Itty bitty teeny weeny post about Scandinavian birth patterns.

They are, for the most part, very similar to American ones, but in a way I didn’t expect once I looked into the data.  They have nearly the same percentages of women having 3 or 4 kids as America does (so, about 25% or so combined).  They have a similar pattern of fewer women signing onto the motherhood project, but the ones that remain having 2-3 and a bit less often than in America 4 or more.  It’s not a sea of women having just one and grudgingly two at all.

I have run into a lot of references to having three kids in English-language articles about various Scandinavian countries and it turns out that is partly because a three child family is not actually that uncommon in those countries.

This is interesting.  I tried to see if this was true in non-Scandi Europe (France, Germany, UK), but the data wasn’t laid out for English speakers in a way that made this easy to find, so  I still have no idea if it’s true with them too.  It’s also pretty SWEET that Scandinavian countries put up some pretty elaborate birth data charts ‘n’ graphs in English.

The Marginal Child in 2014

These are heat maps of where people decide to have the marginal third child that breaks the “family of four” paradigm that is reflected even in consumer goods and packaging because it’s become such a core part of post-Vietnam American culture.

For all races, about 30% of births for 2014 were third kid or higher.

Third births and higher, all races

For whites, it was about 25%

Third births and higher, whites only

A starting point for discussion is that while the coasts with good jobs where both parents can potentially earn 75-100k apiece are punching a little below the national average, they are nevertheless putting up third babies in the double digits in many high-cost counties.

Where the babies are, 2014

Heat map of where 4th and higher births are by county for all races.  National average is 12.4% of all births.

Fourth and higher births

Here’s just non-Hispanic whites.  Their national average is 10.2%.

Fourth and higher order births, whites only

The hottest counties have 24-27% of births (all races) and 31-35% of births (white only) as kid #4 or more.

Open for discussion.

American childbearing goes Scandinavian

The latest birth and fertility data are showing what I feared, the only age groups showing an increase in births were the 30-44 age groups.  All groups under age 30 have been showing consistent and steady declines of late, with the 25-29 group finally succumbing after occasional blips upwards half a decade ago.

Lower under-18 births is ok, and that continues (and no it is not via more abortions, but less sex).  But the shift towards having kids in your 30s as the norm continues apace.  This is the modern Scandinavian model.

The plus side is that there’s more married childbearing in all racial groups.  The unwed motherhood trend is going ever so slowly backwards, consistently.  Black births to unwed mothers dropped while the total number of births increased, lowering their percentage of unwed births.

There’s a shift in the last decade where unwed mothers are finally seeing percentage and absolute decreases in their births, but married mothers are having more children.

Fewer women are having children, but the ones who get married first are having more third and up children than they used to five years ago.  This is tricky though, because with women having all their kids in their 30s and 40s more, we can’t be sure we haven’t moved into a different fertility pattern of relative robustness for the women who can navigate waiting that long to marry and pop out 3 or more kids.  It could be the latest dead cat bounce before we get yet another step down in higher order births.

About 55% of American women 40 and over have 1 or 2 children.

Given biology, this percentage is much the same for American women 35-39 as well.  About 20% have exactly three and a bit under 8% have exactly 4.  Hispanic women have three at noticeably higher rates than other ethnic groups, which has kept the percentage of women having 3 pretty stable over the last couple of decades.

The numbers were a little lower 15 and 20 years ago, but not by much.

Adding all that up, over 80% of women have 1-4 children in their lifetimes.  Nearly all the rest do not have kids at all. About 3% have five or six.  More than six is, statistically speaking, a rounding error.

Sometimes you hear that “80 or 85% of all women reproduce”.  Well, yeah, but in practice, this is what that means as far as actual children born.

On a related note, Scandinavian birthrates are mostly below replacement and they are only as close to it as they are because of social and government pressure to get women over 35 to have a marginal extra child.  The Scandinavian model of family formation is to have one child in your early 30s, and occasionally a second in your mid or late 30s.  It’s really a disastrous approach long-term for reasons I’ll leave as an exercise.

The American model is much more diverse, but tends towards closely spacing births and having as many as you can handle mostly alone, which appears to max out around 3 or 4.  But because child spacing varies so much among Americans having kids, it’s difficult for people who had three kids five years apart over two marriages to understand the travails of someone having three kids in three years in one marriage.  Or having one kid out of wedlock in one’s early 20s and then two more in marriage ten years later.

It’s interesting that for several decades now women have been starting their families in their 30s in America more and more often and trying to have as many as they can then, but they can’t outrun biology, so the overall TFR doesn’t shift much.

 

Large families when you can’t run away

In America today there is a paradox of choice regarding large families that is as far as I can tell totally ignored by people who have or defend large families.  My experiences with large families (double-digit) are that I’m only one generation removed from women who couldn’t escape that size of family.  It wasn’t just one option they were taking and could drop at any time.  Yes, even extended abstinence is a major privilege that many of those women would have been pretty cheerful about having access to.

They had to agree to what he wanted when he wanted it, no matter if they were just a few weeks postpartum or had had a hard delivery and needed more recovery time. Formula being easy, cheap and reliable to use wasn’t the case and some of the double-digit kids didn’t make it on the various alternatives available.  This informs a huge amount of my views on birth control.  I don’t think birth control is something women should feel pressured into doing either for related and religious reasons, but let’s just be real and note that the medium-term consequence of that is fewer children you can handle if you do have a resource shortage in your household.

I just have to shake my head at women who have the totally free and unfettered choice to have zillions of kids acting like women abandoned that in droves in the last 50 years out of (@($*@#@(!@ “selfishness” or “hard hearts” or whatever self-righteous word of the month gets tossed out there.  Being able to feed, clothe, house and provide for the medical needs of ten or fifteen children with relative ease and comfort no matter what your income level is should be acknowledged as the astonishing modern consumption good that it is.

Now certainly some of these women would argue with me on the ease point, but you know what, if you can welcome pregnancy after pregnancy with zero concern that the other children or the one(s) you’re carrying will be stunted or die from lack of food or medical care when sick or have to be shipped off to sometimes pretty distant relatives because you can’t feed them all once the next one appears, that’s relative ease of provision.  This is not what the women I am speaking of could count on.  I am talking about deaths under age 5 all the way into the 1960s, in America.

It was really bad in the richest country in the world before mass-economy made food and clothes so cheap.  And anyway that’s where I’m coming from regarding large family rhetoric among conservative Christians.  It didn’t matter whether you had joy in your heart or not, you were facing another pregnancy anywhere from a few days to several months after that delivery until your 30s, and sometimes into your 40s.  A lot of those women knew however dimly about the sterilizations performed on many of them without their consent after World War I and many weren’t mad about it because it meant a break from the treadmill of fertility.  They weren’t as stupid as people think and had some idea what was going on.