Wednesday, 3 April 2013

Delusional fertility hopes of young women?

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A fascinating snippet from a survey of a couple of hundred mostly 18 year old women students that I recently supervised is that most of them intend to have 3 (or 2) children, and only 3 percent intend to have zero children.

Yet the expectation of what will actually happen, based on the equivalent cohort from a generation ago, is that about 33 percent will have zero children, and the average fertility will be more like 1.

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A general finding of this study comparing educational intentions with fertility intentions was unrealistic expectations - for example, some answered such that they intended to start a family at the same time as they were intending to be engaged in doctoral level training.

Also, those who intended to do postgraduate education - and therefore in practice delay fertility by an extra several years - actually had a higher intended fertility than those who did not - whereas numerous studies have shown that postgraduate education among women is strongly associated with smaller families.

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I conclude that these young female university students showed a surprisingly strong, indeed almost universal, desire to have families; yet this was apparently combined with a lack of realism about priorities and the need for tough choices which verged on the delusional.

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Alternatively, this cohort might possibly be the first signs of a turn-around in fertility among the most intelligent and educated women - and such a turn round is likely at some point.

These girls are, after all, mostly the children of that section of the previous generation of intelligent women who did have families despite all alternative inducements - and they will presumably (on average) have inherited something of their mother's disposition; as well as perhaps having been reared in a family with somewhat counter-cultural ideas of the importance of children.

And this process has been going on for several generations already - with the least family orientated women choosing behaviours that over time will tend to eliminate their own characteristics from the gene pool.

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But on the whole, I'm afraid I see these young womens' expectations and intentions as most plausibly just plain incoherent, verging on delusional - the product of a mass media which tells them that if they want things hard enough then they will get them.

A mass media which tells them: you can 'have it all', even when 'all' contains incompatible - albeit not impossible - elements.

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