Poking at the large family myth bubble.

As anyone reading along in this blog or the broader American right wing knows, there is a loud contingent of people who assert that in America, large families used to be common as dirt and women loved having them too.

This is not, strictly speaking, accurate.

The Vital Statistics folks (originally at the Census, and now with the CDC) stopped making a new column for births past #17 in 1959. The next year, in 1960, while still in what came to be called the Baby Boom, they stopped doing new columns for births above #8. And the Vital Statistics people are very conservative about these things. They were cheerfully making columns for 312 16th births for years. But 312 out of 4 million or so births a year is a really tiny number and eventually even they just started mushing all those ten and twelfth and seventeenth births together.

The point being that thousands of double digit births can still be happening, but still also be not common as dirt. Pesky math.

The other poke at the bubble for now is that as soon as American women got birth control access, they mysteriously rushed as far away from double digit family sizes as they could. Eight was very much enough, thanks, and keeping births down to six or less was nicer still, as far as white American women were concerned. There is some amusing (for a personal value of amusing) commentary in many of the annual bulletins expressing statistician puzzlement at the plunge in 8 and up births among white women about twenty seconds after the first shipload of diaphragms washed ashore. And while access came decades later for black women, they behaved exactly the same and kablooey went the higher order black birth numbers too.

This is not the behavior of women who looooooved having ten or fifteen kids. It’s also not really much to do with feminists or feminism except that they felt the solution to male sexual incontinence was to have women end run around it with birth control of ever-increasing reliability.

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3 thoughts on “Poking at the large family myth bubble.

  1. I read somewhere else recently (AGAIN!) that black women are outbreeding white women, yadda, yadda, yadda. I usually pipe in and correct that mistaken notion but decided it wasn’t worth the bother since this guy -for whatever reason- needed to believe that large numbers of black women are popping out bastards left and right and nothing I said would convince him otherwise.

    It would seem to be common sense that given the opportunity to set up a more manageable family life in the context of increased atomization and loss of social and family structure, most women would jump at the chance. But it wasn’t just the women. As the economy shifted to one where men had decreased employment stability, many husbands also desire fewer children. Better to be able to educate and provide well for three than scrape by trying to provide for 6, 8 or more.

    The other thing that jumped out at me about this post was your closing remark about sexual incontinence. We have had occasion in recent years to has this subject out with acquaintances.

    I find it rather interesting that the discussions never broach this, and almost none of the commentary I read about male sexual desire, multiple women, etc. acknowledges the pretty high level of abstinence built into OT regulations on sex within marriage. Ostensibly, polygyny would be the solution to the problem but most people are familiar with the menstrual synchrony so…

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  2. Elspeth said:

    “Better to be able to educate and provide well for three than scrape by trying to provide for 6, 8 or more.”

    Late fatherhood (especially combined with early fatherhood) makes it hard to do much of anything about retirement savings. I know a number of CAF parents of large families don’t even think about retirement.

    “I find it rather interesting that the discussions never broach this, and almost none of the commentary I read about male sexual desire, multiple women, etc. acknowledges the pretty high level of abstinence built into OT regulations on sex within marriage. Ostensibly, polygyny would be the solution to the problem but most people are familiar with the menstrual synchrony so…”

    The jury is still out on menstrual synchrony:

    http://www.huffingtonpost.com/entry/can-womens-periods-really-sync-up_us_55f33e2ce4b077ca094f221a

    However,

    a) the OT regulations on menstruation would still be a major limitation.
    b) the OT had enough rules on multiple wives that it would have been a logistical and economic hassle especially for men of modest means (example Exodus 21: “If he takes another wife to himself [in addition to his original slave wife], he shall not diminish her [the slave wife’s] food, her clothing, or her marital rights. And if he does not do these three things for her, she shall go out for nothing, without payment of money..”)
    c) there simply wouldn’t be enough women for multiple wives to be a viable option for many men under peacetime conditions.

    So, it’s no wonder that Jewish polygamy fizzled out.

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  3. Late fatherhood (especially combined with early fatherhood) makes it hard to do much of anything about retirement savings. I know a number of CAF parents of large families don’t even think about retirement.

    Yep. Which means that when they are too old to work they are going to be a financial burden to their children. A lot of couples have fewer children so that they can afford to support their parents.

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