This sounds like a return to historical norms to me

The proportion of women who never have children has doubled in a generation, ONS figures show.

The official figures show that of women born in 1946, just 9 per cent were still childless at 45 – the age the ONS defines as the end of childbearing years.

Statisticians said women were less likely to be married and more likely to be putting off having children until they could no longer have them.

Of those born in 1971, 18 per cent were childless in 2016, when they turned 45. Almost half of women who turned 30 in 2016 did not have any children, up from a low of just 18 per cent in 1976.

Not something I know, not something I could even find the figures on. But rolling around in the back of memory is the idea that historically some 80% of women had children, only some 40% of men.

If true (anyone?) then this would make those post-war years the anomaly, not the present day…..

16 thoughts on “This sounds like a return to historical norms to me”

  1. Yes, that was at the back of my mind. But spinsterdom was common before that too. As were, further back, religious orders and so on.

  2. ? Going from 80% of women having had children by the sensible time to have finished having children, to only half having had kids, is not a return to the historical norm.

    The baby boom generation may be anomalous, and the situation then was probably a little bit dysgenic. But not as much as today’s awful situation. Especially when some large portion of those 50% aren’t even British or British-assimilable.

  3. Actually.. read that wrong. But half of all women childless at 30 is a fucked up situation. If you already have four or five kids at 30, having another one or two is doable. But the current situation is a recipe for demographic decline, especially when the demographics of those who do have children are so dysgenic. Some power-suited waste of space popping out one autistic kid at 40 may as well never have existed.

  4. Well, I’ve no idea either, but I can sort of believe the 80% number. But the 40% doesn’t smell right.

    I suppose that there could be a couple of things that could explain it; relatively high mortality rates for men, shonky records, that sort of thing.

    (Thinking about it, it seems likely that the 40% number might be a rule of thumb that holds for the period between, say, 1800 to 1950, where there are some major wars with high casualties every generation or so. So the cause would be battlefield technology and tactics. This would imply that the number pre-1800-ish would be significantly higher.)

    Anyway, the Telegraph story seems to be based on the ONS report here :

    Figure 3 in that shows that the childless rate in 1921 was 21%. Looks like the odd cohorts are 1930 to 1950 (13, 11 and 14%).

  5. If it was 40% male and 80% female, who was impregnating the other 40% of women? Polygamy was hardly a think in the west.

    Though I can well believe a large % of people of both genders never procreated.

  6. AIJ

    Serial marriage was a thing – plenty of widowers after wife n died in childbirth managed to find wife n+1.

    Not sure how much that can explain but it was a thing.

  7. Birth rate is number of women having children times number of children. So the number of mothers might be returning to “normal” but the number of children isn’t.

  8. If it was 40% male and 80% female, who was impregnating the other 40% of women? Polygamy was hardly a think in the west.

    There are multiple ways this could be so without formal (or even effective) polygamy, for example, perhaps there were a small number of men getting lots of sex from lots of women and a substantial number of men getting little-to-none from anywhere.

    The upstairs/downstairs attempts at getting a lift into the aristocracy (or even a nice cottage and a small income), by the housemaids spreading their legs for the gentry isn’t exactly a new story in the telling.

    Another factor might be things like factors affecting male infertility (such as the mumps, which was allegedly why Edward VIII never reproduced, aged whore Wallis Simpson notwithstanding)

    Not sure I buy the War argument on its own, since the period between 1815 and 1914 the loss of men in war was not a significant factor, compared with natural causes.

    I suspect the biggest factor was probably too poor, too ill / too ugly to attract a female to raise a family with. Same rules didn’t necessarily apply to women.

    Fundamentally, Briffault’s Law applies:

    The female, not the male, determines all the conditions of the animal family. Where the female can derive no benefit from association with the male, no such association takes place.

    — Robert Briffault, The Mothers, Vol. I, p. 191

  9. Andy in Japan: If it was 40% male and 80% female, who was impregnating the other 40% of women? Polygamy was hardly a think in the west.
    Genghis Khan, the Lord of the Manor and Father Ted’s milkman – Pat Mustard.
    (I note JG has produced a more formal answer)

  10. Jane Austen was obsessed with the risk of becoming an old maid. But if many women didn’t marry or died in childbirth, the remainder had to have had lots of children to make up the difference.

  11. My grandmother (b.1918) and great-grandmother (b.1895) certainly had loads of maiden aunts and a handful of non-procreating aunts/uncles, but in the family it had always been put down to being a fishing town and males going to sea and dying and reducing the available pool.

  12. I’ve seen that number. It’s not the proportion that had kids.

    It’s the proportion that had kids who had kids who had kids, etc.

    And all they know for sure is that the proportion for women is twice what it is for men, not the exact numbers.

    And it’s for pre-historic periods, not for anything after the invention of agriculture.

  13. Not sure on the 40%, but before modern medicine 80% of women having children sounds right – simple infertility (of either partner) or death in the first childbirth were not so easily dealt with, and the requirement for a dower in some cases made marrying daughters off expensive. I think World War II was a clear exception though – the recent experience of World War I (which did not have the same birth surge interestingly) meant there was a much greater willingness to have children, and the topos of ‘shag me, I’m off to war’ seems to have some basis.

    Overall, the number of men having children will always be lower than the number of women (technically it could be equal to the number of women I suppose), but without genetic analysis (which is what underlies Richard Gadsden’s comment I assume – my caution here is that all genetic history is modelling, not fact-based, once you get beyond the figures and try to interpret them) you have no way of telling if the father is the biological father.

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