December 19, 2008


Understanding Fertility within Developed Nations: Bruce Sacerdote and James Feyrer: (Laurent Belsie,

Co-authors of the study, [Will the Stork Return to Europe and Japan? Understanding Fertility within Developed Nations (NBER Working Paper No. w14114)], Bruce Sacerdote, James Feyrer, and Ariel Stern find that where men perform relatively more of those chores -- and where female labor-force participation was highest three decades ago - fertility rates rose from their historic lows. This male-driven rebound in child-bearing already appears to have happened in the United States, the Scandinavian countries, and the Netherlands. Other nations m! ay follow suit as women gain more status in the workplace through better job opportunities and higher pay. "The increase in women's status may eventually reverse fertility trends in Europe and Japan … In particular, men in all high-income countries appear to be taking on a larger share of household duties, which could lead to a large positive increase in fertility," they conclude.

This represents a dramatic reversal from initial stages of a demographic transition, in which fertility falls as women have higher relative wages outside the home. In the United States, for example, women in the 1950s and 1960s earned low wages (relative to men) outside the home and were expected to shoulder all the household and childcare duties. In 1955, American women averaged about 3.5 births apiece. But as more women entered the workforce and their job opportunities and pay rose, so did the opp! ortunity cost of staying at home. Fertility plunged. By the 19! 80s, the U.S. fertility rate had fallen by nearly half from its mid-1950s level -- to 1.8 births per woman.

The rest of the developed world shared the same pattern. By 2005, total fertility rates were as low as 1.3 children per woman in Italy, Spain, Germany, and Japan - far beneath the population's replacement rate of 2.1 children. "The last 30 years have witnessed a social change unprecedented in human history: a variety of high-income nations have experienced fertility declines so large that these countries are far below replacement-level fertility," the authors write. "While other cultures have had brief episodes of less-than-replacement-level fertility, this is the first time in recorded history that large populations with high and growing per capita income have failed to reproduce themselves over an extended period of time."

But some nations have seen a rebound, even as women's pay and job opportunities continued to grow and began to rival those of men. The authors surmise that with increased household bargaining power, which comes from more equal wages, women are able to push some (though not necessarily half) of household and childcare duties onto men. This, in turn, removes some of the disincentives to having more children. By 1995, for example, the U.S. fertility rate had recovered from its 1980s lows to roughly replacement levels.

If you were a betting man, wouldn't you put your money on women figuring out that they were stupid to prefer careers to households in the first place?

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Posted by Orrin Judd at December 19, 2008 3:28 PM
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