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April 5, 2013 / JayMan

Fertility and Happiness: A Global Perspective

Following up on my earlier post about the connection between fertility rates and happiness, I wanted to take a wider view with more proper research controls to see if the pattern holds.

Here is a map I’ve drawn of self-reported happiness around the world, as reported in the World Values Survey:

World_Map_Happiness

As before, this is the percentage of respondents in each country who reported that they were “very happy” (4 out of a 4-point scale, the others being “quite happy”, “not very happy”, and “not at all happy”). Also as before, I’ve taken the most recently available data whenever possible, usually the 2005-2008 data, but some are from earlier waves, circa 1999. Also, as before, the low scorers aren’t created equal. In many of the low scoring countries, the vast majority of respondents (70-80%) report being “quite happy”; however, a considerable percentage of the low scoring countries have sizable fractions reporting that they were “not very happy or worse”.

Now this is a map of fertility rates around the world (from Wikimedia Commons):

Fertility_rate_world_map_2

While a bit rougher, the relationship seen between fertility rates and happiness in Europe also seems to exist globally (presumably being somewhat attenuated by the effects of per capita income).

The relationship looks pretty good, and clearly exists outside of Europe. To see this numerically, I ran a regression analysis of fertility rates matched against happiness level:

Correlation Fertility Happiness all-Fix

We have an R2 of 0.07 – paltry, but positive. We can see the wealthier countries clustered to one side while the developing nations–particularly those of sub-Saharan Africa far and away on the other side.

Here is the scatterplot with sub-Saharan Africa excluded:

Correlation-Happy Some

Slightly better, but not by much. Many of the impoverished and war-torn nations still seem drag down the total. While I’d imagine my fit would improve if I controlled for GDP per capita, let’s see what happens if I restrict the analysis to the high average IQ nations only (i.e., Europe, the Anglo world, and East Asia):

Correlation Fertility Smart

Bingo! R2 = 0.548. We have a considerably strong relationship. It seems, in the developed world, more than half of the variation in happiness is “explained” by the fertility rate. The outliers give the appearance that average wealth may be a factor. In the future, I will run control for GDP per capita to see if I can improve the fit further.

Here are the within-ethnicity correlations superimposed on this:

Correlation Fertility Smart-sub

While generally smaller, all are positive, except for the Anglo world where we see an odd negative (but small) correlation.

Note that for the European (Anglo) countries, I’ve tried to be sure to use the native (White) fertility rates whenever possible (see here for my sources for the UK, the Netherlands, Norway, and New Zealand).

Digging deeper, I wanted to see how these matched up when looking at the relationship between fertility and happiness within certain countries, especially the larger ones outside Europe. Here are maps I’ve drawn of the fertility rates versus reported happiness by region within countries:

Associations are present, but they’re not very tight (and some cases reversed!), perhaps because the data aren’t very well resolved in each country. Ideally I’d like to get data resolved down to say a county/greater metropolitan level and see how well the relationship holds, particularly in the U.S. and Canada.

Overall the evidence does indicate a relationship between fertility rates and happiness in the developed world. The relationship is weaker in the developing world, but a future project of mine will be to see if this is attenuated by conditions in these countries.

A positive relationship between fertility rates and happiness in the high-latitude countries is much as I’ve predicted. Dwellers in high-latitude civilizations appear to have been selected to seek resource security before procreating. Modern conditions have made (perceived) resource security hard to obtain. The added fact that, thanks to modern technology, children are essentially “optional“, makes procreation that more difficult. In many ways, this is, in part, a natural response to land and resource scarcity.

Indeed, in the case of seemingly sparsely population Spain:

We find much of the flat land between the mountain is used for farming. The areas devoted to residential purposes are small. Indeed, I’ve heard that in Spain, a new couple often needs to work for over 10 years to be able to afford their own apartment, usually living with their parents or roommates in the mean time. It seems that either through an unwillingness or inability to exploit their open land for living space, the Spanish may  have made “affordable family formation” incredibly difficult. Hence, their “effective” population density is high, and fertility suffers as a result.

Indeed, this project is perhaps a preliminary test of Steve Sailer’s affordable family formation theory on a global scale. Fertility remains abysmally low in East Asian countries primarily due to their incredible crowding.

Intense crowding and little easily obtainable/affordable living space tightens the competition for the “necessities” of life at every turn: education becomes competitive, as does employment. And indeed, this increases the competition for desirable mates, as netting a good provider becomes that much more important (for both men and women, varying according to sex ratios). This increased competition increases the stress individuals experience in their lives, likely reducing the sense of well-being. Paradoxically, this may be partly because people in developed nations try to “have it all”; that is, try to live a life with access to modern amenities and be able to support children with these standards. This is one reason why you see fertility rates drop in developing nations as their standards of living rise: suddenly, the pursuit of modern amenities becomes the goal – with the ultimate goal of raising children with these amenities – but the chase ultimately leads to fewer children.

Now, it’s not like low fertility rates are, in and of themselves, any cause for alarm. Indeed, in many of the most crowded countries, population could stand to decrease for awhile:

Tokyotrain

Eventually, this will allow population densities to reach less crushing levels, at which points fertility rates will increase, and likely stabilize near replacement levels. Indeed, for a “mature” developed nation, fertility rates ideally should hover around replacement levels so that the population remains essentially static. The living won’t necessarily be incredibly “easy”, but will be fairly decent for the average person.

No, most of the alarm over sub-replacement fertility stems from two factors. The first is the dysgenic nature of that fertility: the fact that the less intelligent (and those with overall higher levels of genetic load) reproduce more than the most intelligent, degrading the population over time. The second factor, mostly in the West, is the greater fertility of lower-IQ immigrants, and the threat of population replacement by those immigrants. This disrupts the negative feedback loop that population density sets on the fertility of the native population.

The other factor is the lower fertility of secular, liberal-minded individuals in these populations in favor of more religious conservative ones, and all the problems that that entails.

Much talk is made about how to make people happy. I suggest here a back-to-basics approach that indicates that perhaps, people really do want the house, car, the white picket fence, and their 2.3 kids. They apparently also want to enjoy a modicum of the delights our modern technological society affords us – and quite reasonably so. When this becomes difficult, as we see today in much of the developed world with below “living” wages, difficulty ensues. Happiness may be an elusive and somewhat confusing goal, but some times, you just have to not overthink it.

Now, about that matter of affordable family formation and the difficulty of this, please allow me to remind my readers of the donate button seen near the top right. I greatly appreciate your support of my work.

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21 Comments

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  1. Sister Y / Apr 5 2013 10:20 PM

    Hi! Have you read any of the 30+ years of social science research that finds that childbearing negatively affects individual happiness, marital satisfaction, and other key happiness variables? A good place to start is Baumeister’s Meanings of Life, Appendix B, The Parenthood Paradox – http://books.google.com/books?id=1aIAIPGvqb8C&lpg=PP1&pg=PA388#v=onepage&q&f=false

    Country-wide data are important, especially in the absence of other stuff, but there’s plenty of individual data to the contrary. The childless=happier finding even obtains for couples who wanted children but were infertile!

    • JayMan / Apr 5 2013 10:33 PM

      Have you read any of the 30+ years of social science research that finds that childbearing negatively affects individual happiness, marital satisfaction, and other key happiness variables?

      Turns out that’s largely rubbish.

    • Sister Y / Apr 5 2013 11:41 PM

      Douglas Adams: “Incidentally, am I alone in finding the expression ‘it turns out’ to be incredibly useful? It allows you to make swift, succinct, and authoritative connections between otherwise randomly unconnected statements without the trouble of explaining what your source or authority actually is. It’s great. It’s hugely better than its predecessors ‘I read somewhere that…’ or the craven ‘they say that…’ because it suggests not only that whatever flimsy bit of urban mythology you are passing on is actually based on brand new, ground breaking research, but that it’s research in which you yourself were intimately involved. But again, with no actual authority anywhere in sight.”

    • JayMan / Apr 6 2013 9:27 AM

      I hope you weren’t taking anything I said personally. I was merely pointing out that the association you mentioned is likely false.

    • Sister Y / Apr 6 2013 7:18 PM

      I just didn’t see any links to studies finding counter-evidence – just crazy old Bryan Caplan with his weird agenda. misery hypothesis, so it would seem at this point that a LOT of evidence would be necessary to support the idea that kids make you happier. Wealthy people who could afford to have always hired caretakers so they don’t have to interact with their children much (and even sent them completely away to school very early); there’s all the happiness studies, finding married childless couples happiest, married with children okay, unmarried with children saddest of all. There’s the old evidence that children diminish marital satisfaction – VERY few cases in which that’s not true – and the presence of children is likely to break up non-marital unions. But sometime during the 80s, children became destabilizing even to marital relationships – the presence of even the first child and each subsequent child makes divorce more likely than if the child had not been born.

      There’s the data on how much people hate childcare, the obvious screaming feature children have and the data on noise and pain/morality (e.g. loud noises make people more likely to be willing to shock strangers in a lab). There’s the obvious motivation to lie about how happy one is with the choices one has made, and even so, the studies from when marriage still existed (no-fault divorce hadn’t razed the institution of lifetime marriage) found a peak of happiness at marriage before childbearing, a fall after childbearing, and another peak after the children have left the house (which they are ever-less likely to do in our world).

      There are also new features: our society is more mobile, and children lock you down geographically (unless you’re a bad parent, which many are of course). Relationships are less likely to last for the duration of childrearing, so more people (even married) who choose to have children will end up as single parents eventually – and a huge percentage even start out as single parents, the saddest group there is. (There’s also the harm to children of being raised by only one parent, or the increased abuse they suffer from stepparents compared to two bioparents, but we’re focusing on parental happiness.)

      Anyway, even if parenting DID make people happier (and it certainly seems to give them a sense of meaning – even in proportion with the perceived awfulness of childrearing!), it would still be wrong to create innocent beings in this world. It just happens to seem that there’s a ton of evidence that children don’t, in fact, make you happier – quite the opposite.

    • JayMan / Apr 6 2013 7:52 PM

      I just didn’t see any links to studies finding counter-evidence – just crazy old Bryan Caplan with his weird agenda. misery hypothesis, so it would seem at this point that a LOT of evidence would be necessary to support the idea that kids make you happier.

      I don’t think the point is that kids necessarily make you happier, just that all that “evidence” claiming that they make you less happy is rubbish because it’s faulty. You simply can’t compare childless couples with couples with children; that’s looking at apples vs oranges. You need to do longitudinal studies of the same people and see if their happiness is affected with the birth of each child.

      Hence, claims like this…

      There’s the data on how much people hate childcare, the obvious screaming feature children have and the data on noise and pain/morality (e.g. loud noises make people more likely to be willing to shock strangers in a lab). There’s the obvious motivation to lie about how happy one is with the choices one has made, and even so, the studies from when marriage still existed (no-fault divorce hadn’t razed the institution of lifetime marriage) found a peak of happiness at marriage before childbearing, a fall after childbearing, and another peak after the children have left the house (which they are ever-less likely to do in our world).

      …are baseless unless they’ve got longitudinal studies backing it up.

      But to your point, yes, happiness is necessarily subjective, so we have no real alternative than to ask the person to gauge their happiness, even if it might not necessarily produce reliable results.

      It just happens to seem that there’s a ton of evidence that children don’t, in fact, make you happier – quite the opposite.

      It seems so, but how good is this “evidence”, really? That’s my contention.

  2. Sister Y / Apr 6 2013 7:23 PM

    (Also your comment system doesn’t like my self-deprecating hearts made of less-than signs and threes or arrows made of dashes and greater-than signs, hence initial incomprehensibility! Sorry!)

  3. Greying Wanderer / Apr 6 2013 10:50 PM

    “But sometime during the 80s, children became destabilizing even to marital relationships – the presence of even the first child and each subsequent child makes divorce more likely than if the child had not been born.”

    Money.

    People want children but can’t have them without destroying their marriage.

  4. e / Apr 7 2013 8:15 AM

    Whether or not children actually make people happy, the necessities of life necessary to raise children well certainly do.

    • JayMan / Apr 7 2013 10:58 AM

      Precisely. I think that’s really the key thing here.

  5. Hmm / Apr 7 2013 9:12 AM

    Have you read any of the 30+ years of social science research

    The value of a blog like Jayman’s is that it’s riding the early crest of a new Zeitgeist, which is gathering steam around the idea that much of the last 30 years of social science research is problematic because it was conducted in an ideological bubble that ignored what was going on in other fields.

    • JayMan / Apr 7 2013 10:59 AM

      Haha thanks. You could put it that way. :)

  6. ad*m / Apr 9 2013 11:27 AM

    Good analysis. Israeli Jews have relatively high happiness and fertility but are missing from your high-IQ scatter, suggest putting them in. See also Spengler’s writing
    from yesterday:
    http://pjmedia.com/spengler/2013/04/08/memo-to-jew-haters-on-yom-hashoah-you-are-dying/

    • Janon / Apr 14 2013 3:15 PM

      It is not all Israeli Jews who demonstrate high fertility, but the Orthodox and ultra-Orthodox. Can you show that they are happier than the other Jews? And if that is the case, it is worrying because it is based on a religious delusion.

    • ad*m / Apr 14 2013 4:30 PM

      Good point, but Israelis, not only the orthodox, that have TFR of 3.0 as you can see in Jayman’s first scatter above.

  7. mitchellbpowell / May 15 2013 9:41 AM

    I think with Israelis, if you dig down, you’ll find that above-replacement fertility is something driven by the rising Orthodox population (a quarter of Israeli Jews, and about half the children) and the Arab population (20% of Israeli citizens), and that the secular and affluent portions of the Ashkenazi population are below replacement. I think that TFR of 3.0 is an average, but not typical of the population as a whole.

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