This blog is intended to go along with Population: An Introduction to Concepts and Issues, by John R. Weeks, published by Cengage Learning. The latest edition is the 13th (it will be out in January 2020), but this blog is meant to complement any edition of the book by showing the way in which demographic issues are regularly in the news.

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Tuesday, February 13, 2018

American Women Are Having Fewer Children Than They Say They Want

Thanks to Justin Stoler for pointing out a story in today's NYTimes about the gap between the number of children women in this country say they want to have and the actual number they are having. In some respects, this is not a new story. In every low fertility country for which I have seen data, women are not having as many children on average as they say they would like. These are averages, of course, so some women are having more than they might want (as a result of unintended pregnancies), and many are having exactly the number they want. Still, the averages point to trends, as the story's author, Lyman Stone, notes somewhat dramatically:
America’s fertility is in precipitous decline. Our team of forecasters at Demographic Intelligence projects 3.84 million births in 2017, down from about 3.95 million in 2016. And it’s likely to fall further — far short of what women themselves say they want for their family size. 

The trick in this kind of analysis is to marry (no pun intended) the desired family size with the actual number of children ever born. This is built into the Demographic Health Surveys, but such surveys are rarely conducted in the richer, low fertility countries. So, the desired family size data come from surveys, such as Gallup (as Pew Research has used), or the General Social Survey, as used  in this article by Stone, while the data on children actually born come from vital statistics, in this case the U.S. National Center for Health Statistics (now part of the Centers for Disease Control).

Of particular interest is this following set of possible explanations set forth for why the gap may be rising between actual and desired family size:
Diminished face-to-face interaction, and possibly increased use of pornography, may explain the fall in sex, and both of those trends may be explained by the rise in cellphone usage and other screen time. 
Smartphone ownership rates have more than doubled for every age group in America since 2010, meaning that almost all of us now carry a get-out-of-human-interaction-free card in our pockets 24/7.
Also of interest is that the author is from a research company called Demographic Intelligence, whose founder, W. Bradford Wilcox, is a sociologist at the University of Virginia whom I blogged about several years ago. Two of the advisors to the company are also famous demographers: S. Philip Morgan, at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, who is a Past President of the Population Association of America (and appeared in my blog a few years ago); and Hans-Peter Kohler, at the University of Pennsylvania (who also appeared in my blog a few years ago).

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