Social environments and low fertility

Dr. Edward Crenshaw, Department of Sociology
Rank at time of award: Associate Professor


Using my earlier cross-national research as a theoretical springboard, I want to investigate the influence of three aspects of American life on completed fertility:  Occupational clusters, family­ dominated residential living, and ethnic/racial pluralism.  While some modest occupational effects on fertility have been found (e.g., Edwards 2002), most studies have used trend studies rather than true panels, and have lacked variables like the extent of female-dominance within occupations to determine the possibility of contagion and social control effects.  That is, one might expect that the greater the preponderance of women within an occupation, the more social interaction and norms might favor blending career with family life.  Contagion is also a possibility in terms of the broader residential environment.  Although there should be a clear family-centered selection bias for those who move to residential suburbs, does living amidst large numbers of families with children modify/accelerate reproductive plans?   Finally, my past research suggests that environments marked by ethnic pluralism tend to boost the fertility of majority groups.  I suspect this can be explained by salience theory: Demographic diversity may influence community-level fertility norms by making race/ethnicity (rather than household income) salient.  Essentially, a subtle (and perhaps subconscious) competition for space and dominance ensues if racial or ethnic differences are prominent, and this competition may heighten pro-natal attitudes within the ("threatened")  community.
The ultimate point of the research project is that the occupational, residential, and demographic environments experienced by American women/families differ considerably from those of other developed countries.   If I can establish the importance of these environments to post-industrial fertility, I can justify a much larger project that compares America to lowest-low fertility countries in Europe and Asia. The purpose of the current project is therefore a "proof of concept" that will be used to generate a far more ambitious proposal.