Thursday, February 26, 2009

Fun With Statistics

I was reading this article yesterday:

The percentage of American households with children under 18 living at home last year hit the lowest point — 46% — in half a century, government data reported Wednesday.

The trend reflects the aging of the Baby Boom generation and younger women having fewer children, demographers say.

The article does point out that earlier percentages rose because of the same Baby Boom generation. When large age groups have children you get lots of them. When smaller age groups have children you get less of them. I'm not sure what the impact of more older people living alone might be on all this might be. It would raise the total number of households without raising the numbers of those with children, for one thing. Come to think of it, divorce does that, too.

Note that the cause is seen partly as "younger women having fewer children." Not "younger families", say. I know that the terminology has its reasons, but I'm irritated when I read that women have too many children in India and too few in Italy. Those dratted women! They never get it quite right, while men never make such mistakes, except for getting older when they, too, can be blamed for everything.

Anyway, that wasn't the fun I intended to have with statistics. It's this part of the article:

In 2008, about 35.7 million families (46%) had children under 18 at home, the Census figures show, down from 52% in 1950. The percentage peaked in 1963, when about 57% of families had children under 18 at home.


The data also show:

•About 5.3 million "stay-at-home" mothers and 140,000 such fathers.

If you put together those numbers of households with children under eighteen and stay-at-home parents you get a ratio of seven to one. Around fourteen percent of all families with children have a stay-at-home parent (SAHP). This is worth pointing out, because the popular culture and much of our public conversations pretty much assume the traditional pattern, and an alien from outer space would certainly conclude that it's the predominant child-rearing arrangement in this country.

If the data was more detailed we'd probably find that most of the families with a SAHP have very young children and that once the children are at school both parents work again. I'm not sure if the culture truly has taken this into account. It seems that the local schools here, for example, expect parents (read: mothers) to be available during daytime hours for all sorts of unpaid chores.

Those data also tell us that about 3% of SAHPs are fathers. Until that grows to a much higher percentage we will not see any general policies to help SAHPs to get better retirement benefits or help when wanting to return to the labor force. That's what I think.