August 07, 2007
Upper Class Fertility Rising Due To Competitive Birthing?

Harvard labor economics prof George Borjas points to a National Public Radio story on the trend toward larger families among the most affluent:

The newest status symbol for the nation's most affluent families is fast becoming a big brood of kids.

Historically, the country-club set has had the smallest number of kids. But in the past 10 years, the number of high-end earners who are having three or more kids has shot up nearly 30 percent.

Some say the trend is driven by a generation of over-achieving career women who have quit work and transferred all of their competitive energy to baby making.

They call it "competitive birthing."

Gotta keep up with the Joneses, especially when you and the Joneses are investment bankers. But if you want to compete Jim Bob and Michelle Duggar of Arkansas have set the bar for competitive birthing very high.

Borjas believes the phenomenon is real.

I don't know if the rise in the number of children among more affluent families is due to "competitive birthing" or not. But the data, and many anecdotal observations, clearly suggest that there's something going on.

It is not unusual, for instance, to find families in the Boston suburbs where the mother has an advanced academic degree, obviously can earn a high wage in the labor market, but has instead decided to be a stay-at-home mom for a brood of 3 or 4 children. I would not classify these families as part of the "country-club set." These families are often making a substantial financial sacrifice.

I keep saying that natural selection will turn around the decline in fertility rates in Western nations. The people having babies are more likely to carry genes that make them want to have babies. So those genes are getting selected for. But selective pressures aren't the only force at work that can drive up fertility in some segments of populations. The desire to own and experience and consume in large amounts will drive some around to the thought "But we haven't had the experience of raising children and controlling and shaping them. We've got to have kids if we are going to have it all." Also, children (especially if driven to expensive private schools in a new Range Rover) are a way to signal one's ability to engage in conspicuous consumption. Children confer status. The desire for higher status is an innate drive of humans.

Once we develop the ability to turn back the biological aging clock and make ourselves young again will the desire for children interact with the huge reduction in deaths from aging to cause a massive population explosion? I think so.

Share |      Randall Parker, 2007 August 07 10:52 PM  Trends Demographic

michael vassar said at August 7, 2007 11:22 PM:

This is beneficial both by improving the genepool and by diluting hereditary wealth.
Ideally we would have differential fertility instead of differential inheritance.

Randall Parker said at August 7, 2007 11:32 PM:

Michael, Interesting point about the dilution of hereditary wealth.

But when we stop growing old then inheritance will stop happening. Instead, the people who were competent enough to generate the wealth in the first place will be competent enough (at least in most cases) to hang on to it. So I expect rejuvenation therapies to accelerate the increase in income inequality.

James Bowery said at August 8, 2007 12:18 AM:

Its a biologically healthy form of conspicuous consumption. Unfortunately, it has attributes of genuine class biological warfare since what they are demonstrating is their ability to rent-seek better than the middle class by exterminating the middle class. I think the Bush clan may be a good example of this trend.

Mthson said at August 8, 2007 3:25 AM:

"Warfare" and "exterminating" seem to be inaccurately strong terms, and will probably tend to freak out more biophobic demographic groups.

To put this in perspective - though it is a good cause - this kind of trend among only a small portion of the families that can afford it is probably, for most purposes, going to be a drop in the bucket compared to the consistently high fertility rate of the much more numerous uneducated families and religious families.

Bob Badour said at August 8, 2007 5:57 AM:


What makes you think the wealthy having large families are not so religious?

Anon said at August 8, 2007 8:40 AM:

A little off-topic but this is somewhat related to Gregory Clark's new book "A Farewell to Alms" where he posits that the European productivity boom of the industrial revolution was partly attributable to a reinforcing phenomena of higher fecundity and survivability of the rich that did not exist in China or Japan during that time. There was then a build up of social capital and perhaps some modest amount of genetic selection for post-agrarian traits of those successful that occurred to the point where the successful from the late middle ages replaced the unsuccessful. Supposedly the descendent's of the successful of that time period now make up the majority of todays European population. Perhaps now in modern times, class fecundity and survivability across the world has changed quite a bit from how it was before.

Of course this just changes the timing and nature of the Malthusian trap

Brian Wang said at August 8, 2007 9:29 AM:

I do not believe that wealth is tightly correlated with better genetics.

In terms of nations and race, China was the wealthiest nation up until 1600. The fall and now re-emergence of China was due to the fault of the rulers and inner circles of power making a series of horrendous technological and social mistakes.
Burning the greatest and largest ocean going fleet in 1400. Genetics did not change greatly over those 1000 to 2007 period when there was a wide variation in wealth and world ranking in wealth.

There are many wealthy Filipinos in America who have poor families in the Philippines. Ditto for vietnamese and several African countries.

A society needs to enable a system that allows for wealth formation. Getting below a critical level of corruption, openness to the right technology, etc...

Local electorates and politicians who just don't get the way business and technology work end up making bad decisions. this was case in Sask, Canada where local and provincial leaders were anti-business and the electorate were pro-welfare state. This has led to stagnant and decreasing population levels as a large number of young people and families leave.

Luck also helps. Alberta sitting on oilsands. Which can be a double edged sword if people exploit resource abundance without using it to build a competitive economy.

I think the factors are
the business system, the technology and processes, individual attitude (more social than genetic)

In most of the modern world, individual capability and genetics are minor factors. Less important than inherited social connections and resources and being in the right location (which helps determines business systems, and technological availability)

Bob Badour said at August 8, 2007 10:13 AM:

Brian Wang,

How do the economies of Wyoming, Montana, and North Dakota differ from the economy of Saskatchewan?

Brian Wang said at August 8, 2007 11:17 AM:

I am not as familiar with Wyoming, Montana and N Dakota. I lived in Sask (until I left a few years after graduating from undergrad computer science and experienced the intensely anti-business decisions of city council and the province.
In the other places I have lived and visited for any length of time, Asia, other parts of Canada, California, Delaware, etc.. Having a system, electorate and leaders who are favorable or at least not opposed to business is a big factor in generating or allowing opportunity for wealth to flourish.
I visited N Dakota briefly for a few days and have driven through Wyoming and Montana. N Dakota seems on the surface and based on the stats to be very similar to Sask in terms of the population decline and general structure of the economy.

Sask population has socialist leanings. Alberta has free market and pro-business leanings. It is the easier to migrate (drive 8 hours) to Alberta if you are pro-business than to fight city hall. Alberta also had more resource and other advantages, but the divergence was not that strong in the 70s but got stronger and stronger.

Montana has had some growth and politically seems more similar to Alberta.

Trent Telenko said at August 8, 2007 1:09 PM:

When I sent a copy of that article to a friend of mine, he sent me this reply:

I saw this myself on vacation, at the annual Fort Ross, California, summer recreators' festival. Fort Ross was originally a Russian fur-trade outpost on the northern California coast and was abandoned in 1841. One of the original buildings survives and the rest have been rebuilt. See

My wife and I attended the 2007 recreators' festival on July 28 and found, to our surprise, that something like 70-80% of the tourists, and many of the recreators, wee Russians. A Russian-speaking state park ranger estimated that 90% of the people who talked to him were Russian. Furthermore they were mostly younger Russians with LOTS of young childen, and quite a few pregnant ladies.

They had to be wealthy to get to Fort Ross, and almost all the young women were very attractive, which is a pretty good indicator of their mens' wealth.

I speak jiust enough Russian to recognize accents, and there were very, very few Baltic Russians there. Almost all were from interior or central Russia. One I questioned about this estimated that 30% of the "Russians" were really Ukrainians.

Anyway, the 400-500 wealthy young Russians I saw on July 28 were reproducing at a very high rate - it looked like at least two children per couple with another often on the way.

This tends to confirm the article in the email below.

Anon said at August 8, 2007 8:53 PM:


Alberta's rise relative to Sask might be somewhat attributable to the much larger natural mineral wealth present in Alberta rather than political differences. For example, Massachusetts and California have pretty dynamic economies but they are more "socialist" than for example Mississippi which is running a bit behind the US in most methods of gaging economic development

I do agree with you that Gregory Clark's new book makes a very odd choice when comparing Europe to China and Japan and then also downplaying the roles of institutions driving the differences in productivity growth and suggesting a genetic selection role. China and Japan are noted for having very intelligent populations relative to Europe today among those who attempt to measure IQ differences between countries (the attempts to measure this are obviously controversial since there are many factors that might cloud the measurement). It's hard to believe that that this would be the case if fecundity and survivability of the smart/wealthy wasn't as high or higher in these countries than Europe's for many many generations which is what Clark's hypothesis would seem to imply. Of course, I'm judging Gregory Clark's new book by the cover since only snippets of it have leaked out so far and I may be gravely mistaken on what is in it and what isn't but it's getting similar buzz on this subject that Jarred Diamond's GunsGerms&Steel did. However, the argument he supposedly makes about about social capital being passed down to children giving them a big head start might have more logical weight.

Brian Wang said at August 8, 2007 10:14 PM:


As I said I lived in Sask. I also lived in Calgary, AB for four years.
Now and in the previous oil boom Alberta totally crushed all other provinces and draws people in from all over Canada.
Not just Saskatchewan but even during the bust times, people leave Sask for Alberta. Alberta rise is because of the oil but Saskatchewan making it worse with bad anti-business leadership is also true. google Saskatchewan and anti-business and get 711 hits.

Saskatchewan is not resource poor. Saskatchewan also has oil -- and gas.
Conventional Oil: 1,244 million barrels
Natural Gas: 3.3 trillion cubic feet
Largest potash producer and exporter, supplying 33% of world demand
World’s largest uranium producer, supplying 30% of global production
About 25% of the world's uranium production comes from Saskatchewan’s Athabasca Basin alone
Largest diamondiferous kimberlite field in the world.
They also have 43% of canada's grain production. A problem because of the collectivist mentality that went with it.

The actual turning point was in the 1940s when Saskatchewan's premier and foremost leader of collectivism, Tommy Douglas, decided to have it out with the profit oriented oil companies that were located in Saskatchewan. As reported in a documentary film that was made by the National Film Board, the result of the fight was that the oil companies packed up and left. They moved to Alberta. From that point on they, and other investment-oriented businesses, knew that the Saskatchewan government was hostile toward profit-oriented private business.

Sask has been pretty much stagnant since 1931, decades before alberta's oil boom.

After Saskatchewan became a province in 1905, the population surged with settlers lured by cheap land and the vision of Saskatchewan as the breadbasket of Canada. By the 1931 census, Saskatchewan had over 922,000 people and was the third-largest province in Canada. But the Great Depression and the Dirty '30s hit Saskatchewan's agriculture-based economy
like a hammer, and by 1951 Saskatchewan had dropped to 832,000 people. The current population is 990,000

Between 1981 and 2001, Saskatchewan experienced positive net international migration (i.e., more immigrants arriving than emigrants leaving); however, the net gain in population was only 30,985. Even when oil prices were low people left Sask for Alberta.

In terms of population growth, it has long been problematic that a substantial proportion of immigrants and refugees eventually leave the province: Saskatchewan now has one of the lowest immigrant retention rates in Canada (57%).

1981-2001 357000 migrated into sask 482000 left (125000 more left)
In that time 155000 migrated from Alberta to Sask and 232000 left for Alberta. (77000 more left for Alberta)

The migration out of Sask by young people is a well discussed problem in Sask.
Net inter-provincial out-migration is increasing, with our young people leaving the fastest (43% of 1997-98 migrants were 15 to 29 years of age).

Political party speeches, newspaper articles,
From a political speech:

The second reason; the exodus of young people leaving this province continues.

Sask has 30% of the worlds uranium in the 1980s it was about half of the worlds known uranium. They were offered 5000 Phd jobs (atomic energy canada research and bureaucracy would move to Saskatoon) back in the early 1980s if they would build a Candu reactor. The equivalent of 1.5 million high level jobs for the USA to build something that would help take advantage of one of their top resources. This would be equal to Alberta banning refineries and upgraders and not accepting the petroleum research institution.

About ten years later they paid a few hundred million to move the HQ of a small insurance company from Ontario for a few hundred white collar jobs.

Today, the official opposition in the province is the Saskatchewan Party, a new party built in 1997 out of the remains of the Tories and former Liberals and even a small number of New Democrats frustrated by the NDP's inability to "grow" the economy and population (from wikipedia's Sask entry)

California's socialist tendency's are far more restrained than Sask. Plus they tend to be concentrated in places like Berkeley and some aspects of the actual city of San Francisco.

California is able to afford some anti-business when they have silicon valley and all the other businesses.
Regina the capital of Sask has about 8 major places to get a white collar job. Don't get a job there or don't like your advancement there then you have to leave.

Gregory Clark seemed to be making an intra-Europe only analysis.

James Bowery said at August 10, 2007 1:26 AM:

Burning the greatest and largest ocean going fleet in 1400.

Bad example. It was stroke of genius! China avoided the fate of the West consequent to colonization: Being reverse colonized by immigration from less developed countries. As a consequence China is set to outpace the rest of the world. (I only _sound_ like a satirist. There are those occasions when reality makes a satirist of the most serious among us.)

No, the real problem is rent seeking in the public and private sectors resulting in the unwarranted concentration of power among the most influential. Power corrupts and power seeking does not necessarily select for the right kind of intelligence.

Post a comment
Name (not anon or anonymous):
Email Address:
Remember info?

Go Read More Posts On FuturePundit
Site Traffic Info
The contents of this site are copyright ©