Wednesday, March 09, 2016

On women and fertility, briefly

Thinking about Demography Matters and International Women's Day, I realized that almost all of my blogging here on fertility issues, at least the blogging that relates to the incentives and disincentives, relates to the choices of women. This makes a certain amount of sense since it's ultimately women who are essential in reproduction--not biologically, true, but socially. Single motherhood is more common than single fatherhood, at least in contemporary Western societies, for a reason.

This is not going to be a very long post at all. Consider it a brief note, to myself as much as to you. What are the hidden assumptions in the relationship between gender--female gender, male gender--and demographic outcomes? What things get missed?


Anonymous said...

I think that, too often, we assume that men want children.

It is known that there is a gap between desired fertility and actual fertility, and this is to be expected to a certain extent in developed countries, since very few have above the desired number of children, and there will always be some infertile women.

However, in the younger generations of Europe at least, it is men who are the most reluctant to marry, and increasingly often do not want children. I had a hard time finding sources that compare male and female desired fertility, but here's one source.

Anonymous said...

I forgot to add that, within couples, one will often want more children than the other, and I would imagine that most couples would have the minimum of the two desired numbers of children. This would further decrease the fertility rate, quite significantly too.

Colin said...

Gender roles could have a huge effect on fertility. At the one end you have patriarchal societies where women are effectively locked into the child-raising role and have little control over their own fertility. These places can have a very high fertility rate. At the other end you have societies where fertility is seen as a personal choice, men and women share childcare equally, everyone has equal opportunities for paid employment, and there is strong state support for both parenthood and contraception. In these places, the burden and opportunity cost for parents definitely exists, but doesn't fall too heavily on either parent, leading to a moderate fertility rate. (There could also be societies where men have a greater role than women in childcare, but I imagine such societies are extremely rare/marginal.)

The trough comes in the middle, where women are respected in the workplace, can have fulfilling careers, and are free to decide whether they have children, but find themselves pushed towards more patriarchal gender roles as soon as they choose to do so. Often there is also a mismatch between male and female attitudes (typically, women have a more egalitarian ideal, but men continue to have a sexist framework or to simply undervalue and neglect domestic work), which can make even long-term relationships problematic, never mind parenthood. Much of the world seems to be either somewhere in this middle zone, or heading towards it from the patriarchal side.

szopen said...

Just some random ramblings.

First comment on comments
(1) Re: "usually women want children more". It was not so in my case. Definetely I wanted a child. I wanted three kids, in fact; my wife wanted only two and she wanted to delay pregnancy even more, because she was unsure about whether we can afford children.

(2) Re: domestic work, I think it's not "undervalue" domestic work, it's about having different standards. My wife, for example, would want to have wholesome cleaning of whole home every week, or even every day, if she only have time. She cannot stand a little dust. I don't care. Same about family meals - for me, it's nice to have a family meal in home, but I could also buy a meal outside the home.

Now to Randy's question
(3) Whatever some people try to argue, I think that there are real biological differences between man and women, even if only statistical in nature. Those differences can be either attenuated or enforced by culture. Our stereotypes reflect not just culture, but also real differences; as you all know, research done on stereotypes confirms that usually stereotypes are reflecting the reality quite well. Therefore, concentrating on women's choices is valid.

BTW, one of the most popular reasons "why you have no children" is "I have not found a appropriate partner". If females want to have children, but would want a well-working, responsible husband, then the problem might be that the male wages are stagnating, unemployment is rising, and the culture standards seem to stop promote "responsible" male models.

Richard said...

To add to Colin,

The countries in the middle also tend to be the ones that have traditional views about the family structure (not just women in the workplace). Possibly even more traditional views about family structure. There, birth out of wedlock and nontraditional family structures are frowned upon. East Asia, Germany, and southern Europe are there now. You can expect North Africa, most of the Middle East, and Latin America to join them soon.