Children, the ideal vs. the realized internationally

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I looked at data from the World Values Survey in terms of the actual proportion of those in the age group 30-49 for various countries who have 2 or fewer children, vs. those in that age group who thought 2 or fewer was the ideal number. I aggregated Wave 3 and Wave 4 surveys, so the times range from 1995 to 2002. Data, etc., below.

Proportions surveyed for those in age group 30-49

2 or fewer children 2 or fewer children “ideal” Difference between actual and ideal
Bangladesh 43.9 90.1 -46.2
India 43.5 74.7 -31.2
Vietnam 58.3 85.2 -26.9
Iran 52.8 73 -20.2
Turkey 48.7 63.9 -15.2
China 82.9 93.3 -10.4
Peru 54.3 62.3 -8
Mexico 46.2 53.2 -7
Taiwan 53.9 59.4 -5.5
Egypt 34.4 37.2 -2.8
El Salvador 46.8 48.3 -1.5
Czech 80.5 81.9 -1.4
Great Britain 77 78.2 -1.2
Puerto Rico 57.4 58.2 -0.8
Uruguay 64.1 64.3 -0.2
Venezuela 50.7 50.7 0
Germany 84.2 83.9 0.3
Romania 82.1 81.8 0.3
Slovakia 75.4 71.1 4.3
Azerbaijan 64 57.4 6.6
Brazil 62.6 55.9 6.7
Morocco 58.1 50.5 7.6
Chile 61.8 53.9 7.9
USA 70 61.1 8.9
Switzerland 80.5 71.2 9.3
Bulgaria 88.7 79.2 9.5
Argentina 55.8 46.3 9.5
Albania 62.1 52.5 9.6
Australia 70.6 60.9 9.7
Spain 82.3 72.5 9.8
Indonesia 48.1 37.8 10.3
Colombia 62.6 51.4 11.2
South Africa 58.4 47 11.4
Hungary 80.2 68.5 11.7
Iraq 28.8 16.9 11.9
Belarus 91.4 79 12.4
Ukraine 88.2 75.6 12.6
Pakistan 53.7 39.8 13.9
Russia 89.6 75.2 14.4
Poland 69.3 54.8 14.5
Jordan 26 11.5 14.5
Philippines 39.6 23.5 16.1
Canada 75.1 58.5 16.6
Finland 75.3 58.3 17
Sweden 74.6 57.2 17.4
Uganda 31.5 12.4 19.1
Saudi Arabia 39.4 20.1 19.3
South Korea 81.6 61.9 19.7
Slovenia 84.2 64 20.2
New Zealand 66.7 46.3 20.4
Zimbabwe 34.7 11.3 23.4
Macedonia 82.4 56.9 25.5
Singapore 79.9 54.4 25.5
Dominican Republic 48.9 23.3 25.6
Tanzania 43.1 17.4 25.7
Kyrgyzstan 49 21.9 27.1
Lithuania 85 57.7 27.3
Moldova 71.5 43.6 27.9
Armenia 64.9 36.8 28.1
Bosnia 81.9 53.4 28.5
Estonia 85.4 55.3 30.1
Nigeria 37.3 5.7 31.6
Croatia 82.3 46.4 35.9
Japan 77.5 41.5 36
Latvia 83.3 46 37.3
Serbia 79.4 39.9 39.5
Georgia 78.3 18.6 59.7

Now a chart, here’s how you’d read it:

Top of the Y axis = low fertility in the 30-49 age group (lots of people with 2 or fewer children)

To the right of the X axis = nations with low fertility preferences in the 30-49 age group (lots of people who think 2 or fewer children is the ideal)

The line represents X = Y. So nations above the line are those where there is more ideal preference for children than the reality, while nations below the line there is more reality, so to speak, than the ideal.

There seems to be a situation where in many nations people want more children than they are having. That is, their avowed preference is greater than what is revealed by their behavior. There are general clusters. The “breeder nations,” where people do have many children, but want even more, and the other set where populations are underperforming even their mild expectations. No surprise that the post-Communist nations are in the second category, but interestingly the East Asian nations of Japan and South Korea fall into this range. Interestingly, these are also nations which tend to be rather secular for their social conservatism from a Western perspective. Georgia is not a typo, though I wouldn’t be surprised there was a problem with the data (it might be coded or entered incorrectly).

Then there are nations where people have more children than they want. Iran has some specific historical conditions which can explain this. During the Iran-Iraq War the Iranian leadership was pro-natalist, but in its wake they have strongly encouraged family planning. Iran is now a sub-replacement nation when it comes to fertility. Vietnam and India have experienced economic turnarounds of late due to their relatively late entrance into the game of globalization. These surveys occurred around the year 2000, about 10 years into both of their liberalization programs. One might be seeing the outcomes of earlier norms overlain upon new mores due to international media. Finally, as far as Bangladesh goes, it is an ethnically and religiously homogeneous nation, so there isn’t a national imperative whereby ethnic groups worry about other groups outbreeding them. Additionally, it is very, very, crowded. There are many poor African nations, but aside from Rwanda and Burundi, all of them are far below the Malthusian parameters when it comes to primary production in relation to Bangladesh.

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  1. Moving from looking at a single country or handful of countries — which side of the line they’re on — the entire cloud shows that what explains differences across countries in realized fertility is differences in the # of kids that women on the ground desire — and that’s basically it. 
    Although not heavily publicized, this result has been well documented already: 
    So much for the idea of the patriarchy — in fertility, what women say goes. 
    (Ah yes, the patriarchy brainwashes them at an early age to want something that they really don’t deep down, or inscribes their desires on the blank slate of their mind. It’s invisible, microbial patriarchy.)

  2. I saw a German news report showing that 40% of German women over 40 wanted more children (a little late on the decision). 
    20 years ago German teens, male and female, reported on average wanting 2 children. That generation failed to achieve that.  
    Now German teens report slightly more than one. Wonder what they will achieve. 
    Thanks for the data.

  3. “So much for the idea of the patriarchy — in fertility, what women say goes.” 
    That idea reminds me of the rise of single motherhood. Many see contraception as the answer. I don’t see how that can work when the woman wants a kid. I mean the media, and schools, doctors and gov’t promote contraceptives, and indeed the number of childless 40 year old women in the US has doubled from 10% in the 70′s to 20% in the 90′s. Unfortunately this seems to be more appealing to smart women than it is to the others. A smart woman is less likely to choose single motherhood, and more likely to exercise control over her life for her own benefit and benefit of her children. 
    Since feminists don’t wish to decry single motherhood which is strongly associated with poverty and other poor outcomes for children, they therefore complain of teen pregnancy, which is probably as low as is humanly possible, certainly lower than it ever has been, especially given that sex is a normal part of life and that women want children.  
    Patriarchy reduces single motherhood and child poverty more than it does teen pregnancy. Feminism reduces fertility and teen pregnancy while increasing single motherhood (mostly among the incompetent) and child poverty.

  4. The Georgian data may be accurate. They had a literal baby boom (a 20% increase in births) in 2008. The patriarch of Georgia is being given credit for it (not for actually fathering the children; rather, he promised in 2007 to personally baptize the third or higher order child of any Georgian woman), but it’s been suggested that the recent turnaround in the Georgian economy played a role too. Anyway, the sudden boom in births following the economic turnaround would seem to support the idea that Georgia has a relatively high desired fertility rate which economic circumstances prevent the population from achieving.  
    Well, patriarchy can socialize women into desiring more children by linking social status with motherhood – as seems to be the case among certain religious fundamentalist sects here in the U.S. – and trap other women into having more children than they want by restricting access to contraception. I’ve heard in Africa that one reason for the gap between desired and actual fertility (the latter being higher) is that in some societies, men refuse to support women’s efforts to limit family size. Agreed that in most cases female preference is the most important variable though.

  5. Part of the reason why most countries are above the line is probably that the survey asks people from ages 30-49. At age 30, a lot of people aren’t done having kids yet (I wasn’t), so a 30 year old who wants 3 kids, and who eventually has them, will be above the line if they have only 1 kid so far.