Baby Steps

Kevin Lewis

October 10, 2021

The Puzzle of Falling US Birth Rates Since the Great Recession
Melissa Kearney, Phillip Levine & Luke Pardue
NBER Working Paper, September 2021

This paper documents a set of facts about the dramatic decline in birth rates in the United States between 2007 and 2020 and explores possible explanations. The overall reduction in the birth rate reflects declines across many groups of women, including women who differ by race and ethnicity, age, and level of education. The Great Recession contributed to the decline in the early part of this period, but we are unable to identify any other economic, policy, or social factor that has changed since 2007 that is responsible for much of the decline beyond that. Mechanically, the falling birth rate can be attributed to changes in birth patterns across recent cohorts of women moving through childbearing age. We conjecture that the “shifting priorities” of more recent cohorts, reflecting changes in preferences for having children, aspirations for life, and parenting norms, may be responsible. We conclude with a brief discussion about the societal consequences for a declining birth rate and what the United States might do about it. 

The Effect of EITC Exposure in Childhood on Marriage and Early Childbearing
Katherine Michelmore & Leonard Lopoo
Demography, forthcoming

Using data from the Panel Study of Income Dynamics, this study analyzes the effect of exposure to the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) in childhood on marriage and childbearing in early adulthood. Results suggest that EITC exposure in childhood leads women to delay marriage and first births in early adulthood (ages 16–25), but has no effect on men. A $1,000 increase in EITC exposure in childhood leads to a 2%-3% decline in a woman's likelihood of having a first birth and a comparable decline in her likelihood of marrying by her early 20s. We find similar reductions in fertility among Black and White women, though marriage declines are concentrated among White women. Results are focused on children growing up in the bottom half of the income distribution and those who spent the majority of childhood residing with a single parent -- two groups that are the primary beneficiaries of the EITC. These findings have important implications for the well-being of individuals exposed to the EITC in childhood, as well as their future children. 

Does Nubility Indicate More Than High Reproductive Value? Nubile Primiparas’ Pregnancy Outcomes in Evolutionary Perspective
William Lassek & Steven Gaulin
Evolutionary Psychology, September 2021

The idea that human males are most strongly attracted to traits that peak in women in the nubile age group raises the question of how well women in that age group contend with the potential hazards of a first pregnancy. Using data for 1.7 million first births from 1990 U.S. natality and mortality records, we compared outcomes for women with first births (primiparas) aged 16–20 years (when first births typically occur in forager and subsistence groups) with those aged 21–25 years. The younger primiparas had a much lower risk of potentially life-threatening complications of labor and delivery and, when evolutionarily novel risk factors were controlled, fetuses which were significantly more likely to survive despite lower birth weights. Thus, nubile primiparas were more likely to have a successful reproductive outcome defined in an evolutionarily relevant way (an infant of normal birth weight and gestation, surviving to one year, and delivered without a medically necessary cesarean delivery). This suggests that prior to the widespread availability of surgical deliveries, men who mated with women in the nubile age group would have reaped the benefit of having a reproductive partner more likely to have a successful first pregnancy. 

Minimum Wages and Teenage Childbearing: New Estimates Using a Dynamic Difference-in-Differences Approach
Daniel Rees, Joseph Sabia & Rebecca Margolit
NBER Working Paper, October 2021

The minimum wage is increasingly viewed as an important tool for improving public health outcomes, including reducing childbearing among teenagers. Taken at face value, recently reported estimates suggest that raising the federal minimum wage to $15 per hour could reduce the number of teenage births by 35,000 per year. Using an event study framework that accounts for dynamic and heterogeneous treatment effects, we find little evidence that minimum wages are causally related to teenage childbearing. Moreover, the estimated effects of minimum wages on teenage sexual behaviors, including contraception use, abstinence, and number of partners are consistently small and statistically insignificant. 

Revealing more than gender: Rigid gender-role beliefs and transphobia are related to engagement with fetal sex celebrations
Flora Oswald et al.
Psychology of Sexual Orientation and Gender Diversity, forthcoming

Gender-reveal parties (GRPs) -- parties designed to celebrate the revelation of fetal gender -- are a relatively new phenomenon, which is highly visible and popular online. This phenomenon has been criticized for reinforcing rigid gender role beliefs and stereotypes and perpetuating binary conceptualizations of two genders. The present study examines ideological and individual factors predicting involvement in GRPs. We hypothesized that endorsement of traditional gender roles, as well as endorsement of transphobia, would predict involvement in GRPs. In a sample of 217 current parents and expectant parents, we found that parents who engaged with GRPs endorsed less egalitarian gender role beliefs and more transphobic attitudes than did those who did not engage with GRPs when controlling for social media usage. These findings lend justification to criticisms of GRPs as reflecting problematic ideologies of gender. 

State Abortion Policies and Maternal Death in the United States, 2015‒2018
Dovile Vilda et al.
American Journal of Public Health, September 2021, Pages 1696-1704

To examine associations between state-level variation in abortion-restricting policies in 2015 and total maternal mortality (TMM), maternal mortality (MM), and late maternal mortality (LMM) from 2015 to 2018 in the United States.

We derived an abortion policy composite index for each state based on 8 state-level abortion-restricting policies. We fit ecological state-level generalized linear Poisson regression models with robust standard errors to estimate 4-year TMM, MM, and LMM rate ratios and 95% confidence intervals (CIs) associated with a 1-unit increase in the abortion index, adjusting for state-level covariates.

States with the higher score of abortion policy composite index had a 7% increase in TMM (adjusted rate ratio [ARR] = 1.07; 95% CI = 1.02, 1.12) compared with states with lower abortion policy composite index, after we adjusted for state-level covariates. Among individual abortion policies, states with a licensed physician requirement had a 51% higher TMM (ARR = 1.51; 95% CI = 1.15, 1.99) and a 35% higher MM (ARR = 1.35; 95% CI = 1.09, 1.67), and states with restrictions on Medicaid coverage of abortion care had a 29% higher TMM (ARR = 1.29; 95% CI = 1.03, 1.61).


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