Do “helper incomes” increase fertility?

I live in a rural area and I work in a (different) rural school district, and one of the things that has pleasantly surprised me is how many children everyone seems to have. Despite being working mothers, the women I work with all have 3-4 (several have even more) children and my kids’ friends’ parents all seem to have 3-5 children, too. Is this a factor of being in a rural area? Maybe, but I’m also wondering if it isn’t something else, too.

Many of the women I know earn what I think of as “helper incomes”. This is how I loosely define “helper income”:

  • flexible about full/part-time
  • even when full-time, does not regularly require in excess of 40 hours per week
  • in a safe environment
  • weekends/holidays off if needed
  • allowed to take days off to care for sick children or family members, either paid or unpaid
  • remuneration not enough to easily raise a family on by itself but a perfect complement to a husband’s income

Men do have a fairly large say in the number of children a married couple has and in my experience, many women say they wanted more children but their husbands did not, with the reason given often being concerns about finances. In short, the husbands were quite reasonably worried about their ability to support a larger family and wives respected their husbands’ preferences.

But is it possible that a helper income can take enough of the pressure off a man that he is willing to entertain the thought of a third or fourth child? I don’t know for sure, and I don’t feel like I know any of my colleagues well enough yet to say to any of them, “So, tell me about your reproductive choices!” 🙂 But I do wonder.

So here is my working hypothesis: I posit that for white, married, lower middle, middle, and upper middle class women (and the only reason I’m limiting it to these demographics is because those are the demographics of the women I know), having a wife who earns a helper income may take enough financial pressure off the husband so that he is willing to have more children. It may also make women feel like they can afford that third or fourth child and give them the confidence to suggest it to their husbands.

If there were any data on this, I would hypothesize that fertility would look like this, from highest to lowest:

Helper-income wives – highest fertility (most that I know seem to have 3-5 children)

Housewives (stay-at-home wives who do not earn an income) – second highest fertility (most that I know have 2-4 children)

Career wives – I don’t know a lot of heavy-duty career women, but those that I know have 1-2 children and several have none at all.

This is not to be understood as me encouraging women to work outside the home! That is absolutely not my intention, as only the individual couple can determine what is needed and what would be best for their family. This is also not me suggesting the superiority of one group over another.  What I am trying to do is generate a reasonable hypothesis to explain my observations of the consistently higher fertility of the working, rural, married, white women that I know.

I’d love to hear what others have observed. Also, I’d be interested in hearing about other demographic groups as a comparison. For instance, do working Hispanic women have higher or lower fertility than their non-employed counterparts? What about African-American women?  The one trait I’d like to keep the same in any comparisons, though, is “married”.

I cannot prove or disprove my musings because I could find nothing about this in the published research. I could not even find a single statistic comparing the average number of children between housewives and working women – nothing! But if you are able to find data on this, I would love the link. I’m also curious to know if you can suggest an alternative hypothesis that explains what I am witnessing with the increased fertility of these women.

If my hypothesis were somehow proven to be correct, then to any young woman reading this who is interested in having a larger family, I might suggest that she prepare herself for the possibility of working to earn a helper income if her husband would feel aided by that (not all husbands would want or even allow this, of course, and the husband’s vision for his family should be given the respect that it deserves by virtue of his position as head of the household).

By the same token, my advice for young men who want a larger family but fear not being able to support them: perhaps consider looking for a young woman who would be willing to earn a helper income if needed.

In any case, my observations have provided me with food for thought.

 

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31 thoughts on “Do “helper incomes” increase fertility?

  1. I should clarify that “helper” incomes need not necessarily involve getting a college degree. We used to go to church with a guy who was an electrician, and his (very hot) wife tended bar at a local restaurant/bar (not a nightclub/pick up sort of place at all) in the evenings when he got home from work. They had four kids and seemed pretty crazy about each other.

    Regarding career women – I’m thinking about doctors right now. Our pediatrician has one child. Our other pediatrician has two children. An acquaintance of mine is also a pediatrician but only works one day a week (kind of a waste of a medical degree perhaps) and she has four children.

    I think one important aspect of a helper income might be that it allows a woman to take time off after a baby is born.

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  2. I don’t think that “helper incomes” would increase fertility. By the time “helper incomes” come into play, the fertility has already happened. I do think that they facilitate it.

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    • I would concur. The helper income jobs outlined above are unlikely to pay very well, so any income will likely get swallowed up paying for childcare. You only benefit financially if your job pays significantly more than your nanny/daycare centre, and unskilled part time work is unlikely to do that.

      In other words, a working wife doesn’t facilitate extra babies, unless the babies were conceived upon the understanding that the wife would go back to work when they reached school age.

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      • Apparently it must be worth it, though, because there sure are a lot of women putting their children into daycare and working. Now whether that leads to increased fertility or not, I can’t say. I’m only hypothesizing here and it’s entirely possible my hypothesis is incorrect.

        Decent daycare in the U.S. runs around $200 per week (around 12K per year). For a teacher who has her Master’s degree and a few years of experience and teaches in a relatively good county, she’ll be making $50-75,000 per year. Is that “worth it”? It wouldn’t have been for me because the thought of putting my babies in daycare was awful to me. I worked, but only part-time, and I took time off after giving birth, so I didn’t have to do the “babies in daycare” thing.

        It’s much easier once they go to school. A lot of the women I work with teach in the district where their kids are students, so the kids just walk down the hall to Mom’s room after school and wait for her to finish up. I don’t work where my kids go to school, but luckily for us my husband’s work schedule allows him to be home when they get home from school. I get home around 5 and can take over then, so he’s only got to be on duty for ninety minutes. It works pretty well for us.

        A lot of nurses I know work weekends while their husbands are home and then they stay home during the week while their husbands work. There are upsides and downsides to that arrangement, I’d imagine.

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  3. Thank goodness for feminism, which makes a “helper income” more socially acceptable. I am older than you, and can remember the days when a woman working at all was unacceptable.

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    • Baloney. Helper incomes have always been socially acceptable. From the little red schoolhouse teacher, the church secretary, the waitress, to the community nurse, to the seamstress and the farmer’s wife.

      How freakin old are you?

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      • Teachers were not allowed to be married, back in the day. My own mother was a teacher in the 1950s–she was required to quit if she married.

        Farmers wives certainly work, but in the same way that SAHM do. They work at home and do not get paid.

        I didn’t know any moms in the 1960s who put their kids in care to work as a waitress or a nurse. They would have been looked down upon. Women with kids stayed at home and cared for them. Anything else was frowned upon.

        Who is watching Sunshine’s kids, anyway? Is her oldest acting as “keeper of the home” while mom works?

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    • Nonsense.

      My grandmother worked before she married my grandfather. He was off fighting in WWII. There was no social stigma. She was happy to work and then when he came home and married her, she was happy to stay home and raise his children. When he died at a fairly young age in 1971, she went back to work to put her son through college. None of this was any thanks to feminism.

      Feminists often congratulate themselves on accomplishments they did not achieve, and women being in the workforce to earn money for their families is one of those things.

      What feminism did do was create the myth of the “career”, this supposedly magical thing that men were hording all to themselves and keeping from women. It was pure make-believe fantasy that these “careers” would fill women with purpose and meaning and give them self-fulfillment that could not be found anywhere else.

      But nevertheless, feminists managed to reorder society enough so that many women who might prefer to stay home end up having to go to work because often men’s income is no longer sufficient to support a family. This is so because women are now taking educational opportunities that would have gone to men and jobs that would have gone to men, but women are very inefficient at this; consider my doctor acquaintance. She was put through medical school on scholarships and now works one day a week – this was a very inefficient use of money. Once enough inefficient women got into these types of high-status, high-paying careers, it reduced efficiency to the point where men’s income ended up being cut. This is not at all what I mean by helper incomes.

      There is not one good thing that came from feminism. A bad tree does not bear good fruit.

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  4. Your correlation falls apart when you get among homeschoolers–the wives work hard and support their husbands, and they have lots of kids, but they don’t get a paycheck from anyone. Well, except their husbands’, I guess. Mrs. Bubba quit outside work when our first was born and we realized that, with Boulder daycare rates and all, she’d have been working for a buck an hour or less.

    That said, I’d agree that the woman working outside the home probably can make children feasible in certain settings. Mrs. Bubba’s work prior to Blessing #1 paid off two cars and a nice chunk of our mortgage, It’s helped a lot through our marriage.

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  5. I really think we are splitting hairs here. Sunshine has a career as a speech pathologist. She just calls it a “helper income” because she doesn’t want to be associated with feminism. But it’s a full time job that has benefits that she’s been working at for many years, which required education and training to achieve. In other words, a career.

    Lots of men work as speech pathologists full time. Would you call their jobs “helper incomes”? How insulting.

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  6. This is so because women are now taking educational opportunities that would have gone to men and jobs that would have gone to men,

    I am interested in how you’ll respond to what Cassie has said above. And if it is correct that lots of men work as speech pathologists (I don’t know), how are you avoiding the cognitive dissonance of having taken a job (having not been required to do so by your husband) that could have gone to a primary income earner just so you may acquire more material things?

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    • There are virtually no male SLPs. They are actively recruited by our professional organization, but men just simply do not want to do this job. It’s a source of much handwringing by ASHA; here is a recent example of one of many articles on the matter:

      Why the Scarcity of Male SLPs—and What Can Be Done

      One could easily see the lack of males in our profession by walking into any elementary school, or even attending an ASHA conference. It’s no secret that males are a rarity in speech-language pathology, but the topic of conversation has now shifted to what we can do about this trend. The fact that I was a minority in our field was apparent to me immediately after attending my first articulation disorders course.

      Unfortunately, efforts to attract more males to our profession have been generally unsuccessful. Not only that, but according to data presented in the article on this topic by Kellie Rowden-Racette in the August ASHA Leader, the number of males in our field, and related fields (for example, psychology), have actually declined.

      I have never had a male SLP colleague.

      Personally I don’t see what the big deal is. Who cares if men don’t want to be SLPs? But then again, I don’t see what the big deal is about the lack of female programmers and CEOs. Who cares if women don’t want to be programmers and CEOs?

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  7. Wow, I knew there weren’t many male SLPs, but I didn’t realize exactly how skewed the numbers were; according to ASHA, 96% of SLPs are female! There can’t possibly be another profession in the entire world that is as sex-segregated as speech language pathology, can there? I wonder why men hate the thought of this job so much? I find it quite interesting work.

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  8. A couple things:

    Isn’t it interesting how there is no research on this? I mean, we’re two generations into this “All mothers must go to work to be happy and fulfilled” thing, and no one has bothered to look to see how work affects fertility. Does it increase it? Decrease it? Do different jobs increase or decrease it? But I could not find anything at all about this. I find that quite curious. Any thoughts on why there’s no research on this area?

    Second: it could be that my working hypothesis is way off. It’s based on nothing but observation and guessing. But one fact remains: these women work full-time at “helper income”-type jobs and have a lot of kids. It’s not a matter of “Do they have a lot of children or don’t they?” They do. So if it’s not the “helper income”, what do you ladies (and gentlemen) think it might be?

    You guys, even the lesbians I work with have a lot of children. lol The most conservative Christian woman in my department works full-time, sends her kids to a Christian school, and has a very large number of children. Something must account for all this fertility out here in the boonies.

    I don’t know, but I like children and I’m interested in understanding what facilitates family formation and fertility.

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    • “Even the lesbians that I work with have lots of children.
      I would think, barring miracles, that these lesbians have to come in contact with a man somehow. That they have children is very much a conscious choice.
      I am beginning to believe that the desire for children is very much present. That there are jobs that facilite this had to come after the fact.

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    • Some of it must be down to social norms – if you’re in an environment where having lots of kids is expected, then there would be no reason not to. Presumably in a community used to a high birth rate, you’d have services geared to families springing up, both official and self-created that would make it easier to have kids.

      There’s quite a lot of data from Europe about what will raise or suppress fertility that has to do with a combination of support services for families and also to do with post-birth opportunities for women. It’s quite interesting.

      Personally, I think the role of men is under-studied. If you look at the way French men behave with children, they openly cuddle them on the street, engage even little kids in conversation, and look generally delighted at being around kids. That kind of engagement is very rare in cultures where there’s a lower birth rate (to my naked eye, anyway). Germany has lots of good family policies on paper, but in practice is quite hostile to children. Men aren’t expected to engage particularly with their children. Neighbours will be horrible to children and complain incessantly about the natural noise that kids make when they’re playing. It’s quite shocking.

      France has a very high birth rate, Germany has a very low one.

      Beyond that, opportunity and wealth seem to be the best contraceptives ever devised.

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  9. I think you need to accept that the work you do is a career.

    it requires advanced education at a university
    you do it full time
    you receive benefits
    you have a title
    you have done it for a long time
    you enjoy it and find it fulfilling
    you are doing it for reasons other than necessity

    Thank you, feminism.

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    • According to a YouGov poll, only 20% of Americans consider themselves to be feminists.

      source: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/04/16/feminism-poll_n_3094917.html

      That’s not surprising as Feminism, much like the Men’s Rights Movement, produces no tangible benefits for real, actual people. Both ideologies give lip service to very serious issues (for feminists, the serious issues they give lip service to are things like rape, domestic violence, and so on; for MRAs, they give lip service to things like unfair divorce laws, false allegations, and so on) but either do nothing (MRAs) or actively make things worse (feminists).

      The truth that most people understand is that women have always earned money. The modern “labor force” is a very modern way of earning money ( for both men and women), but in days gone by, women still earned money. There’s nothing new about this and it is no thanks to feminism.

      All feminism has done is give women bizarre notions about the proper place for work in our lives, making work out to be the source of our identities. But our work is not our “identity” as women, as most feminists would have us believe. This notion of a career isn’t really any better for men than for women, I might add. In both cases, I see the embracing of careerism as playing the foolish dupe for runaway capitalism in which the work we do and the stuff we buy becomes our identity.

      Feel free to be that foolish dupe, Cassie, but don’t expect others to embrace that role; for us our families, our religion, and our communities form our identity, not our jobs and our stuff.

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      • I see. Because you are “thinking differently” about your career, that means it’s not a career.

        [ST: Yes, exactly, if by “thinking differently” about my job you mean I don’t place my job above my family like feminists encourage young women to do.]

        Because all feminists think that their career is their identity; they are never just working for material goods. Except for when you want to criticize them for working for material goods.

        It’s OK when you do it, but wrong when other women do it, because you have better thoughts about it. I see.

        [ST: Although I suspect you do see, you don’t demonstrate comprehension with this comment. And the reason you do not demonstrate comprehension isn’t because you disagree with me and want to state your opinion but rather because you are trolling me. I don’t troll other people, and I don’t appreciate being trolled.

        How do I know you are trolling and not just disagreeing?

        1. Lack of civility.

        2. Making up facts that are easily disproved and using them as if they prove your point (Lots of men are speech paths! It was against the law for women to work before feminism!)

        3. Trying to “get a rise” out of everyone by being insulting or condescending or making outrageous claims instead of constructing some kind of logical counter-argument.

        4. Lying – because you clearly read and have read everything I write now and have written in the past, you are aware that I have written entire blog posts to women advising them about which jobs (or “careers” if you like that word so much) are the most family-friendly and how much schooling each one requires and how much money each job pays on average (writing posts like this is called “being helpful”, something that wouldn’t occur to feminists); I published that post over 4.5 years ago and republished it here recently.

        I also wrote a post on a different blog chiding traditionalist women who put staying at home above its proper place; if your husband needs you to work and requests that you do so, you should comply.

        My views on women working are exactly the same now as they were nearly five years ago when I began blogging and I have never written anything different than what I’m writing now about the subject.

        I appreciate civil disagreement (see: Bodycrimes, Snork, a few others). I don’t appreciate liars or trolls.]

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      • I should’ve bothered to check Cassie’s IP address; now that I have done so, I see that Cassie = Linda, whom I banned for trolling last month. After Linda’s very first comment here, Sarah’s Daughter commented that Linda sounded rather like a stalker.

        You know, I couldn’t understand why some crazy man was trolling Lindy West, and by the same token I cannot understand why some crazy woman is trolling me. However, I am going to follow Vox Day’s advice here. Vox recently successfully engaged law enforcement to get a troll to stop his persistent activities on Vox’s site. Vox writes:

        Directly inform the troll that he is banned from visiting your site and from commenting under all current and future identities, and that if he persists in his activity, he is engaged in illegal trespassing and cyberstalking. It is vital to put them on notice. For some reason, many people who are capable of understanding that physical trespassing is not only illegal, but can permit them to be legally shot in some places tend to find it hard to grasp that online trespassing is illegal. The fact that you CAN access a site does not automatically give you permission to do so any more than the fact that you CAN physically access someone’s lawn gives you permission to walk on it.

        Linda/Cassie/Whoever you are in real life: You are not welcome to post here under any handle. Do not post any comments on my blog ever again. If you persist in this activity, you are engaged in illegal trespassing and cyberstalking.

        And now, some helpful reading:

        Internet Trolls Are Narcissists, Psychopaths, and Sadists

        Post published by Jennifer Golbeck Ph.D. on Sep 18, 2014

        “In this month’s issue of Personality and Individual Differences, a study was published that confirms what we all suspected: Internet trolls are horrible people.

        Let’s start by getting our definitions straight: An Internet troll is someone who comes into a discussion and posts comments designed to upset or disrupt the conversation. Often, in fact, it seems like there is no real purpose behind their comments except to upset everyone else involved. Trolls will lie, exaggerate, and offend to get a response.

        What kind of person would do this? Some Canadian researchers decided to find out.

        They conducted two online studies with over 1,200 people, giving personality tests to each subject along with a survey about their Internet commenting behavior. They were looking for evidence that linked trolling with the “Dark Tetrad” of personality traits: narcissism, Machiavellianism, psychopathy, and sadism.

        They found that Dark Tetrad scores were highest among people who said trolling was their favorite Internet activity…

        “… the associations between sadism and GAIT (Global Assessment of Internet Trolling) scores were so strong that it might be said that online trolls are prototypical everyday sadists. Both trolls and sadists feel sadistic glee at the distress of others. Sadists just want to have fun … and the Internet is their playground!”

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  10. Compare “speech pathologist” to “waitress” (which is something that is clearly a job)

    A waitressing job:

    requires no higher education
    does not usually come with benefits
    there is no title (“vice president of waitressing?”)
    generally is not an enjoyable job
    is almost always done out of necessity

    [ST: You seem to hold a lot of contempt for the working class. No surprise there – classism is rampant among liberals.]

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    • These are all true things about waitressing. I don’t see the contempt. I’ve been a waitress myself, and I can vouch for each one of these things.

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  11. It is worth noting that Proverbs 31 clearly describes the wife working a number of “helper” jobs, no? They were centered around the home and the family’s land, but she’s selling in the marketplace, manufacturing, buying and selling lands, managing servants, and the like.

    And for what it’s worth, I’ve met a number of men and women who have absolutely loved being a waiter or waitress, especially at nicer restaurants. It’s a great way for a person without a degree, but with good people skills, to earn a living. Or, for that matter, for someone with a degree, but who can’t stand company bureaucracy, to earn a nicer living than that degree would allow.

    Not always the best hours, but we don’t all get that choice, really.

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  12. Stay-at-home mom here. Six children. I have an advanced degree and could have pursued work outside the home, but I better serve the family teaching Latin and maths and making food from scratch. Seriously, we ran the numbers and the economic value of my work in the home exceeds what I could earn with my MBA. So my husband picked a field that would keep us afloat. Money never really affected the family size. We’re Catholic so it’s determined by natural fertility and health factors. We’re not in financial circumstances that would say “stop!” so we didn’t. My ability to handle further surgeries is a far greater factor in continuing growth. But I strongly suspect were freaks. 🙂

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  13. Six children. Stay-at-home. Financial situation not a concern in determining family size. Flambeaux is open to a large family (even more than myself), and we’re Catholic so my health is a greater influence on number of children. My economic value at home is higher than my earning potential, even with my MBA. I like teaching Latin and baking artisanal bread far better than analyzing spreadsheets, and at the current cost of private schools and chef prepared meals, we’re coming out ahead.

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    • Hello Laura, nice to hear from you!

      Yes, I think it’s beautiful to see women at home, nurturing large families under their husbands’ care and direction. 🙂 If we could trade my graduate degrees for extra children, we would do so in a heartbeat. But I’m also grateful that I have the opportunity to help my husband in this way (earning some extra income), since I can’t give him more children.

      Your new baby is probably a toddler by now? All is well, it seems, thanks be to God!

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      • The newest one is crawling. Nearly 9 months old.

        I’d love to contribute more financially. It would speed up some of our goals a great deal. We’re not in a season where doing that outside the home makes sense. I’ve actually taken on an extra student, an extra pre-schooler. The irony is that his mother works at home, but her work (freelance artist) requires more silence than a 4 year old can give. I’m bartering my expertise in teaching elementary ed for art lessons down the road. 🙂

        The degree is not completely useless, thankfully. We have some projects simmering that will benefit from the training in business analysis. And I use my theater degree on a daily basis. Stage management and home management are highly related.

        Looking at the wider world of my parish, there isn’t any consistency of family size with income earners. Lots of stay at home homeschoolers with growing families. One with 6 who was abandoned by her husband so now working as primary. A few with small families because of actual fertility issues. At one of the previous parishes I attended, there was a family with twelve children. The wife was a lawyer. I seriously wonder how birth control enters into the equation and if the numbers would skew differently otherwise.

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