For a long time it was considered to be a fact of life that highly educated females have fewer children. This is due to the conception that females with university degrees pursue careers and often start families later than other females. This results in them having fewer children due to time constraints.
A recent study which is due for publication in the Economic Journal suggests that this belief has changed, and that the fertility rates of highly educated females have increased over the last 30 years.
According to research done by economists, Hosny Zoabi and Moshe Hazan, fertility rates among American females who hold some type of college education has stagnated over the past three decades, whilst it has increased by more than 50% among females with advanced degrees.
The two economists analyzed data and discovered that among American females without any type of high-school diploma, the fertility rate is 2.24 children. Among those with a high-school diploma, the rate drops to 2.09, and for those with some type of college education, it drops to 1.78.
However, among those with college degrees, it was found that the fertility rate increases to 1.88 and among those with advanced degrees, the rate increases to 1.96. During 1980, it was found that for females who had studied for a period of 16 years or more, the fertility rate was only 1.2.
This implies that the relationship between female education in the US and fertility has become U-shaped.
The researchers state that the growing gap between rich and poor in the US has resulted in two groups of females. The first includes those who can afford to buy help to raise their children and manage their homes, and the other group are those who are prepared to supply these services at an affordable price. The earning gap between these two groups has grown exponentially.
The study has found that over the past three decades, childcare labour costs has decreased by 10% and 16% relative to the wages of American females with college and advanced degrees, respectively.
These findings may raise questions about whether a similar trend may be present in Europe. According to Hazan, the income inequality in the UK made it possible for the trend to be replicated there.
Siobhan Freegard, the co-founder of Netmums, the online UK forum, said many women used their site to express their desire to have a third child, but they are aware that they would not be able to cope. She said it is the women with good careers, who can afford to pay a nanny and a cleaner to relieve some of the stress of everyday living, who are able to have three children.
The high cost of childcare in the UK makes it harder for women to have more children. To overcome this problem, many women leave large gaps between having their children to enable them to have one in school before they have another.
A study done during 2008 found a huge increase in the number of three- and four-child families among the super-rich. However, until this point, the wider connection between female fertility rates and university education, and the consequences thereof, had not received much attention.
The economists have stated that the strong link between parents’ education and children’s education means that the next generation should be more educated, which is good news for growth.
The researchers suggested that the income gap theory may account for only one third of the fertility rate increase in highly educated females. The stated another possible factor which could be that partners of highly educated females were more likely to share the child-rearing burden, compared to the partners of less-educated females.
Another explanation could be that highly educated females have access to ‘assisted reproductive technology’ which allows them to spend more years at university without suffering a reduction in their chances for future parenthood. There is evidence that employers are becoming more aware that paying for this type of technology aids in attracting suitable employees.
Facebook and Apple are already offering to freeze eggs for female employees in a bid to attract more females to their staff complement.
Image Credit: Philippe Put