Saturday, April 21, 2012

Consider Three: New Evidence from Young Adult Families.

Mark Regnerus reports some early results of his survey of young adults, 18 - 39.

I was drawn to this portrait of the number of children in each family.  These data are on full brothers and sisters.

Only children: 21%
Two-child family: 34%
Three-child family: 24%
Four-child family: < 10%
Five-child family: < 5%

Thus, most families don't have enough children to replace the population (replacement level is, on average, 2.1 children per woman).  When you consider the people in the parental generation (older than these respondents) who had no children, they balance out those who had four or more kids.  The average educated mother has two children, which is a widely known norm.  What is less well known is that poor, unschooled, teen mothers also have, on average, two children.

Sociologists have known for some time that the population of this country is in danger of declining, as it is likely to do in all other industrialized countries. Many of my students feel freed by this news, as they want to have more than two children but were afraid that was irresponsible.  They had been taught the old story of a "population explosion" that their parents were taught.  The idea that they can have more is liberating.

The threshold for a stable population, I believe, is between two children as a norm, and three.  People like my students are the very kind most likely to be able to create stable families - educated, persistent young people who are no longer teenagers.

America would be better off if the norm for stable families was three children, rather than two.

As I have long urged my students, when thinking about family size, consider three.

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Sliding Into Cohabitation is Not Worth It

Meg Jay, a clinical psychologist, has a fine piece in the New York Times on how sliding into cohabitation can make it less likely that you will make a successful marriage.

This line is worth the price of admission:
"I’ve had other clients who also wish they hadn’t sunk years of their 20s into relationships that would have lasted only months had they not been living together."

My advice to students: don't live together without a ring and a date.

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

"Equal Pay Day" is Mostly Wrong

Today is "Equal Pay Day," an annual symbolic protest of the supposed gender gap in wages.  It is based on the number of additional days that women have to work into the new year to equal the median wage of men in the prior year.  Last year the median annual income of women working full time and year round was 77% of men's median income. Thus, women need to work an extra quarter of a year - that is, until today - to catch up.

The implication of this argument is that women make 77% of what men make due to discrimination.  A moment's thought, though, should dispose of this argument.  If women really did exactly the same work as men for only three quarters of the cost, no rational employer would hire men at all.

The American Association of University Women, who calculated this ratio, admit that when you control for several things that should be controlled for - college major, occupation, industry, sector, hours worked, workplace flexibility, experience, educational attainment, enrollment status, GPA, institution selectivity, age, race/ethnicity, region, marital status, and number of children - the gap drops to 5% one year after college graduation.

The biggest difference is not simply between men and women, but between fathers and mothers. Married fathers are likely to work more, more steadily, and seek every opportunity to make more money for their families. Married mothers are more likely to scale back their work to have a better balance with their family life.  Married couples usually divide labor and specialize for the good of the family as a whole.

Of course there is some sex discrimination in employment. The Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act, signed into law by President Obama a few years ago, did address a real problem.

But most of the gender gap in wages is due to different choices of how to live that men and women, and especially fathers and mothers, make about work and family life.

Sunday, April 15, 2012

Americans Couple Up When They Always Have

The age of marriage is going up, so the proportion of people who are married in their early 20s - the traditional age of marriage - is going down.

However, the cohabitation rate is going up, and it starts earlier than the marriage age.  Indeed, most couples cohabit before marriage.  Some do so as test for marriage, though that does not work as well as they hoped.

The upshot is that Americans couple up, move in together, and even start to have kids at about the time and rate that they always have.

As the new CDC report, First Marriages in the United States puts it,

"If entry into any type of union, marriage or cohabitation, is taken into account, then the timing of a first union occurs at roughly the same point in the life course as marriage did in the past."