A few notes from The Third Child (from Phase 2 of the Princeton Longitudinal Fertility Study)

The Third Child is the second stage and second book of the study I mentioned here,and it reveals some interesting things about the parents of the Boomers.

The biggest is the strong pressure to pop out 2-4 children by age 30. This was a recurring theme, that women should complete their families (yep, including the Catholics) by age 30 and not have more kids after that. What’s interesting about this is that what we have now is the opposite, women are under strong pressure to pop out 2-4 kids *after* age 30. The difference, aside from the obvious, was that the Boomer’s moms could rely on a lot more other women around and were younger when their kids were teenagers.

The other interesting thing is the insane sex selection mania. Part of the baby boom was driven by wanting children of both sexes, and popping em out like pez until you got your boy or girl. One might note that Boomers were the first generation to have access to ultrasound that was useful for sex identification during their prime childbearing years.

Boomers were responding to a lot of less than perfect behavior from their parents and grandparents, which doesn’t make them saints, but it gives some perspective on where some of their self-centered tendencies might have come from other than a vacuum.

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.