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Is There A Case for a "Second Demographic Transition"? Three Distinctive Features of the Post-1960 U.S. Fertility Decline

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  • Martha J. Bailey
  • Melanie E. Guldi
  • Brad J. Hershbein

Abstract

Dramatic fertility swings over the last 100 years have been the subject of large literatures in demography and economics. Recent research has claimed that the post-1960 fertility decline is exceptional enough to constitute a "Second Demographic Transition." The empirical case for a Second Demographic Transition, however, rests largely on comparisons of the post-1960 period with the baby boom era, which was itself exceptional in many ways. Our analysis of the U.S. instead compares the fertility decline in the 1960s and 1970s to the earlier 20th century fertility decline, especially the 1920s and 1930s. Our findings affirm that both periods experienced similar declines in fertility rates and that the affected cohorts averaged the same number of children born over their lifetimes. In contrast to conventional wisdom, the mean age of household formation (by marriage or non-marital cohabitation) and first birth are almost identical for women reaching childbearing age in the 1920s and 1930s and today. Three features, however, distinguish the post-1960 period: (1) the convergence in the distribution of completed childbearing around a two-child mode and a decrease in childlessness; (2) the decoupling of marriage and motherhood; and (3) a transformation in the relationship between the educational attainment of mothers and childbearing outcomes. These three features of the 20th century fertility decline have implications for children's opportunities, children's educational achievement, and widening inequality in U.S. labor markets.

Suggested Citation

  • Martha J. Bailey & Melanie E. Guldi & Brad J. Hershbein, 2013. "Is There A Case for a "Second Demographic Transition"? Three Distinctive Features of the Post-1960 U.S. Fertility Decline," NBER Working Papers 19599, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  • Handle: RePEc:nbr:nberwo:19599
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    References listed on IDEAS

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    Cited by:

    1. Matthew J. Hill, 2014. "Easterlin revisted: Relative income and the baby boom," Economics Working Papers 1453, Department of Economics and Business, Universitat Pompeu Fabra.
    2. Lundberg, Shelly & Pollak, Robert, 2013. "Cohabitation and the Uneven Retreat from Marriage in the U.S., 1950-2010," IZA Discussion Papers 7607, Institute for the Study of Labor (IZA).
    3. repec:kap:jfamec:v:38:y:2017:i:4:d:10.1007_s10834-017-9523-x is not listed on IDEAS
    4. Shelly Lundberg & Robert A. Pollak & Jenna Stearns, 2016. "Family Inequality: Diverging Patterns in Marriage, Cohabitation, and Childbearing," Journal of Economic Perspectives, American Economic Association, vol. 30(2), pages 79-102, Spring.
    5. Hill, Matthew J., 2015. "Easterlin revisited: Relative income and the baby boom," Explorations in Economic History, Elsevier, vol. 56(C), pages 71-85.
    6. Martha J. Bailey & Jason M. Lindo, 2017. "Access and Use of Contraception and Its Effects on Women’s Outcomes in the U.S," NBER Working Papers 23465, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    7. Fletcher, Jason M. & Polos, Jessica, 2017. "Nonmarital and Teen Fertility," IZA Discussion Papers 10833, Institute for the Study of Labor (IZA).
    8. Janet Currie & Hannes Schwandt, 2015. "Short and Long-Term Effects of Unemployment on Fertility," CEP Discussion Papers dp1387, Centre for Economic Performance, LSE.
    9. Chinhui Juhn & Kristin McCue, 2017. "Specialization Then and Now: Marriage, Children, and the Gender Earnings Gap across Cohorts," Journal of Economic Perspectives, American Economic Association, vol. 31(1), pages 183-204, Winter.
    10. Robert A. Pollak, 2016. "Marriage Market Equilibrium," NBER Working Papers 22309, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    11. Buckles, Kasey, 2017. "Maternal Socio-Economic Status and the Well-Being of the Next Generation(s)," IZA Discussion Papers 10714, Institute for the Study of Labor (IZA).

    More about this item

    JEL classification:

    • J01 - Labor and Demographic Economics - - General - - - Labor Economics: General
    • J1 - Labor and Demographic Economics - - Demographic Economics
    • J11 - Labor and Demographic Economics - - Demographic Economics - - - Demographic Trends, Macroeconomic Effects, and Forecasts
    • J12 - Labor and Demographic Economics - - Demographic Economics - - - Marriage; Marital Dissolution; Family Structure
    • J13 - Labor and Demographic Economics - - Demographic Economics - - - Fertility; Family Planning; Child Care; Children; Youth
    • N3 - Economic History - - Labor and Consumers, Demography, Education, Health, Welfare, Income, Wealth, Religion, and Philanthropy
    • N32 - Economic History - - Labor and Consumers, Demography, Education, Health, Welfare, Income, Wealth, Religion, and Philanthropy - - - U.S.; Canada: 1913-

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