The Census Bureau issued a new report yesterday about the increase of childlessness among American women and, although they provide only a press release and XLS data (rather than a full report), the highlights of the data are perhaps ominous:
The percentage of U.S. women in their 30s and 40s who are childless is rising, new data from the U.S. Census Bureau show.
Some 15.3% of U.S. women aged 40 to 44 were childless in June 2014, up from 15.1% in 2012. . . .
For women in their late 30s, the rise in childlessness is sharper. Around 18.5% of women 35 to 39 were childless last June, up from 17.2% in 2012.
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All told, 47.6% of U.S. women aged 15 to 44 were without children last year, up from 46.5% in 2012.
The data are the latest to show that childlessness is on the rise in the U.S. as more women (and their partners) delay marriage and childbearing.
Because fertility declines significantly for women in their 40s — the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention define a woman’s child-bearing years as 15 to 44 — demographers carefully watch these women to get a sense of how many children Americans are having, or not. . . .
With more women having their first child in their mid 30s, late 30s and early 40s, American families may be shrinking: The number of women aged 40 to 44 who had only one child roughly doubled between 1976 and 2014, Census said.
A more in-depth Census report on the 2012 numbers shows that, in 1976, 10% of women 40-44 (a cohort born 1932-36) were childless, whereas in 2012, 15% of women 40-44 (a cohort born 1968-72) were childless. An ethnic breakdown of the 2012 numbers shows important differences:
0 …………………. 16.4
1 …………………. 19.2
2 …………………. 36.6
3 or more ……. 27.8
0 …………………. 10.0
1 …………………. 15.5
2 …………………. 28.7
3 or more ……. 44.9
Non-Hispanic white women were 64% more likely to be childless than Hispanic women, whereas Hispanic women were 61% more likely to have at least three children. Notice when you break it down this way:
0 or 1 ………….. 35.6
2 or more ……. 64.4
0 or 1 ………….. 25.5
2 or more ……. 73.6
Considering so-called “replacement level” fertility (2 children per woman), we see that Hispanic women are 14% more likely to be at or above this level, whereas non-Hispanic white women are 40% more likely to be below replacement level. And if we look at the Census report’s data comparing U.S.-born women to immigrants, we find these numbers:
U.S.-born women, ages 40-50
Lifetime births (average) ….. 1.93
Childless ………………………….. 17.2%
Immigrant women, ages 40-50
Lifetime births (average) ….. 2.24
Childless ………………………….. 11.4%
So, immigrant women on average had 16% more children, and U.S-born women were 51% more likely to be childless. Now let’s break down the numbers by educational achievement:
Not a high school graduate
Lifetime births (average) ….. 2.6
Childless ………………………….. 11.6%
Lifetime births (average) ….. 1.8
Childless ………………………….. 19.9%
High-school dropouts, on average, had 44% more children than women who had college diplomas. Childlessness was 72% more common for college graduates than for high-school dropouts.
If you’ve studied population demographics, you realize that trends like these generally take decades to develop, and that finding cause-and-effect correlations is difficult. That is to say, people’s beliefs developed in childhood, their behavior as teenagers and the prevailing cultural trends in their young adult years will have an effect on whether they eventually have children. Today’s 40-year-old woman was born in 1975 and turned 18 in 1993, so if she is childless now, this necessarily implicates her choices and behaviors in the 1990s, as well as the belief system with which she was raised in the 1970s and ’80s.
Women’s behaviors are necessarily affected by men’s behaviors. If men are avoiding marriage and fatherhood — as Dr. Helen Smith’s Men on Strike documents — it will be more difficult for women to become wives and mothers. It may also be the case that men who might want to be husbands and fathers lack either the social skills or the financial resources needed to attract wives. Alternately, we may theorize that a general social climate of distrust and hostility between men and women make marriage and parenthood more problematic.
Studying demographic trends involves the complex interaction of multiple variables over time. However, it is important to note this: People make trends and not the other way around. That is to say, the individual is always free to act independently of the larger social trend, to swim against the demographic stream. You can make your own high-fertility subculture within a low-fertility society. My being a father of six is the result of beliefs and choices in the same way that other people become childless as the result of their own beliefs and choices.
People want to “fit in,” to have the approval of their peers and of the societ around them, and so being “conformed to this world” is the usual way of life. There is a prejudice I call “middle-classness,” which encourages young people to believe that they must have the credentials and accoutrements of middle-class life — college education, professional career, new cars, home ownership — or else be considered failures. This kind of concern for social status is perfectly understandable, yet in our striving for status (and encouraging our children to do the same) we can easily succumb to the kind of mentality that has produced the trend toward childlessness manifested in the latest Census Bureau report.
Did all these women decide to be childless? No.
If you could go back to 1993 to interview the 18-year-old who today is a childless 40-year-old, she likely would say she wanted to be a mother “someday,” under certain circumstances. However, those circumstances did not arise and thus “someday” never arrived.
The Contraceptive Culture encourages women (and men) to believe that fertility is entirely a matter of personal choice, but any fertility specialist will tell you this is a myth. The woman who has not become a mother by age 30 will have a significantly higher risk of experiencing infertility if and when she does try to become pregnant. And even if she has no medical problems with her reproductive health, the woman who delays motherhood past 30 will on average have fewer children in comparison to women who have their first child before they are 30.
Fertility delayed is fertility denied. Demographics is ultimately a matter of arithmetic, although the numbers involved represent human lives and the choices we make based on our own beliefs.
“See, I have set before thee this day life and good, and death and evil . . . I call heaven and earth to record this day against you, that I have set before you life and death, blessing and cursing: therefore choose life, that both thou and thy seed may live.”
— Deuteronomy 30:15, 19 (KJV)
First published at TheOtherMcCain.com
The opinions expressed by columnists are their own and do not necessarily represent the views of Barb Wire.