The College Funnel and fertility hysteria on the American right.

The right does a tolerable job beefing about and critiquing the problems with left/liberal hysteria about “too much” fertility. But they conflate two issues into one and thus come out unsuccessful in their rhetorical quest to get married women to pop out more babies.

The fact is that American white fertility has been clustered around 2-4 children (with 5-6 the acceptable fringe due to Catholic and Mormon influences) since basically we had free black people and free white people (so, since 1870 or so). American black fertility has been more like 2-6 children until the 1970s, when they pretty much went to the same pattern as whites. There were also extended periods where both black and white women had 20% or so rates of no children.

So fixating on 1950s style fertility, with its unusually low rate of childlessness among the women of both races, is historically inaccurate. The excessive and vigorous rhetoric on even the mainstream right regarding family size is not very successful because it’s going up against long-standing American norms about family size being relatively small even when there wasn’t much or any modern birth control.

And it causes the right to make that conflation error I led with. They look at small family sizes through a 1950s, historically wrong lens, and declare, repeatedly, that college education is responsible, whether it’s simply attending at all (non-mainstream right) or liberal indoctrination while attending plus too many people attending (mainstream right).

Which brings us to the College Funnel. The College Funnel is the process by which married childbearing increasingly requires women to climb into the College Funnel and squeeze their way through to a degree. Some, quite a few, fall out at various points, but even that much makes getting married before the kids come a whole lot more likely.

With whites, the College Funnel has clearly increased births for women attending and especially completing college. But the births for white women without college attendance have plunged dramatically. With blacks, the College Funnel is at least partly another way to describe married black birth becoming the province of educated immigrants and/or mixed marriages (racially or ethnically, as in marrying a black immigrant) at higher and higher rates since the 1980s. What you have left over in both white and black cases is a small hard core of annual unwed births that combined were around 400k in 1970 and are now around 900k-1m annually since 1990. Sharp rise, then flattened out.

The College Funnel is fairly raceless, with more racial and ethnic intermarriage, which probably muddies the numbers some too.

So you have this problem where people of a certain level of brains are having the married kids and in the case of whites and Asians, it’s most of their kids on top. You have this different problem where people who might or might not have that level of brains, but don’t get into the College Funnel basically can’t have kids except in a handful of “wheeee feckless pride” areas, mostly urban. And the second problem is real, and worth discussing. But combining it with the college thing and declaring college renders anyone who stands next to one sterile is incorrect and not a solid way to get to solutions to let those second-problem people get to have children, much less children mostly in wedlock, again.

The numbers are from data in the National Center for Health Statistics Vital Statistics Reports’ various pdfs.

ETA 7/14/17: And right after I make this blog post, Ace of Spaces pushes a user comment to the top that is the very hysteria I was lamenting.


17 thoughts on “The College Funnel and fertility hysteria on the American right.

  1. Have you seen this?

    I wonder how much the “college causes infertility ” misconception contributed to this idea that college is bad for society overall. Of course the left has decided that this attitude is just a combination racism and anti-intellectualism.

    Anyway, conservatives aren’t coming up with functional alternatives. People are just supposed to skip college, get married out high school and some how support a large family outside of poverty without welfare.


  2. *You have this different problem where people who might or might not have that level of brains, but don’t get into the College Funnel basically can’t have kids except in a handful of “wheeee feckless pride” areas, mostly urban.*

    Is that necessarily the worst thing in the world? Given the dynamics of the modern economy, there isn’t much of a place for us, and maybe it would be best if we didn’t continue to reproduce and have children who would eventually fall behind.


  3. “ETA 7/14/17: And right after I make this blog post, Ace of Spaces pushes a user comment to the top that is the very hysteria I was lamenting.”

    Some thoughts:

    –That guy (age 57) enjoyed his childhood. Just about everybody enjoyed their childhood and young adulthood, even people who grew up under Stalin or in East Germany (see Goodbye, Lenin!). Everything is magical and new to children, i.e. they have no basis for comparison.
    –“One time, a friend of mine broke his arm and his Dad took him to the hospital, which was 24 miles away in the city. There was no nanny state going after him for “abuse.”” Believe it or not, we’ve been to the ER a whole lotta times with injured kids (Middle Kid is extremely accident prone) and never been investigated by CPS.
    –“My Dad never spoke of his time in Korea and not that I blamed him. All I knew was he had a Bronze Star that I happened on one day. I showed it to him and he gently said to put that away and never speak of it ever again.”
    So his dad was basically Clint Eastwood’s character in Gran Torino.
    –“Now kids can’t be kids. They have live in hermetically sealed bubbles.”
    Yes and no. On the one hand, my kids do run along certain designated tracks and have less freedom (we ranged all over the farm), but they are kids, they are able to develop their specific interests more than my siblings and I were able to, they have better toys, they go to a better school, we have a better home education program, they have better medical and dental care, they have more friends, they go to more birthday parties and we have a more wholesome community.
    Oh, and while they don’t run around the neighborhood or town, they do go on a lot more overnight field trips than I did at the same age.
    –“We wonder why there is a childhood obesity epidemic (everything to the nanny staters is an “epidemic”) when we won’t let kids have their independence and play as kids were meant to do.”
    That’s very socioeconomically dependent.
    –I have to mention that a big part of the childhood obesity epidemic is the great variety of screen entertainment. You could offer contemporary kids all the pleasures of the author’s childhood, and they’d choose to stay inside (in the AC) and enjoy their 80 episodes of their favorite show on Netflix and their video games.
    –“We don’t let “boys be boys.” We have to drug them with Ritalin so they won’t leave their seats and be active. I was busy as a child, but my teachers accepted that as part of “boys being boys.””
    –You can’t leave your seat and finish seatwork. ADHD medication allows boys (and girls) who are bright but distracted to pull themselves together and reach their academic potential.
    –“We don’t let them learn at their pace and by methods guaranteed to help them. And we wonder why more women are attending college, not that is a good thing since they come out propagandized by the feminist movement into hating men and delaying childbirth or not even having kids.”
    –There’s never been a time (except maybe the one-room school house) when you’d learn at your own pace in school or college. That’s not how school or college works.


  4. Here’s a BIG problem for Ace’s guy.

    Over his life-time, the US TFR dropped in the early 70s and then stayed basically flat for 40 years

    Meanwhile, the number of young women enrolling in college has been going up and up.

    Surely if there was a close relationship between those two factors, we would expect TFR to go into free fall instead of just being flat?


    • Well, that’s why I’m always gnawing on this bone. The TFR being “below replacement” allows people to convince themselves that “college is making women not have babies!” But the TFR is a constructed projection, not a real number. It’s very useful, that’s why they calculate it, but it’s not as useful as looking at the actual natality data.

      But that’s more than one number. And the idea that college attendance’s association with lower fertility has changed is hard to accept. I think people like Mr. Boomer think that births were just supposed to increase and since they’re not, college attendance is the scapegoat. Also, fish can’t see water, and a lot of guys like that one were sending daughters off to college in the 1990s and 2000s and marrying some of those college attending 1980s women. And it’s not so obvious until you look at the entire last generation or so.


      • “Also, fish can’t see water, and a lot of guys like that one were sending daughters off to college in the 1990s and 2000s and marrying some of those college attending 1980s women.”

        See also Lori Alexander and her do-as-I-say-not-as-I-do advice on college for women.


  5. Another issue–Ace’s guy is a late Boomer and his happy, idyllic carefree childhood and teenage years were (in much of the country) the godless promiscuous miserable 70s.

    (I listen to a lot of late 60s/70s music on the radio, and I can imagine the sound track for his post–I’m thinking Van Morrison’s Brown Eyed Girl (1967), Meatloaf’s Paradise by the Dashboard Light, and Bob Seger’s Against the Wind (1980).)


  6. OK, I”m being a thread hog, but I really want to talk about the conservative ADHD meds freakout. When ADHD medication works for an individual, they can help A LOT, and it’s just cruel to make kids suffer without them.

    Here’s an example:

    Gina Pera says: “In all the misguided online chatter around “drugging children” for ADHD, what gets completely lost? Compassion for these children. Many suffer impairments far beyond the classroom. They suffer impairments that distort any reasonable person’s idea of a “happy childhood.” Impairments that, in fact, threaten to negatively shape the course of their entire lives. Including deficits in empathy.”

    Taylor J (AKA Christian Janeway) writes: “The Number One most profound thing I’ve learned about ADHD is this: it can create trouble connecting “cause” with “effect.” And that can create a world of trouble.”

    (Me: so it’s not just having high energy or bouncing around the classroom–ADHD impairs judgment.)

    Taylor J says: “It doesn’t take a genius to see that continually failing to connect actions with consequences will wreak havoc on a person’s life. Worse, it can kill the potential for relationships.”

    “Yet, in raising my first-born child, the oldest of four girls, I watched helplessly as every lesson about empathy I tried to impart seemed to bounce off her soul. She would exploit others. She would set up games where everyone would treat her like a queen from another planet, or convince friends to “share” their favorite toys and clothes. Forever. I even caught her in an elaborate kindergarten “protection racket” at one point: taking her sister’s money to keep monsters away. (She’d already made 6 dollars!)”


    “There was more. She would explode over the tiniest frustration. Anything from itchy seams on her socks, to the bedcovers not being straight, to her oatmeal being the slightest bit “too watery” would set her off on an explosive tantrum.”

    (Me: OK, now that sounds autistic.)

    “I started to wonder if I was raising a narcissist.”

    “My husband and I both have ADHD. We both take medication. I know full well the dramatic changes in cognition and behavior the medication provides. But when The Firecracker was finally diagnosed with ADHD this past July and began medication treatment, even I was not prepared for the change that followed.”

    “I gave her the first dose of Ritalin. Two hours later, as we were returning from the grocery store, she said, “Mom, you can’t carry all that. Let me help you!” She grabbed two grocery bags and the diaper bag. “You need to ask for help when you need it, mom!””


    “To be clear: My daughter had not become some creepy “good child” automaton. She was still herself. But a better emotionally regulated version of herself. A more content version of herself.”

    “To be clear: My daughter had not become some creepy “good child” automaton. She was still herself. But a better emotionally regulated version of herself. A more content version of herself.”

    “Five hours later, the medication had worn off. The Firecracker came to me, tears streaming down her face, screaming, “Mom! This is awful!!! The baby won’t stop crying! [The baby had cried for one minute.] Is this what it felt like all the time when I wasn’t on medication?””

    There’s a lot more good stuff back at the original post, but the general outline is that the author’s daughter used to seem like an incorrigibly narcissistic evil little wench, but ADHD medication helped her pull herself together and be kind and thoughtful.

    Of course, people’s mileage will vary, but imagine the devastating outcomes for this family if they had embraced the usual anti-ADHD medication conservative party line.


    • It’s still overprescribed and there are a lot of other approaches one can take to deal with it that help people with ADD or ADHD too that don’t have the numerous and extensive downsides of medication. A lot of people who’ve been on Ritalin as minors complained of mental sluggishness and fogginess and that not being on the medication helped them a lot more. Their experiences are pretty relevant, as are the suicidal impulses that occur at a higher frequency in (male) pubescent children on ritalin before puberty.

      Drugs are a hard technology to get right because human bodies are complicated and variable. I don’t think zero drugs for mental/brain issues is correct, but there is no evidence for zealous “drugs all the time wheeeee!” either if the goal is to first do no harm.

      When it doesn’t work, in this case for something known as “Einstein Syndrome” or “late talking”, that’s horrifying, monstrous and cruel too.

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