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Wednesday, September 09, 2009

Babies and Cleaning Ladies

Yesterday I posted about Japan's recent proposal to pay couples yearly bonuses for having children and I questioned whether such a plan could succeed without other substantial changes.  I mentioned job flexibility and gender equality as potential solutions but I recently became aware of another solution, immigration.

Heinrich Hock, of Mathmatica Policy Research and  Delia Furtado of the University of Connecticut have posted a very interesting article examining the effects of low skilled immigration on the fertility decisions of high skilled women born in the United States.  Hock and Furtado conclude that low skilled immigration makes household service providers, such as housekeepers, nannies and cooks financially feasible for middle and upper class American women and that this in turn increases fertility.

Intuitively this makes sense to me ( I never even considered hiring someone to clean my house until I had a baby) and it also may partially explain why the United States, which does not provide significant financial services for families and still suffers from gender inequalities in the workplace, is not experiencing the decrease in fertility present in other developed countries

If Hock and Furtado are correct, then  current immigration policy may have some very unexpected consequences.  Beefing up our borders may cause the emptying out of our nurseries.

Posted by Marcia Zug on September 9, 2009 at 11:07 AM | Permalink


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Repeal the Thirteenth Amendment (as to indentured servants) to increase the fertility of middle and upper class American women?

Posted by: Shag from Brookline | Sep 10, 2009 7:33:45 AM

There is absolutely no way that a culture as -- oh, let's speak diplomatically -- race conscious as the Japanese will allow any significant number of non-Japanese immigrants.

Throughout East and Southeast Asia, domestic needs are being met by the hiring of low-cost nurses, cooks and housekeepers from the Philippines and Indonesia. Walk through the parks in Singapore or Hong Kong on any Sunday, and you'll see that the immigrant domestic employees are overwhelmingly young, female and unmarried.

The Japanese are well aware that the introduction of large numbers of fertile non-Japanese women into their homeland will have one, highly predictable result -- which is why the government would rather promote research into robots than ease immigration barriers.

Posted by: Judge Not Reinhold | Sep 10, 2009 12:04:44 AM

So we should actually promote the continued subordination of black and brown caregivers?

Posted by: Babo | Sep 9, 2009 9:43:18 PM

I'm skeptical. Sometime between 1995 and 2006, higher income families (top 10% of income) became more likely to have three or more children than lower income families (bottom 10% of income), for the first time since the 1800s. About 15% fewer poor families had three or more children, while almost a third more high income families had three or more children.

Black female fertility dropped below non-Hispanic female fertility in 2002. Black female fertility fell significantly, and white female fertility rose.

But, as of 2006, the higher a woman's family income the more likely it is that she is childless, so the trend towards high income families with large families is offset by the large number of high income families that are childless. Of the poorest women 39.4% are childless, of the most affluent ($75,000+ of family income) 47.9% are childless.

My suspicion is that the shifts are as much medical as they are directly economic.

On one hand, improved sex education and greater availability of contraception, among other things, has reduced teen pregnancy to an all time low over a a time frame of the last couple of decades (it is slightly above the all time low now in what looks like a "dead cat bounce"). Pregnant teens are disproportionately poor and disproportionately likely to become poor, so a meaningful reduction of teen pregnancy is likely to produce a significant reduction in the number of poor families with three or more children. While probably a smaller effect, the combination of declining teen fertility and the availability of legal abortion has already reduced the number of domestic adoptions, an option that made it possible for working and middle class families to increase their family size in earlier years.

On the other hand, the dramatic increase in family size among very high income families probably reflects the increased availability of two important ways for older parents, who are disproportionately high income, to add children to the family. One is fertility treatments, which not only make it easier for women who have postponed child bearing to have careers to have children, but also is a major factor behind a rise in the number of twins and higher order multiple births. The other is the increasing availability of foreign adoption as an option, but only for couples that can afford the expensive process. Both of these developments are quite recent.

By age, fertility is up dramatically for women aged 30 and up, and down significantly for women under 30, since 1990. The teen fertility rate has dropped by about 33%, it has dropped by about 12% for women in their early 20s, and it has dropped by about 4% for women in the late 20s. But, fertility is up by more than 15% for women in their early 30s, it is up by about 50% for women in their late 30s, it is up by about 60% for women in their early 40s and it has roughly tripled for women in their late 40s.

Multiple births are up almost 50% since 1990, with a disproportionate share of that growth among triplet and higher order births, and among non-Hispanic whites, both of which indicate an impact from fertility treatments.

Posted by: ohwilleke | Sep 9, 2009 7:51:48 PM

If beefing up our borders leads to emptying of our nurseries, I'm all for it. We the single and childfree have had enough of this world-polluting paternalism!

Posted by: Jimbino | Sep 9, 2009 7:22:26 PM

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