I was looking around in old Census data the other month and stumbled upon a fairly shocking bit of demographic information–white American women have pretty much always been at the lower end of fertility. I am defining “American” here as “after 1776”. They were having only a couple kids per woman way back in the 1840s and such.
Regionalism is part of how the myth of fecund white women oppressed into sterility by “the libs” or “feminism” gained traction. In a few regions, white women did have huge families, 8-12 kids being quite usual. However, this was a single-digit percentage of all white women of childbearing age, and this has been the case almost from the very beginnings of America as a nation. White women in America have always tended towards having relatively few children, long before 1960s or even 1920s feminism. The Baby Boom years weren’t a bunch of white women feeling free to have five or six kids, they were a bunch of white women *who would have otherwise had none having one* being added to the overall pool of mothers. This is, needless to say, not part of the conservative happy 50s mythmaking.
American women have frequently throughout American history taken more personal freedom and economic power in exchange for the lack of genuine domestic support, on average. This is part of how childrearing in America has become so awful and health-damaging for women. Men bought our great grammas off with “freedom” and this was supposed to compensate for not having a feminine or domestic sphere. And there’s always been extreme subcultures having huge families to point to, even though they never represented much more than 15-20% of the total population themselves.
But I guess that’s also part of the secret history of domesticity in America–a typical American woman really wasn’t raising six kids alone while her husband worked all day or was gone for months. She was about as likely to be raising one or two in 1870 as 1970, which explains quite a bit.