Why Wealthier Couples Have Fewer Children

The costs of raising a child from birth through age eighteen are staggering. This year the estimated cost of raising a newborn from birth to age 18 tops $250,000. This number does not account for financial support that parents may and often do provide later in life such as the cost of a college education, which bring the total to well over $300,000. One might assume these high costs may indicate a positive correlation between economic status and number of children; however, the inverse is actually true.

Despite the high economic cost to child raising, lower income households throughout the United States and abroad all tend to have more children than households of higher income levels. This type of contrast between expectations and statistical realities serves as a reminder to perform deeper analysis of conditions before drawing conclusions. In this case, there are a number of confounding variables that upon consideration, indicate the likelihood for wealthier couples to have fewer children.

Higher Education Levels: There is a positive relationship between education and income. This means that people who have higher incomes are more likely to have spent extra years pursuing education than those with lower incomes. Increasing the duration of full-time academic pursuits pushes back the start date for careers. Delaying working tends to delay marriage which in turn pushes back the age at which at a highly educated woman is likely to have her first child. Ultimately the gap between marriage and menopause decreases therefore giving an educated women fewer opportunities to have children. Less educated and lower income women tend to have a longer period available for the "traditional" process of career, marriage and children.

Better Planning: Women who have higher incomes tend to have better access to contraceptive measures. In higher income brackets, women are more likely to have health insurance and thus more likely to have more options in preventing unwanted pregnancies. Higher income women of higher education levels are also more likely to be aware of the cost of raising children and are thus likely to place stricter limits on the number of children they plan to have.

Less Need: Historically, one reason for having children was to ensure that parents would be taken care of as they aged. Women would have many children conscious of the fact that some may not live to see adulthood. As mortality rates dropped both for infants and adults, having numerous children increased the likelihood that one or several of these children could support aging parents. Higher income families are more likely to have the financial resources to provide for themselves into old age and so the idea of relying on children for financial support is less material.

It is unclear whether families make the choice to have fewer children simply because they are wealthier or if being wealthy is a causative factor for having fewer children. No matter which direction is the cause, this relationship likely explains the slow decline in the number of children per family throughout the world. Eventually this may slow the rate of global population growth and even out age pyramids for countries with large imbalances.