The impact of education on declining birth rates Your undergraduate degree might significantly reduce the size of your future family, according to a recent McMaster study


By: Jennifer Le Grassa

Between 1969 and 2010, developed countries have shown a significant decline in birth rates and an increase in female educational attainment. These trends have researchers speculating if higher levels of education are directly reducing female fertility rates.

Phillip DeCicca, a health economist professor at McMaster, and Harry Krashinsky, an economics professor at The University of Toronto, have further investigated the relationship between fertility and education using 1981 and 1991 Canadian census data. Their paper “The Effect of Education on Overall Fertility” begins by providing an extensive history on the implementation of compulsory schooling laws, policies that require children to stay in school until a certain age, and previous fertility research that addresses the potential effects of education.

DeCicca mentioned that one of the unique features of his research is that it investigates the relationship between fertility and education using data from a developed country. Often these factors are assessed using data from developing countries due to concerns of overpopulation. In these contexts, researchers attempt to discover if increasing education can reduce a female’s lifetime fertility, or the total number of children she has in her life. If so, then improving access to education for women may help regulate population size. Educating females in developing countries would also enhance female empowerment, gender equality, and boost the economy.

In the current study, Canadian census records from females between the ages of 40 and 65 were collected. A mathematical model was applied to the data to analyze the relationship between schooling level and lifetime fertility. Results indicate that education compresses fertility, meaning that extra education (higher CSL) increases the chance that a female will have any children by age 40, but it decreases the total number of children she will have. These findings apply to larger family sizes, meaning in the case that a female would have seven children, with higher education it is likely that she will only have four or five.

Another factor that they analyzed was the likelihood of marriage. It appears that more education increases the probability that a female will get married, which could be influencing the fact that educated females are more likely to have children. Marriage would allow for extra monetary and non-monetary support, which are both beneficial when raising a child.

These findings highlight the change that has occurred within western society, as having large families was once the norm. DeCicca and Krashinsky’s model lays the groundwork for future research that could address the relationship between fertility and education in regards to specific demographic or immigrant populations.


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