Wednesday, March 25, 2009

1/5th of Older Gen X Women are Childless

The rule of thumb is that about 87% of the women in a population will have children. In the United States and other industrialized nations the percentage has fallen below that as we move from the first wave of Baby Boomers, born in the 1940s, to the first wave of Gen Xers, born in the 1960s. By the time they were 44, the usual end of a woman's fertile years, about 86% of older Boomer women had children. For older Gen Xers, the number is 81%.

Put another way, almost a fifth of older Gen X women, the "Atari wave" as opposed to the "Nintendo wave" of the '70s, will have no children. Gen Xers are more likely to be educated, and to have more education, than their predecessors. All those years of schooling and career starting eat into baby time. This catches many forty-something women by surprise. Also, as the most divorced-upon generation, the Xers were much slower to marry and have kids than their predecessors were, for fear of screwing their kids up.

It is too early to know the completed fertility of the Millennials, or even the later wave of Xers. If the increasing numbers of weddings by young Millennials that I get invited to are any indication, though, the rising generation of fertile women may reverse the trend of their "lost generation" predecessors.


Anonymous said...

And this, as you know, is a significant trend not only for the fate of social security and medicare among other things, but for mainline church attendance as well. Greeley & Hout's demographic imperative continues to get support from others and it looks like Gen X will only accelerate that trend if this proves out.

ceemac said...


I recall reading a book by and about this cohort circa 1987. It was called soemthing like "The Posponed Generation."

The author wrote about her particular peer group. That group was mid 80's liberal arts graduates of very good colleges but not Ivy elite. They were not going to med/law/grad school and were not from wealthy or well connected families with a business for them to step into.

If I recall her research was mostly interviews with friends and friends of frinds, etc

The folks she was wrting about had huge college debts and poor job prospects. Seems like many were back with their parents. Thus the title of "posponed" in contrast to thier parents who were well settled into home, family, and career by the time they were 25ish.

Of course this author did figure out a way to get a book published and wind up on Today or Good Morning America which is where I saw her. And caused me to go check out the book at the library.

Not sure why that book stuck in my mind for more than 20 years.

Gruntled said...

This is my demographic exactly. We had three, which is unusually high in our college class. I remember going to my 20th reunion. We had teens. Some single women came with their one child, conceived at 40, in a sling or a stroller.

ceemac said...

Of course the word was "Postponed" not "Posponed"

I am not sure you were really one the folks the author was writing about. You were an honors grad and from your bio it looks like you went straight to grad school.

Same age but maybe not really peers.

It's been a long time but I think most of the folks she wrote about were more in the middle. Think of the "B-" english or art history major at your college that relied on student loans for a big chunk of their tutition.

The book was bitter. Degrees from these expensive non Ivy colleges were not automatically opening doors for these grads. I think the author felt that implied promises had been broken. I think there was some wondering if her peers might not have been better off going to a state school w/o debt instead of a more prestigious school.

Of course there were not many jobs for college grads circa 1985 much less b- English majors.

Gruntled said...

Fair enough. The measure of an education is not the job that follows, but the whole life that follows.

ceemac said...

I agree with you about the value of an education.

Of course the author was probably only 24 or 25 when she wrote the book.

It would be intersting to see if she is more appreciative of her education 20+ years later.

One of the reasons the book sticks in my mind is that about the same time a book called "Midterm Report." came out. It was by David Wallinsky (sp? was Wallace) one of the authors of the 1976 book "What Really Happened to the Class of '65?" This time he looked at how representatives class of '65 from around the country not just one wealthy LA school were doing.

Gruntled said...

"Susan Littwin is the author of "The Postponed Generation" and was for many years a staff writer in TV Guide's West Coast Bureau. She has contributed articles to many magazines, including TV Guide, McCall's, Redbook, Rosie, Us, Los Angeles Times Sunday and Los Angeles magazine. Susan joins MAKING BREAD as our West Coast Editor."

MAKING BREAD: The Magazine for Women
Who Need Dough

ceemac said...

Ah yes. I was looking it up the same time you were.

And I have made a faux pas.

It appears that the book I remember reading is not the book I actually read.

It looks like Littwin is a boomer. So this book is an early example of the genre of boomers being critical of X'ers.

I do not know why I thought the author was a disgruntled graduate of Tulane circa 1984. Unless that was the description of one of the main characters in the book.

Black Sea said...

It is interesting to note what a widespread phenomenon this has become. I live in Turkey, which of course many people, including many Turks, view as a land of large families. In fact, TFR for Turkish women is now 1.87. And bear in mind that this is a country in which the working and agricultural classes may actually have 6 kids per family, or for that mater, 12 or 13, if there is more than one wife. At the other end of the scale, women with professional degrees and careers tend to range from childless to two kids. I'd say a three child family among professional parents is far more common in the States than here. The prime minister has gone so far as to urge Turkish women to have at least three kids for the sake of the nation.

So far as education and employment goes, the most a university can possibly guarantee is access to education. There can be no guarantee that the students will actually exercise the curiosity or do the work necessary to learn. The notion that a university could guarantee employment, much less satisfying employment, is a delusion. It's unfortunate that so many kids and their parents see it as a reality.

Gruntled said...

The birth dearth is not just in NATO. China's one-child policy is partly working, and Indian birth control has been almost as harsh. Some countries that were leading the population explosion a generation ago, like Mexico, are likely to go below replacement soon.