A Tale of Three Maps
To demonstrate a point that I have asserted at various points – a point that tends to be often indirectly hinted at in the blogosphere and only occasionally stately concretely, I again avail to maps to tell a tale.
First, I’ll start with a previously featured map of fertility rates across Europe:
This is a map of the total fertility rates across Europe by region, as previously seen on my blog. I’ve filled in data for the former Soviet and Yugoslav states. Last time, I made the case that fertility exists in an inverse relationship with population density. Europeans (and East Asians to a degree) prefer to have a lot of room when procreating, and don’t seem too keen on having families in urban areas. As well, fertility is impacted by cost of living. This seems to heavily affect Europeans and East Asians when it comes to having children because these peoples have been selected to seek resource security before procreating. Not being able to afford the “standard” necessities makes individuals in these groups feel that they (largely incorrectly in today’s world) can’t afford to have children. Cost of living is heavily impacted by population density; the more dense the area, the higher land values (and all other expenses) typically tend to be. This limits how far your money can go, and limits how much is left for starting a family. The result in much of the developed world is sub-replacement fertility. While low-fertility is not necessarily a bad thing, especially in the most crowded countries, and is ultimately a temporary phenomenon, it does speak to a certain level of psychological distress.
And with that said, compare the above map to this map:
This is a map I drew of self-reported happiness in across Europe, as assessed by the World Values Survey. Above are the percentages of people in each surveyed region that report being “very happy” (4 on a 4 point scale, the others being “quite happy”, “not very happy”, and “not at all happy”). Most of the data comes from the fifth wave of the study, collected between 2005 and 2008, hence is roughly contemporaneous with the fertility data shown here. However, some countries were not included in this wave, and for most of those I drew my data from the fourth wave, collected around 1999. The gray areas in Europe are areas where the sample sizes were too small (less than 50 respondents). The percentage ranges exclude the lower bound and include the upper bound.
(Note: some of the low scores here are slightly misleading. Most of the areas where a very low proportion of people responded that they were “very happy” have a very high proportion – often 70-80% – reporting that they were “quite happy.” This is especially so for Spain, Italy, and Lithuania. However some others, such as Portugal and Latvia, do have fairly small proportions even in this category. An indeed, reported happiness in quite low in Romania. Sadly, in many of its low-scoring regions, a large majority of the people report being “not very happy” or worse.)
As we can plainly see, there is a pronounced relationship between fertility rates and happiness. Indeed, as I’ve articulated in discussion, people are most happy when they can make enough of a living to support a family. What people seem to want most, by and large, is indeed the house, the white picket fence, and their 2.3 kids. This is why in the United States, the proportion of people who reported being “very happy” peaked in the 1950s – in the middle of the Baby Boom – and hasn’t returned since.
There is a distinct fertility advantage in Northwestern Europe as opposed to Central, Southern, and Eastern Europe. As we’ve seen, this isn’t solely the result of population pressure, because population densities in much of Eastern and Southern Europe are on the low side (land quality is another matter). This brings me to the third map:
This is a map of gross domestic product per capita across Europe, in purchasing power parity, from Eurostat, with additional information filled in (for Norway and for the former Soviet and Yugoslav states). This is essentially the relative wealth of the European regions. The disparity between Northwestern Europe and the rest of the continent is quite evident here. Perhaps the poor fertility of Eastern Europe can be explained by the abundance of poor people. With anything resembling resource security apparently an elusive target, children may be only be a distant wish for many. (It may be worth considering the map of unemployment from my original Tales of Two Maps post also for more insight on some of these apparently wealthier areas. I would have added it here as well, but I liked the title of this post, and hence I had to choose which one to feature in this post. The above map won out.)
The few disconnects between fertility and happiness from the previous two maps are attenuated when this map is considered (particularly in the poorly fecund but wealthy Alpine area). However, by far, fertility remains the stronger correlate with happiness. Happiness, it appears, means the ability to make babies and the ability to comfortably support them (with the things that modern parents expect to have, anyway).
In retrospect, it is silly anyone thought it any different; the primary goal of all life is to reproduce. Contrary to the sentiment of Ellen Walker, for most people, anything that interferes with this primary goal is bound to create misery for many – or, at the very least, lead to an empty life for many more (also here and here).
Now, this project is an example of picking some really low-hanging fruit, and can easily be expanded to look at things globally (indeed, the levels of people reporting being “very happy” in the poorly fecund East Asian countries are all low), and I will do so at some point. But I wanted to do this preliminary examination of the data, and lo and behold, I found much what I expected. In a way, this post is a the natural conclusion of my first two “Tales of Two Maps” posts.
Some might try to explain away this data on the apparent happiness of Northwestern Europeans as a result of their high standard of living and the freedom that they their open societies permit them. However, I think this is a poorer fit. If this was the case, why are peoples who are just as free, such the Spaniards, Italians, and Portuguese considerably less happy? Why are the wealthy and free Germans less content than the less wealthy Irish and Scots? Cultural (read: genetic) differences are likely also at play here, but I think this association is too strong to causally dismiss.
Many voices in the blogosphere note that the solution to the low-fertility problem (if we consider it to be problem; for the aforementioned reasons I don’t think that it is one per se) is for women to abandon the workforce. That, I’m afraid, is American Deep Southern/Appalachian-derived thinking. Sorry guys, but, it’s simply not going to happen. Women in developed countries, by in large, not only like to work, but indeed need to work. This is because they’ve evolved this way. As Greg Cochran and Henry Harpending point out in The 10,000 Year Explosion, cold-weather farming states selected for hard workers, indeed, people who are driven to work. Even if this selection was limited to men – which it wasn’t – it would have led to both the sons and daughters of these men becoming compulsive workers.
That being said, a recent survey found that 75% of new mothers in hard-working Britain would rather stay home with the children than work, if only they could “afford” to do so. Indeed, as noted in the links above, working women, to some degree, create their own problems. The additional income of two-earner households have served to bid up the cost of living, essentially necessitating working moms in a vicious cycle. In the past, women’s working energies were used tending to the home, the family’s affairs, and most importantly, to the crops that fed the family. Today, with agrarian living a thing of the past for most people and domestic life drastically simplified by technology, women find their outlet in working for a living (especially the high-IQ types that we’re most concerned with). Because of the current economics and the lack of anything significant to consume women’s time and energies, this pattern will not change in the foreseeable future.
The track that the Western European countries have taken, subsidizing and enabling women’s work with maternity leave and other amenities to working mothers is indeed the wisest recourse, with the above considered. This has opened up the “mommy track” in these countries to favorable results across Northwestern Europe. However, this is unlikely to ever take hold in America thanks to its Appalachian and Deep Southern heritage (more on that in a future post). I suppose the happy medium is for (again, higher-IQ) Western women to realize that quite likely family and children will turn out to be more important than career for them and, not guilt themselves too much if they find themselves gravitating to the former at the expense of the latter.