Tubal Ligation is cheaper than babysitters and is the American way.

Apparently it was much more common during the post-WWI (yes, first one) era than I thought, being established as a mainstream medical procedure during the Depression about a dozen years later.  Estimates are not ideal to come by and I hope to update with a chart sometime next year, but easily 1/4 and up to 1/3 of native-born white women engaged in sterilization during the “good old days where mom had 9 kids and LOVED IT”.

There was also a very high rate of condom use, including among regular Mass-attending Catholics.  There doesn’t appear to have been much overlap, so there was a very high rate of using the most reliable contraception among all but the poorest white groups.  Black women also had a fairly high rate of sterilization, but it was much less likely to be done with their explicit permission and there was younger age of first pregnancy and extremely low condom use leaving them in a situation of much higher net fertility expression.

For effectively an entire century, American women have all too frequently preferred or been subjected to technical barriers to more children rather than having lots of other women around while they had many or some system of enforcing male continence to reduce family size.  However, up until the Baby Boomer women were adults, there were still quite a lot of other women and girls around due to generational and social lag, so American women frequently had relatively smaller families than their ancestresses of the 19th and 18th centuries but a lot of informal woman-to-woman support for those smaller families until approximately the birth of Generation X in the mid-60s.  So in a way, the very women who are now absent for so many American Gen X and Millennial aged mothers had their lower-family-size cake and got to eat it too.

Importing Hispanic and Asian women in (and increasingly African ones too), who prefer lots of other women around, sometimes even paid, doesn’t appear to have altered a lot of white and black historical-American women’s beliefs that solo mom care is highest and best and that daycare or someone not-grandma (and frequently even grandma) is “letting other people raise your child”.

Thing is, even in DIY frontier culture, sometimes not-mom helped out and the fallout of emphasizing solo, mother-only childcare has been leaving millions of American mothers with center-based daycare as the only alternative instead of flexible and resilient childcare approaches and options that might provide greater antifragility in the midst of global pandemics.

 

American women born from about 1915-1925 jumped on birth control pills with both hands and a foot

Women who were in their late 30s and early 40s in 1960 when the Pill came along rushed out to keep from having a third-order or higher child.  The drops happened within less than five years of the Pill’s appearance and were especially sharp for the women avoiding a 6th, 7th and 8th+ (all births after 8th are in one category of 8 or more) birth.  The births of third and fourth children recovered a little and flattened out briefly as younger cohorts of women aged into that 35-44 age range, but then continued the drop even more steeply.  The CDC graphed the declines in page 5 of their 1975 National Vital Statistics Report.

The early 1960s were pre-internet, household goods productions still sometimes was competitive with store-made goods,  and food was still pretty expensive.  But once women born in the wake of World War I had the chance to not keep having babies up until menopause, they jumped on it, despite living in what was in many ways still a more “authentic” lifestyle by the standards of many modern conservatives with rose colored memories or film-only knowledge of the era.  There was a lot of stuff going on in the 1960s and 1970s politically and socially, but average people weren’t political then, just as they are not now.  And if so many women who already had large families were jumping on the chance to not have yet another baby, it’s important to understand why and that the why was probably not for politicized reasons.

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.

Women on the Pill had 20% more sex than women not on it.

There was a lot of research done on the Pill when it was first made available to American women on a mass scale in the early 1960s.  The big takeaway, relevant since use was primarily restricted to already-married women, is that women on the Pill had a higher “coital frequency” than women not on the Pill and that pre-Pill, women were in fact having less sex with their husbands over time to avoid pregnancy.   Marrying young was resulting in not as much sex after the first ten years, due to desire for limiting fertility rather than lack of interest according to separate surveys of husbands and wives.

But once the Pill was introduced, women who went on it had more sex and of course had fewer children.  It sure seemed like cake was being had and eaten too.  This is particularly interesting given that decades later research on women taking the Pill showed it to be heavily correlated with reduced sex interest in women and lower libido.  Thus we have the origin story for the mythical housewife who wasn’t that into it but just trying to keep her man satisfied.

The other thing I just remembered about this is that the Pill was the only contraceptive with a substantial increase in sex-having vs non-Pill users.  Sterilizations on either male or female side, condoms, jellies, and the like never showed people utilizing them to have more sex than people avoiding contraceptive use.

The Contraceptive Divorce Protectant

I mention it a lot in comments, and it occurs to me it’s worthy of a post, since I know a lot of not-contraceptive-using Christians IRL and online.  But essentially part of the fallout from the WHEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEE DIVORCE IS SO GREAT epidemic in the 1970s and even 1980s is that people who are 35-50 now were told by older people who’d been burnt that the problem wasn’t marrying young, it was not party animal-ing young together.  And with contraception, this was now on the table.

The belief among quite a few older folks is that marrying young and then jumping into “adulting”  and parenting all at once was the source of their or their divorced friends/neighbors/relatives’ woe.  For all the talk of how women/men are encouraged to live it up singly during their 20s, there is definitely a pro-marriage strain among evangelical and conservative-living secular people that living it up ~together~ and then settling down as older, financially solid boring types is the way to keep a marriage together past when the kids are 18, or even just school-aged.

It is something I didn’t really notice among secular types, although it was certainly there.  It started jumping out at me when we got married and started hanging around married Christians who did it before age 25 and seeing this play out over the years.  And then, of course, it’s not uncommon online either.

For both religious and health reasons we’re not really on Team Contraception, but I do think it’s important to know why people make use of it, because there are people still trying to live out the promises and claims that it would help marriages stay love matches and all that.