Sunday, August 31, 2014

Holding the genic line

Using six centuries of data from England, Gregory Clark shows in A Farewell to Alms that from the years 1200-1800AD, the wealthier a person was, the more descendents he tended to have. This long-running, naturally eugenic trend is often presumed to have come to an end in the West with the onsets of the Industrial Revolution, modern education, modern contraception, and other accoutrements of comfortable modernity.

While there is no longer a clearly identifiable positive correlation between wealth and reproductive success, there are good empirical reasons to think assertions that an inverse relationship between fecundity and affluence now exists are, at best, premature.

Here is some contemporary evidence on a metric paralleling the one Clark employed in his book. In 2006, the GSS asked respondents about their total net worth. The mean number of children among those aged 50 and older (to allow for full family formation to have occurred) by total wealth* follows (n = 412):

$0-$40k: 2.01
$40k-$100k: 2.33
$100k-$500k: 2.18
$500k-$1m: 2.01
$1m+:  2.04

This isn't necessarily cause for celebration, but it doesn't paint a picture of impending doom, either. Eugenia and Dysgenia are, at present, locked in a stalemate. The middle is currently enjoying a gentle reproductive advantage over both the top and the bottom.

GSS variables used: CHILDS, WEALTH(1-3)(4-5)(6-8)(9)(10-15), AGE(50-89)

* Defined as "the value of your house plus the value of your vehicles, stocks and mutual funds, cash, checking accounts, retirement accounts including 401(k) and pension assets, and any other assets minus what you owe for your mortgage and your debts."


Jokah Macpherson said...

You see these articles about "how much it costs to raise a kid" every once in awhile but I think the real answer is "whatever you've got." If you can afford the $40k private school tuition, then you probably better spring for it - all the other parents are doing it and what else are you going to spend your money on, really. Of course, this makes it prohibitively expensive to opt for the third child. The middle and lower classes have fewer costs but the budgetary ceiling is lower as well.

At least it's an escape from the Malthusian trap. Instead of going into making new persons the productivity gains go to bolster the value of the education, housing, and insurance industries.

BehindTheLines said...

Good news. The middle class has a fighting chance against the Yale and Jail alliance.

For all the headlines about how conservative white America is going to be swamped out by minorities (and think of how recent it has been that this was a mentionable topic...15 years ago this wasn't discussed), there is a second demographic trend of conservatives having more kids than liberals, particularly when the numbers are broken down by race. Plus, now that homosexuality is accepted, liberal homosexuals will live with each other instead of being pressured into a traditional marriage and having kids.

Audacious Epigone said...


Overcome your own economic Malthusian trap and yeah, there isn't much else better to spend it on.


Sample of one, but the salience of those headlines is what spurred me to start a family. In isolation it wouldn't have been enough, but without such knowledge I probably wouldn't have begun the process of family formation, either. Middle class white America is in a fight for its life but it's not dead yet.

Audacious Epigone said...

Damn iPad autocorrect. Jokah, you know who you are!