Why do people have children?
The new Pew report is a good summary of trends in the demography of mothers, as well as attitudes related to birth decisions.
Which makes it excellent fodder for the shenanigans of talking-head hooligans (h/t Jay Livingston). You know you’re heading into junk-demography land when a column starts with the phrase, “Fifty years ago, American family structures…”
Anyway, one of the interesting things in the report was a question on why parents decided to have children.
I’m interested in those people who say “it just happened.” Fortunately, the report breaks them down (including those who said it was a “somewhat important” as well as those who said “very important.”
We don’t how much of this is a normative expression of appropriate reasons for parenting – social desirability bias – and how much reflects what “really” happened. Either way, though, there is an inequality gradient in perception, or expression, of self-efficacy in family structure (something others have explored in depth).
I read an interesting analysis of sex ratios at birth by Christophe Guilmoto.
As sex identification technology spread through Asia, sex-selective abortion has followed, allowing for greater expression of son preference, and a skewed ratio of boys to girls. The biological average is about 105 boys for every 100 girls, and the most extreme deviation from that now is found in China and Azerbaijan, with ratios of 120:100.
China’s run-up in sex ratios follows a long evolution that saw a decline in female infanticide after the 1950s, followed by a retrenched son preference under the combination of the one-child policy and the collapse of the social welfare system — and enabled by increased access to ultrasound technology.
However, South Korea is a country that apparently reversed course, dropping from over 115:100 in the mid-1990s to near-normal now:
Guilmoto attributes South Korea’s improvement to increased educational and job opportunities for women, made possible by economic development, and anti-discrimination legislation.
He also has some interesting speculation, especially about the effect of a bubble of “surplus” men — many of whom will not be able to marry:
In such a greatly altered demographic environment, having a son who may never marry would soon represent a serious social or economic hazard. It is ironic that the very precepts that underlay the initial demand for sons (and the parallel aversion to daughters) would deal a fatal blow to the patriarchal system.
That might be wishful thinking, but something has to give.