Tag Archives: education

Flip that effect: gender gap, returns to education, marriage premium

How we describe the directionality of an effect affects how we think about it. Andrew Gelman complains that the recent paper by Dalton Conley and Emily Rauscher does this. It’s called, “The Effect of Daughters on Partisanship and Social Attitudes Toward Women.” And the news headlines were things like, “Does Having Daughters Make You More Republican?” Ross Douthat called it “The Daughter Theory.”

But of course the finding could just as well be described as the effect of sons on making people more liberal.

In this case it’s a great example of boys being the norm and girls being difference. But there are plenty of examples of when we describe an effect as if its opposite doesn’t exist. Here are three:

The marriage premium. This usually refers to married men earning more than single men. But it is just as much a penalty for being single as it is a reward for being married. In my own work on this I described three possible mechanisms: positive selection into marriage (higher earners marry), productivity-enhancing effects of marriage (wives make men better workers), and discrimination (bosses prefer married men). But all of these could have been expressed in the reverse direction. Lots of “marriage is good” arguments should be turned around to ask, “How could we punish single people less”?

single_alone

The gender gap. President Obama has frequently implied that reducing the gender gap in pay will be good for “middle class families.” Under “Protecting the Middle Class News,” the White House writes that the gender gap “means less for families’ everyday needs, less for investments in our children’s futures, and, when added up over a lifetime of work, substantially less for retirement.” Of course, it also means more for families with employed men. I hate to be a buzzkill on this, but there is no reason to think that reducing gender discrimination just means paying women more. How do we know women are underpaid, instead of men being overpaid?

Returns to education. This one is tricky, because there is a return on investment from education, so it’s reasonable to talk about the effect in that direction: you spend money on education, you get a benefit. But the society that rewards education also penalizes lack of education relatively speaking (unless everyone is equally educated). Nothing against educated people, but to reduce inequality it would be good to reduce the returns to education. For example, raising the minimum wage, or providing government jobs to low-skilled workers, would reduce returns to education (if that is operationalized as the difference between college and non-college wages.

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Race, class, and gender in one chart (just kidding)

You can’t do it (or much of anything) in one chart.

A colleague reports that a college student wrote to her:

The wage gap itself shows white women earn more than more than black men; that is to say my race is a greater determinant of wage than is my gender.

Her link was to this pretty confused post by Derek Thompson, which I’m not going to get into except to show this figure he made:

thompson-earnsThis shows earnings, not taking into account education. Later he shows earnings by education, not taking into account gender. Not wrong, but you can see the confusion it caused for the student quoted above. If she finishes college, she will be in a group whose earnings hierarchy is more by gender than by race, as I show in this figure I made from 2011 American Community Survey data from IPUMS:

earns-race-gen

This shows that Black men and White women — full-time, year-round, 25-54 — have the same median earnings if you don’t take into account education. Within each education group, however, Black men earn more. Who gets to be in the full-time, year-round population (instead of dead, incarcerated, unemployed or underemployed), of course, is a big issue. I can’t show that in one chart.

 

 

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Op-Ed plus: Gender composition of college majors

I have an Op-Ed in Sunday’s New York Times, part of the Great Divide series. It’s online now, titled “How Can We Jump-Start the Struggle for Gender Equality?” (My title was, “One Step Back: What Happened to the Gender Revolution?”)

nytgrab

The Times made one very nice graphic from the trends I provided:

nyt-chart

But the one below was left on the cutting-room floor. The text to set it up is:

So why did progress stall in the 1990s? First, despite the removal of many legal and social injustices, the movement away from traditional forms of gender segregation has remained decidedly unidirectional. As the sociologist Paula England has shown, this is most apparent in education. If you look at female representation in the top fields of study since 1970, the pattern is clear. The most female-dominated majors remained that way; the male-dominated majors had continued increases in female representation through the early 2000s; and some heavily male-dominated ones saw dramatic spikes in women’s share of degrees (which have now slowed or stalled). Strikingly absent is the substantial movement of men into even one female-dominated major.

I grouped the majors — blue, green, red — according to their composition in 1971 and tracked them to 2011. Two points: First, the red ones all stayed female dominated. Second, the integration of the blue and green ones mostly slowed or stalled sometime in the 1980s or 1990s (click to enlarge):

majors71-11

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Early childhood education is good for mothers, too

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Economist James Heckman had a good New York Times column the other day about the economic benefits of universal early childhood education. Despite the documented benefits of this intervention for poor kids, however, the U.S. is pitifully slow to act. Why?

Heckman says:

Why aren’t we moving forward and changing our ways by making investments in life-changing early childhood development for disadvantaged children? Two things: unfounded doubt and fear of doing things differently.

I would add another reason: gender.

Too many people are stuck on the idea that young children need to be with their mothers all day. Not only is early childhood education good for children, and equalizing economically, it’s also good for women and would help reduce gender inequality by promoting women’s employment – especially for single mothers – and reducing work-family conflict.

Universal, public, early childhood education: Good for children, reduces economic inequality, equalizes opportunities, maximizes public investment in human capacities, reduces gender inequality, and maybe even helps break the grip of hyper-parenting. Or, we could just fight some more wars.

The image above is borrowed from this Heritage Foundation blog post, which, let’s just say, is not going to win anyone a Nobel prize in economics.

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Are White women high school dropouts getting sicker?

My Twitter feed lit up yesterday with this story about how life expectancy is falling for White women who have not finished high school. The story was called, “What’s Killing Poor White Women?“, by Monica Potts.

I have complete sympathy for poor people with health problems and high mortality rates. Things are killing them, and that’s bad. They should have better education, better jobs, better health care and more money.

White women without high school degrees have lost five years of life expectancy. Something must be getting worse. But I don’t quite think so. I could be wrong. But I think that as the category White women without high school degrees shrinks, it is the healthier people who are leaving (or never entering) the group. As a result, the group’s average health is declining.

The first thing to realize is that, according to the Census Bureau [spreadsheet link], 95% of non-Hispanic White women ages 25-29 have completed four years of high school or more. So we’re talking about a very (negatively) select population. And it’s getting more select – it was 92% 20 years ago. (Potts’s story revolves around a woman who died at 38.*)

The article doesn’t give any numbers to show that more people are dying, just that the life expectancy of the group has fallen. If this were a group, like race or gender, whose membership doesn’t change much over time, that would be enough to indicate their health status was getting worse. But an education group isn’t like that. It’s membership changes over time. Neither of the two academic articles Potts cites seem to consider this possibility (here and here).

One take

Here’s a try at it. Since 1996, the Current Population Survey has asked an excellent health status question, asking people to rate their own health as excellent, very good, good, fair, or poor. Let’s treat those whose health is “poor” as the group driving the mortality trend (which seems to fit the narrative in the story).

Here is the scary trend: A sharp rise in the proportion of non-Hispanic White women high school dropouts, ages 20-29, who rate their health as “poor.” (All the figures use three-year averages.)

poorhealthThat looks terrible, and it is, of course. But look at the size of the total group (all health statuses) over the same period:

dropoutsSo, the group has shrunk by about 18%, from about 850,000 to less than 700,000. And here is how the group’s population has changed according to health status, using the two endpoints of the trend, 1996-98 and 2010-12:

drophealthSo, there has been, in effect, no change in the number of non-Hispanic White women high school dropouts ages 20-29 in poor health, for the last decade and a half (the numbers shown are population estimates based on a sample size of only a few hundred women in this category per year, so I discount small shifts). In contrast, there has been a decline of those in good health. Result: the average health of the group has declined, but there are not more sick women.

That’s good news, because in Potts’s telling their problems are very serious, and something should be done about it.

*I (or you) could redo this to include more ages. I used young people because, if they have high mortality rates, they’re going to disappear from the sample at relatively young ages and make the group look healthier.

 

 

 

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Teachers might help students finish high school

In Guns, Germs and Steel: The Fates of Human Societies, Jared Diamond presents a story of world history in which the rise to power of some societies over others was driven by geographic and environmental dynamics.

Some of the stories involve simple chains of evidence like this: societies with more fertile territories settled down earlier and had greater population density, which led to more complex politics, including elites who controlled surpluses and then diverted resources to non-food producers such as artists, craftspeople and bureaucrats, resulting in the development of more advanced language and technology.

We rarely have such large-scale analyses of current social dynamics. One reason contemporary analyses is so much more complicated is because the variations involved are much more subtle and the time frames are much shorter. For example, trying to explain women’s market labor force participation rates that mostly vary between 70% and 85% across rich countries. Or looking at small, marginal effects that tell us something interesting without explaining what really drives the larger outcomes. For example, I found that 34% of mothers with girls named pink or purple as their favorite color, compared with 45% among those with boys — a subtle effect on a minor personality trait. Similarly, we learned recently that boys with sisters are more gender-traditional. But the effect is within a narrow range, and certainly smaller than other more fundamental determinants of gender attitudes.

As I listened to the audio version of Diamond’s book, I tried to imagine how he might describe some recent changes in the U.S., treating differences between states over recent decades as the outcome of such fundamental processes. Here’s one thing I think he might have said:

Those states that assigned greater numbers of people to the task of teaching children more rapidly produced populations with higher levels of education. In half a century, states tripled the number of teachers per student from about 5 per 100 to about 15 per hundred. As a result the percentage of young adults dropping out of high school fell by about half, from near 60% to about 30%.

Here is my figure, plotting teachers per student (age 6-14) against dropout rates (age 16-24) 10 years later:

teachers per kid and dropouts

Source: My analysis of Census data from IPUMS.org.

Is that a fair characterization of the history? Or does it overwrite fundamental variation or complexity and lead to the wrong story?

I want more simple stories, and I would also like them to be true.

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Education-gender earnings crossover

It has been remarked that, in the olden days, men with only a high school education earned more than women with a college education. That’s true, as I reported to Stephanie Coontz for today’s New York Times column. And the olden days ended about 20 years ago.

Until the early 1990s, men who were high school graduates – but not college graduates – earned more than women who were college graduates. And men who were high school dropouts earned more than women who were high school graduates.

cps-educ-gender-earnings-62-2012Source: My analysis of March Current Population Survey data from IPUMS.

I don’t know what’s going on with the big 1992 drops. It could have to do with CPS survey design changes (I used last year’s earnings for people who worked 35+ hours last week and 50+ weeks last year).

You could describe these crossovers as a modernization of the labor force, with education rising in importance relative to gender. Or not.

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Educational endogamy (a good Princeton word), ca. 2011

Lots of people are pushing marriage on young women. For those with less than a college degree, a group of Christian conservatives is promoting marriage so women won’t be poor (mothers). And for those with elite educations, a Princeton alumna says women her daughters’ age should find a husband before graduation so they won’t be bored by a non-Ivy League dimwit for the rest of their lives.

(All this marriage promotion shouldn’t be confused with marriage rights promotion. Should it?)

Marriage markets are very complicated. People can marry (and divorce) anyone they want whenever they want (subject to legal restrictions), or not. People can move to marry, or marry and then move. They can marry up, down, sideways, or internationally. After divorce, they can repeat the process, with variation.

With the economy the way it is and sequestration threatening the jobs of government bureaucrats and the social scientists who depend on them, demographers are delighted by this complexity, since it assures a steady stream of unanswered questions to generate demand for our profession (another good reason to repeal DOMA).

Anyway: Some information about marriage and education

Take all the people ages under age 50 who told the American Community Survey in 2011 that they got (heterogamously) married for the first time in 2011. Break them down by education and sex, and look at the education of the people they married.

The first thing you notice is the BA / non-BA gap. Of this population, 71% of college graduates married another college graduate. Women college graduates were less likely to hold rank, with just 65% of them marrying above the BA line, compared with 78% of male college grads. This isn’t surprising considering women earn the majority of BA degrees. But it’s not as big a deal as it might seem for gender equality, because – don’t forget – unmarried men earn more at every level of education. When I looked at these numbers for Atlanta 25-34 year-olds, for example, I found that 46% of the women with BAs who married men without BAs still had a husband who earned more than them. That is, marrying down the education ladder didn’t stop them from marrying up the income ladder.

Here is the rest of the breakdown, offered without further comment except a caution that there are a lot of ways to slice these things. The figures show the percentage of spouses at each education level for the under-50s who just got married for the first time, by education level, first for women and then for men. For example, the first graph shows that 25% of newlywed women with PhDs married husbands with PhDs. The colors are intended to highlight the BA / non-BA divide, with non-grads in bluish and grads in reddish.

who do women marry


who do men marrySource: My calculations from the 2011 American Community Survey, from IPUMS (which tacked on the spouses’ education for those with a present and identifiable spouse).

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Book review: The Rise of Women, by DiPrete and Buchmann

Originally published on TheAtlantic.com.

banner_pcohen rise of women AP.jpg

(Charles Dharapak/AP Images)

The Rise of Women: The Growing Gender Gap in Education and What it Means for American Schools is both ambitious and modest in its goals: Sociologists Thomas DiPrete and Claudia Buchmann provide an ambitious analysis of why and how girls are outperforming boys in high school and going on to get a disproportionate share of college degrees. However, the authors modestly remain within their subject matter and avoid the unsupported claims about women’s looming social dominance that have inflated much of the conversation about gender dynamics today.

This allows us to have a reasonable, valuable conversation about an important problem: the failure of the education system to help a majority of students to reach their academic potential. We clearly do not have a problem of over-education among women. Even among Whites alone, women as well as men are graduating college at rates lower than those in the most educationally advanced societies (which used to include the United States). Rather, we have a dysfunctional system that underperforms for men more than for women.

Rather than focusing on the full range of educational failures, DiPrete and Buchmann focus on a low-hanging fruit policy question: How can we improve college degree attainment for the approximately one-third of students who are ready to graduate college but do not, because they do not have the resources, they change their minds for some reason, or they are not adequately supported in the endeavor?

Women up

Since the 1980s, women have gotten the majority of bachelor’s degrees. That’s mostly because they also perform better in high school, getting better grades and taking more advanced courses. DiPrete and Buchmann set aside the issue of the potential cognitive advantages of girls, which may or may not be “innate.” Such differences are too small and stable to account for the rapid change and large advantage in educational attainment women now hold. The reasons we do not have more people completing college—and gaining more skills and knowledge to enrich their lives—are not genetic or biological, but rather social and economic. We can do better, for both men and women.

While women have continued their upward historical educational trajectory since World War II, men’s achievement of college degrees stagnated—coinciding historically with the growing necessity of having higher education for economic security. If you ever needed proof that majorities of people do not respond in predictably self-interested ways to economic incentives, it is the stagnation of male college graduation rates even as the returns to a college degree spiked upward.

DiPrete and Buchmann’s sensible policy suggestions draw from this key insight: The difference between men and women, and how it has changed, can best be understood by studying differencesamong men and women—within genders. That means we don’t just study what family, school, and environmental effects matter, but who is most strongly affected by such differences in the social context.

One important lesson: Schools with high overall performance have a smaller female advantage. That leads to the straightforward conclusion that we can address the gender gap partly by increasing the quality of schools across the board. Easier said than done, but no less important—or less true—for it.

Men up

It is important to connect women’s educational rise with the other trends that have upended gender relations in the U.S., and the authors do an admirable job of tying these in. In particular, the rise in women’s employment opportunities, the decline or delay in marriage, and falling fertility rates have all increased the incentives for (and ability of) women to complete college. And, of course, the rise in education has in turn fueled these other developments as well. For example, college graduate women as well as men are more likely to get (and stay) married than those who completed high school only. Maybe by getting a college degree they improve their marriage-market options—and reduce the odds that they will divorce by increasing the educational parity in their marriages.

While the title of DiPrete and Buchmann’s book is overly dramatic, the subtitle is appropriately limited: The Growing Gender Gap in Education and What it Means for American Schools. Because although women are more likely to graduate college and get some advanced degrees than men are today, there is nothing in this trend that implies women will surpass men in overall earnings or economic (much less political) power in the foreseeable future.

Education, especially measured at the bachelor’s degree level, is merely one indicator in a whole suite of gender dynamics in which men overwhelmingly dominate. Further, women’s educational advantage is not so great that they will overcome the labor-market advantages that men have at all educational levels, the imbalances within families that persist today, or the tendency of women to end up in less lucrative fields of study and thus occupations.

The biggest problem for gender inequality among the college-educated remains the lack of gender integration across fields of study, which stalled in the 1980s. Men and women still largely educate themselves in different fields, with dramatic implications for their career trajectories and earnings throughout their lives. Segregation in fields of study is closely related to the issue of occupational segregation in the labor market. Both reflect a complex combination of choices and constraints made in varying social contexts—with decisions made early in life producing irreversible effects. In the latest reports, women are just 26 percent of workers in computer and math-related professional occupations and 14 percent of those in architectural and engineering professions.

And DiPrete and Buchmann’s analysis helps understand this stubborn problem. They report that high school is the key location to understand major-field segregation. Among high school boys and girls with strong interest in science and technology fields, there is no gender gap in the likelihood of completing such a major. The difference is in the rates of intention to major in those areas. Between 8th and 12th grade, girls lose interest in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM fields, for short) much more than boys do.

Women’s desire for people-oriented work, for work that is intrinsically interesting, and for occupations that permit work-family balance cannot fully explain their lower rates of majoring in STEM-related fields. Rather, the major source of the difference is that women do not express interest in STEM-related careers while in high school—and that is not because high school girls are not as good at math and science. Instead, the difference may be that boys believe they are better at math and science, especially math. The key policy insight in this area is that science-intensive high school environments greatly increase girls’ interests in physical science and engineering-related careers.

This is an important book, and although somewhat technical in its analysis sections it deserves a wide readership.

I have two minor complaints about The Rise of Women. The first is over its insistent focus on the four-year college degree and the economic benefits it brings. The fact that women receive more bachelor’s degrees than men but continue to earn less money confirms that a bachelor’s degree is not a first-class ticket to labor-market success. Although this helps to focus the book, it also distracts from the more universal problems we have, including an obsession with the material benefits of education.

DiPrete and Buchman conclude that we need to find ways to motivate students in middle and high school to devote more energy to their studies, by improving the quality of education as well as the quality of information students have to make the connection between what they learn in school and their future career ambitions. Too many boys don’t cognitively grasp that the difference between merely making it versus excelling through high school is measured in higher education success and potential career satisfaction. Finding ways to get this across might really help their motivation to work harder, the authors argue. But truly high-quality education takes students beyond such material calculations into the realm of the intrinsic beauty of discovery, the power of wonder, and the search for knowledge as a key to life, the universe and everything.

My second knock is that the authors seem not to notice the broad trend of slowing advances for women. For example, even though their charts show it, they don’t mention that the share of law and medical degrees earned by women slowed and then peaked in the early 2000s—and has declined since. Naturally, that is not the central concern of a study devoted to understanding women’s advantages. But in the context of the general gender stall, it’s important to realize that women’s progress across many areas is highly interrelated.

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Let’s Not Panic Over Women With More Education Having Fewer Kids

Originally published on TheAtlantic.com.

Though the phenomenon has been called “reverse Darwinism,” a look at the facts and figures reveals it’s not as scary as it seems.

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AP / Amy Sancetta

Women with more education have fewer children—which is one of the reasons why extending equal access to education for women is so important. Women with more education have more opportunities for productive lives doing work other than childrearing. All around the world, when education levels rise, fertility levels fall.

That doesn’t mean we have to sacrifice the future of humanity on the altar of gender equality, but it does mean we have to figure out how to raise and support fewer children to be happy and productive (as the economist Nancy Folbre explains).

I wrote about fertility last week, and I’m dwelling on the subject because of What To Expect When No One’s Expecting: America’s Coming Demographic Disaster, Jonathan Last’s panic-book about low fertility. The argument and information in the book aren’t new, but he provides a good example of common misperceptions that are worth considering. At first glance, the argument doesn’t seem to have a conservative political impetus—after all, who’s against children? But that only makes it more important to understand fertility in the context of gender equality.

The general relationship between the number of children women have and their relative status in society is clear: Fewer children means higher status. And the relationship is reciprocal: Higher status for women also leads to lower fertility.

Further, the relationship appears at both the individual level and the societal level. Countries with lower fertility levels have, on average, less gender inequality in the realms of education, income, political and social power. Here is the relationship between total fertility (average number of children per woman) and the UN’s gender inequality index, which combines reproductive health, political representation, educational and labor force equality. (I made bigger dots for bigger countries, and colored the U.S. dot blue.)

cohen fertility 1.jpg

This shows two things:

  • First, there are no societies with high fertility and low gender inequality.
  • Second, there is a range of gender inequality among the low-fertility countries.

I interpret the pattern like this: There is a lot that can be done about gender inequality—once fertility rates are reduced.

This can be a confusing subject, and Last provides a good example of that. Along the way to arguing that we need more babies in the U.S. (and almost everywhere else), Last complains that poor people are aping the low-fertility behavior of the modern, liberal, feminist, self-centered middle class. The poor are having too few children. But he also complains they are having all the children. He writes:

The bearing and raising of children has largely become the province of the lower classes.

And he writes:

What we have, then, is a picture of an American middle class that is surprisingly barren … Women who go to college or graduate school are unlikely to have even two children. … It’s a kind of reverse Darwinism where the traditional markers of success make one less likely to reproduce.

Going further than “reverse Darwinism,” Last also said on his Glenn Beck network appearance that we have “survival of the weakest in a way, but even worse.” (In fairness, by that point in the conversation, everyone was getting pretty confused.)

But before debunking this interpretation of the facts, we might first wonder if the facts are even true. In the world of conservative news, it would seem that poor people are sucking the government dry while overpopulating the country with paupers and criminals. Meanwhile, to others—admittedly the set I’m more familiar with—children are seen as the accessories of the narcissistic elite, and rich people are having more kids.

The facts, though, are that poor women have more children (and women with more children are poorer), and that the fertility rates of more-educated women are rising, not falling.

Let’s examine these pieces of data individually.

Fact 1: Women with less education in the U.S. have more children.

From U.S. Census Bureau data, we know that, among women who were finishing their childbearing years (ages 40-44) in 2010, those with less than a high school degree had borne the most children (2.56), and those with advanced degrees had the fewest (1.67). (Last’s comment that “Women who go to college or graduate school are unlikely to have even two children” seems to follow from the fact that college graduates have an average of 1.73 children, but it’s not true. Because about one in every five college graduates have no children, we only get to an average 1.73 because about half actually have 2 or more children.

cohenfertility2.jpg

But this does not mean that, “The bearing and raising of children has largely become the province of the lower classes.” That’s because only 10 percent of these women had less than a high-school degree, while 34 percent had achieved a BA degree or higher. So here is the distribution of children according to their mothers’ education level, next to the distribution of women:

completed-fertility-by-education-2010

You can see that women with the least education did have more kids than their share of the population: 14 percent versus 10 percent. But there were twice as many children born to women who were college graduates. So women with higher education are almost doing their share in producing the workers of the future. When it comes to childbearing, in other words, the highly educated are almost pulling their weight.

Fact 2: Educational disparities in fertility rates are decreasing

Among women reaching the end of their childbearing years, the last 15 years have seen a decline in the disparity I just described. Completed fertility rates have increased for those with more education, and decreased for those with less, from 1995 to 2010:

cohenfertility4.png

Remember that, even though their fertility rates are quite high, high school dropouts represent only 10 percent percent of women ages 40 to 44.

To be sure: There are a lot of different ways of measuring fertility rates. I’m using completed fertility—the number of children even born to women who reach the age at which childbearing becomes rare (the census defined this as ages 35 to 44 until 2002, and ages 40 to44 since). And this shows women with less education having more children. However, in any given year, women with higher education are more likely to have a child. That’s because people spend fewer years with advanced degrees; that is, women who end up with advanced degrees spend years without them first, usually not having children while they advance their educations and careers. So in 2011, women with MA degrees or higher were just 9 percent of women in the childbearing ages, but they had 11 percent of the babies.

The counterintuitive thing here is the rise in fertility among women with more education (which Last might be pleased to be able to call Darwinian). I could suggest a few reasons for this:

  • Maybe the advanced degree holders at age 40 in 1995 were trailblazers, who, in their struggle to succeed against the prevailing sexism, chose career over children. Meanwhile, women in law or medicine are more common today—and we’ve learned a little more about combining child-rearing with professional careers. (Which often involves paying poorer women to do more caregiving work, which might lead them to have fewer children).
  • Or, maybe post-feminist professional women have come to care less about their careers and choose, perhaps under duress, more childrearing instead. If that is the case, it might be contributing to the stall in progress toward gender equality and the ratcheting upward ofcompetitive parenting.
  • Maybe our intractable work-family conflict—no paid leave, no universal preschool, inflexible workplaces and long workweeks, fathers’ inflexibility—has forced women to choose between parenting and professional success, and more have decided parenting is the more fulfilling.

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