Saturday, February 12, 2011

Educational attainment and barrenness in the US

In the comments of a previous post on the relationship between fecundity and educational attainment in the US, Bruce Charlton wondered what percentage of women never had children by educational category, noting that in Europe around one-third of female college graduates are barren.

Fertility in the US is higher than that among those with bachelor's degrees, but at the doctoral level, nearly one in three women never get around to starting a family. There isn't much in the way of surprises (heh) across groups, but the GSS has tracked the same data since its inception back in the early seventies. So, for comparative purposes, the percentages of women of the same age grouping who participated in the survey from 1973 through the end of that decade and reported never having children are also included in the following table, which shows the percentage of women by educational cohort who reported having no children*:

No HS6.2%12.0%
Less than HS6.5%7.0%
HS grad11.0%7.3%
Up to associate's12.8%7.3%
Up to bachelor's21.3%10.0%
Up to master's21.9%14.9%
Up to doctorate31.9%32.1%

No difference among those who climb to the top of the academic mountain today and those who did so a generation ago (although at that time they represented less than 1% of all women; today they comprise nearly 4% of the female population). A significant change has occured among those who attend college without going as far, however. The percentage of these women who are not having children has almost doubled in three decades, while among the least educated, the proportion who forego kids has been halved.

GSS variables used: YEAR(1973-1980)(2000-2008), SEX(2), 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 doctorate = 19-20 years.


Anonymous said...

ugh, depressing.

is there any hope? any bright side?

if they have no kids, are they at least ugly?

bgc said...

Thanks very much.

But I am a bit unsure about the population you used - I can't really follow the decription of dates (Sorry!).

Is this a cohort or a cross sectional survey? - presumably the latter, but then why are two sets of dates mentioned?

I am being a bit dense, no doubt; but it might be worth trying to be plainer about the description of the sample.

I wonder whether women embarking on advanced education - if asked at say 16-18 - would be happy to know that have *at least* a 1/3 chance of never having children?

They may believe they have a choice about this, and of course people get lucky; but in fact their choices become de facto so narrowly constrained by the process of long-term education that it does not *feel* like a choice when they arrive at age 35.

I can't find the data (I think it was on one of the official LDS websites), but it seems that devout US Mormon women have an exceptionally high rate of graduating from college (four year degree) but very few go on to graduate work since they aim to marry and start having children in their early 20s.

Mormon women with a four year degree actually have *higher* (and above replacement) fertility than less-educated Mormon women who just graduated high school. Fertility then goes down for Mormon women with graduate school education.

For US Mormon men the fertility just keeps rising as educational level rises.

And of course Mormons are the only economically-successful US group with above-replacement fertility and a pattern of increasing fertility with education and income.

Audacious Epigone said...


Mormons, maybe? As far as attractiveness goes, the GSS doesn't give us anything to go on in that regard.


All female respondents who participated in the survey at any point during the 70s and were aged 36-62 comprise the first category, and all female respondents who participated in the survey at any point during the 2000s and were aged 36-62 comprise the second.

sykes.1 said...

From a Darwinian viewpoint, feminism is suicide.

Ian said...

what a problem for society. you'd hope that the educated would be having the babies.

Ian said...

(lack of education correlating w lower IQ)

bgc said...

So "w/o kids" should really be a single heading applying to both columns?

And the two columns are in reverse chronological order (such that the percentage of women of the age range educated up to bachelor's level without children roughly doubled between the 1970s and the 2000s?)

Is that it?

Audacious Epigone said...


Oh, I see the source of confusion now. Yeah, the top row is just the "title" of the entire table. My html knowledge is pretty rudimentary. I'll just remove that row entirely, and it should be less confusing.

Anonymous said...

Grad school comes at a much higher price than most people realize. It takes people off of the the job market at the ideal age for early career development, it keeps people in relative poverty (and usually debt), and it can take upwards of ten years to finish.

Not being able to start a family is one of the 100 reasons NOT to go to grad school: