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 12th (it came out in 2015), 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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Sunday, August 5, 2018

Age at First Birth Tells Us a Lot about the Status of Women and Their Children

The New York Times today led with an interesting demographic story on the average age at first birth in America, and thanks to my good friend, Professor Rubén Rumbaut for sending me the link to it last night. The story is about starting families and my wife and I have been "vacationing" at home with the family we started several decades ago when we were ourselves married college graduates.
Becoming a mother used to be seen as a unifying milestone for women in the United States. But a new analysis of four decades of births shows that the age that women become mothers varies significantly by geography and education. The result is that children are born into very different family lives, heading for diverging economic futures.
[The analysis] was of all birth certificates in the United States since 1985 and nearly all for the five years prior. It was conducted for The New York Times by Caitlin Myers, an economist who studies reproductive policy at Middlebury College, using data from the National Center for Health Statistics.
The results are not necessarily surprising, but they reinforce other research findings showing that women who have their first baby at a young age tend to be disproportionately unmarried, not a college graduate, and more likely from a rural area. By contrast, the later ages at first birth tend to occur among college educated women, who are also more likely to be married and to live in urban areas. This matters more now than in the past because the growing inequality in income and wealth makes it ever more difficult to launch children in the direction you, as a parent, want them to go.
There has long been an age gap for first-time mothers, which has narrowed a bit in recent years, driven largely by fewer teenage births, Ms. Myers said. Yet the gap may be more meaningful today. Researchers say the differences in when women start families are a symptom of the nation's inequality -- and as moving up the economic ladder has become harder, mothers' circumstances could have a bigger effect on their children’s futures.
“These education patterns do help drive inequality, because well-educated women are really pulling ahead of the pack by waiting to have kids,” said Caroline Hartnett, a sociologist and demographer studying fertility and families at the University of South Carolina. “But if going to college and achieving an upper-middle-class lifestyle seems unattainable, then having a family might seem like the most accessible source of meaning to you.”
The law professors June Carbone and Naomi Cahn described in a 2010 book how red and blue families were living different lives. The biggest differentiating factor, they said, was the age that mothers had children. Young mothers are more likely to be conservative and religious, to value traditional gender roles and to reject abortion. Older mothers tend to be liberal, and to split breadwinning and caregiving responsibilities more equally with men, they found.
You can see, then, that the age at first birth is a key indicator of how a woman's life is going, and at the same time is a key predictor of how her children's lives are apt to turn out. 

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