Saturday, January 29, 2011

Educational attainment and fecundity in the US

The correlation between educational attainment and fecundity has been a topic here on multiple occasions. At the national level, the gender gap in education is a strong predictor of national fertility rates. As measured by the World Economic Forum's 2007 report entitled "The Global Gender Gap", the correlation between fertility and educational parity is an inverse .75 (p=0), far stronger than it is among the other measures of gender equality, including economic participation and opportunity (.22), political empowerment (.22), and health and survival (.01).

In the US, where educational attainment is near parity and shifting in women's favor, a strong relationship between educational attainment and having kids exists. The following table and graph* depicts this among baby boomers, the youngest generation to have passed reproductive viability, from responses given from the turn of the century on:

No HS3.261672.86156
Less than HS2.803402.26308
HS grad2.2311232.07937
Up to associate's2.1610401.98788
Up to bachelor's1.878421.90742
Up to master's1.673911.75297
Up to doctorate1.391551.95222

Both sexes follow the trend of more school, fewer kids to send to school, but it is especially pronounced among women. This is not to insinuate causality. Pursuing higher levels of education proxies for a lot of other factors that influence fecundity, like a long-term career orientation for which children are viewed as a handicap. I'm aware of the point made by Agnostic:
The idea that female empowerment or education (as a route to empowerment) is driving -- rather than merely associated with -- the demographic transition ignores history. It started at least in the 1700s among the French, continued through what feminists would call the oppressive Victorian era, etc.
Nonetheless, the dysgenic relationship is discouraging. Though the demographic transition started before the contemporary ecumenical educational system came into existence, the association is self-evidently strong, and is plausibly accentuating the effect not only by reducing total fertility, but also through delaying fertility, a more furtive filcher of our future.

We need methods to speed up the educational process, like self-paced coursework and subject-specific standardized testing (think Advanced Placement tests for those in college) that allows autodidacts to receive credit as soon as they've demonstrated proficiency in a subject rather than after four inefficient months of spending three hours per week having it delivered to them at varying levels of effectiveness. Ideally, passing the bar would be the only requirement for practicing law and passing the CPA exam the only requirement for becoming a CPA. If this results in a perceived glut of lawyers and accountants, the respective tests can simply be made more difficult. While the relative value of high parental socioeconomic status will decrease and higher conscientiousness might as well, higher intelligence would be rewarded with more precision and young professionals would be able to get to work years earlier and with tens of thousands or hundreds of thousands of dollars less debt on their shoulders.

GSS variables used: YEAR(2000-2008), AGE(36-62), EDUC(0-8)(9-11)(12)(13-14)(15-16)(17-18)(19-20), CHILDS

* No high school = 0-8 years of education; Some high school = 9-11 years; High school graduate = 12 years, Up to associate's = 13-14 years; Up to bachelor's = 15-16; Up to master's = 17-18 years; Up to doctoral = 19-20 years.


Shawn said...

I like your idea bout just passing the tests. Screw formal education!

If there was a glut why make the tests more difficult. The bar and CPA exam are needlessly and excessively difficult as it is. If it turns out that too many people pass the exams because they are too easy people will simply not be able to find work, and be forced to go into another field.

mdavid said...

That elevated education (or elevated IQ) is a Darwinian dead-end is old news. The great library of Alexander was burned by the fast-breeding, ignorant Germanic barbarians - heck, they weren't even dropouts! Meanwhile, modern educated Europe is being overrun with low-IQ Muslims. Whilst this remains an ongoing mystery to the educated elite, one has to chuckle at how obtuse moderns are...this is old news:

"Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth". (Mat 5.5, RSV-CE)

"...he has scattered the proud in the imagination of their hearts..." (Lk 1:15 RSV-CE)

"Subtle is the Lord, but malicious He is not." Einstein, 1921

FuturePundit said...

Aud, Research into memory formation makes me think testing is the most essential feature of a revolution to accelerate education.

Tests are needed in very small bite sizes for every lecture, textbook chapter, or other small unit of learning in order to enhance memory formation.

JL said...

Americans are remarkably fecund compared to Europeans. For example, American women with PhDs have more children than the average German woman. German women with PhDs probably do not have children at all.

What percentage of the relevant cohorts of women fall into each education level?

bgc said...

I would be very interested in the proportion of women of each educational level who never have any children (zero children) - in Europe around 33% of women college graduate have zero children - and about half of women in recent cohorts are college graduates.

Going back to Lewis Terman's longitudinal study of very high IQ Californians from the 1920s - among women with the very highest IQ the average number of children was less than 1 (from memory about 0.7 children - of course the sample was small).

Audacious Epigone said...



No HS -- 4.1%
Less than HS -- 8.3%
HS grad -- 27.7%
Associate's -- 25.6%
Bachelor's -- 20.7%
Master's -- 9.6%
Doctorate -- 3.8%


No HS -- 4.5%
Less than HS -- 8.9%
HS grad -- 27.2%
Associate's -- 22.8%
Bachelor's -- 21.5%
Master's -- 8.6%
Doctorate -- 6.4%


I'll do it as a separate post.

FuturePundit said...

What I am most curious about: Why do some smart women still manage to make 2-3-4 kids? What attributes cancel out the effects of higher IQ on fertility? Are those attributes being selected for?

bgc said...

FP - In two words: Orthodox religion.

Anonymous said...

Orthodox religion.


Anonymous said...

If by "orthodox" you mean "conforming to established doctrine," yes, that is part of it. Personal lack of ambition, desire to help the husband in his career, and actual enjoyment of the little ones are also helpful. (They're easier to enjoy when they're as bright as Daddy!)Yes, I am a throwback, but I'm not the only one in my generation.

Anonymous said...

"Personal lack of ambition"

If the gender gap of wiki contributors is a proxy for such, then, 85% of women fall into that category. Most women pursue careers because mom and dad say they have to. When mom and dad wanted them to get married and stay home, that is just what they did.