[ExI] Demography (was: tech influence)

Tara Maya tara at taramayastales.com
Sun Feb 9 18:28:39 UTC 2014

On Feb 9, 2014, at 4:34 AM, BillK <pharos at gmail.com> wrote:

> Educate and empower women and they stop having children.
> The reasons for this are probably multifactorial, though.

The history of demographic change as it relates to women's rights was my field of study in history, so this topic is of some interest to me. I won't claim that my thesis is without controversy, but what I found from studying about 1500 years of European demographic patterns was that historically most women aimed to have two surviving children. Surveys of modern women have found that they aim for…two surviving children. In other words, education and emancipation have actually had NO EFFECT on how many children most women desire. 

What has changed is what women have to do in order to have those two. 

For most of history, this meant having many more than two, as the infant mortality rate was high. Wealthy women, who married younger and had more surviving offspring, would usually over-reach and have more than two--something that was sometimes seen by them as a burden. One noble family in the fifteenth century, for example, was completely ruined financially because all eleven of their children survived. The family diaries record a sentiment somewhat like, "Who could have foreseen this?" As in… dang it, most of these kids were supposed to die shortly after birth! Of course they were glad their children didn't die, but if they had thought that all eleven would survive, they might have been much more careful about family planning….

All of this led me to my thesis: If every woman had exactly the number of children she wanted, it would be slightly above replacement value for the population. (The outliers--women who want twelve children and the women who want zero--cancel each other out.) But for several centuries now, whole generations of women have miscalculated, and for the very good reason that technology has changed faster than women (and men) have accounted for. This isn't even a matter of genetics vs memetics. It means that if a woman determines how many children she wants according to how things worked out for her mother and grandmother, but technology has already changed between her generation and her mother's and grandmother's, she will miscalculate.

So as the death rate fell during the industrial revolution, the REAL Baby Boom, also known as the "Demographic Revolution" spread across the continent, and then, as industry spread globally, across the world. Women continued to have twelve children, but when all of them survived to adulthood and had twelve kids of their own…. This is what led to the huge population explosion and all those dire, ridiculous prophecies of "OVERPOPULATION APOCALYPSE."

It takes an average of three generations, but gradually women started rejecting the advice of their mothers and grandmothers and re-evaluating how many children they wanted to have. They realized they didn't need to have hoards of children, or marry young, and changed their behavior accordingly. But again, many, many women of this generation have miscalculated, this time in the OTHER direction. They married too late and had too FEW children.

Hence, we have the new feature of the Demographic Revolution: the Baby Bust. It's happening now all across the First World. The severity of it is disguised by high levels of immigration of women from countries that are still in the first phase of the Demographic Revolution. THOSE women are still have a lot of kids (but less than mom and grandma had).

It's hard to prove this for the earlier centuries, but starting with the cohort in the late 19th century (1890s), we have proof of this miscalculation. Generations of women were surveyed, asked at 18 how many children they wanted; at 40 and 60 the same women were asked how many children they had. At the beginning of the century women wanted -- 2 kids. But had four, five or six. The current generation of women wanted -- 2 kids. But many ended up having only one, or none at all.

As always, these are averages. So sure, there are women who never wanted kids and never had kids. But contrary to common belief, those women are not driving the Baby Bust. It's driven by women who planned to marry and wanted two kids when they were eighteen but somehow, by forty, hadn't done it yet and realized it's too late. Or had one kid, and thought, sheesh, it's too expensive, we can't afford a second one.

Both trends of the Demographic Revolution -- the Boom and the Bust -- started in Europe and spread globally. Both started with the upper and middle classes and worked down to the lower classes. There are parts of the world that are still in the Boom stage, but plenty of evidence suggests that the next generation or two will bring them into the Bust. Women of the younger cohorts in those countries almost all say they want less children than their mothers. The exceptions are countries with high death rates. For instance, one woman in a country torn by civil war said, "I stopped having children after five because they said it would be better but now all my five children are dead! Why did I listen?" The cohort of women following a disaster are likely to have a high birth rate.

Another interesting finding was that family planning, in Europe, and around the world, precedes access to birth control. In other words, which comes first, the condom or the fall in birthrate? The answer is the fall in birthrate. It's the demand for birth control that gave rise to the technology of birth control, not the other way around. Again, several studies of modern populations in nations where birth control is outlawed but the birth rate is still falling show that this is still happening.

Finally, it is my theory, and I believe the evidence supports it, that female emancipation occurred because of the falling birth rate, not the other way around. Once women were freed from the extremely tiring work of going through a pregnancy nine months out of every year for the ten or twelve most productive years of their lives, they had much more energy and time to contribute to the economy in other ways, including entering the work force. Of course, at the individual level, it seems to work the other way around (hence the confusion about cause and effect) because the more intelligent, wealthy and educated a woman is, the more she can count on having her children survive, and therefore the more energy she can contribute to the family through earning an income outside the home. (Example: In the US, daycare costs about $20,000 a year (per child under 5); so both spouses have to be able to earn more than that for it to be worth it for their while to both work outside the home.)

Tara Maya
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