 3 percent in 1995.

I wonder if the progress in genetics and the continuous gains nurture is making over nurture will boost fertility. The same article's following paragraph:

For a couple's every conceivable wish or worry, the parenting industry knows the precise formula of guilt, fear, hope, love and desire that will empty the parental wallet. Rather than fret about spending too much money, most parents these days are consumed by the anxiety of underspending -- the fear that somewhere, some other parent is offering her baby an educational toy or child-development class that will propel the toddler ahead, and that if you skimp, your child risks losing out and falling behind.

If it was believed that such spending is very marginal, would children seem like relatively less of a burden to assume?