New U.S. fertility data suggest that having a higher education isn’t associated with having a big family: Women who are college graduates are likely to have fewer children — if they have them at all — than their less-educated sisters, the Census Bureau said Monday.
“Our findings show that a ‘delayer boom’ is under way, where highly educated women initially delay childbearing, but are more likely to have children into their 30s,” said bureau demographer Kristy Krivickas.
“But these women do not fully catch up to the childbearing levels of women with fewer years of schooling,” she said.
The difference is significant: By the time women reach the 40-44 age group, those who didn’t finish high school averaged 2.56 births per 1,000 women, the highest fertility. Women who finished high school or had any college experience had the next highest fertility, 1.88 and 1.91, respectively. Women who finished college had the lowest fertility — 1.75 births among those with a bachelor’s degree and an even-lower 1.67 for those with graduate degrees, the bureau found.
Childlessness was also most likely to occur to women in the highly educated, professional category: More than 22 percent of these women had no children in their early 40s, compared with around 12 percent of the least-educated women.
Fertility issues are closely watched because they have broad implications for a nation’s economic health: While overpopulation is feared owing to the stress on resources, a collapsing population is also cause for alarm, as it dries up economic growth. Thus, demographers have generally pegged a fertility rate of 2.1 children born per woman as a desirable, population-replacement rate for a nation.
U.S. fertility reached 2.1 births per woman in the last decade, thanks to rises among both immigrant and native-born women. However, U.S. fertility has now slid to slightly below replacement level.
And while women’s education and labor-force participation are historically tied to lower fertility, recent reports have suggested that Americans have also postponed having children in recent years because of the recession.
In 20 of 25 states where data were available, the number of births declined or leveled off in 2008, when per-capita incomes, housing prices and employment figures all fell as well, Pew Research Center said in a 2010 report.
While future fertility trends are not assured, some people, such as W. Bradford Wilcox, a sociology professor at the University of Virginia and president of Demographic Intelligence, expect childbearing to increase in 2011 and 2012 as the economy recovers.
Meanwhile, according to the new census data for 2010:
• Foreign-born women were more likely to have a baby by their early 40s than native-born American women, 87 percent to 80 percent.
• White women were the most likely to not have children by age 40-44: Almost 21 percent of white women this age were childless, compared with 17.2 percent of black women, 15.9 percent of Asian women or 12.4 percent of Hispanic women.
• For some, but not all, ethnic groups, no marriage meant no children: Among never-married women in their early 40s, nearly 70 percent of white women and 66 percent of Asian women were childless. However, only 36 percent of never-married Hispanic women and 28 percent of never-married black women had also never given birth by their early 40s.