fertility false consciousness

so, Jim wrote recently about the cause of population decline: in a word, educating females. writing’s on the wall:

Schooling                                                        Children
No schooling                                                        6.67
Islamic Schooling, no Western Schooling        7.78
Western Schooling to ages 7 to 11                     4.5
Western Schooling to ages 12 to 13                  1.44
Western Schooling to ages 15 to 16                   1.57
Western Schooling to age 17 and above          1.50

I still pretty readily experience liberal-progressive reactions to things, and so I want to explain to you what these statistics look like to a prog and, moreover, why that particular interpretation is problematic.

the prog explanation is that un- and under-educated women either literally cannot keep themselves from having more babies than they want (due to difficulties in obtaining or using reliable contraceptive methods), or that they used to think they wanted a bunch of kids but education helped them to correct that belief.

in other words, progs assume that less-educated women are suffering from a kind of fertility false consciousness. if the only thing life has to offer them is kids, then they’ll take a large helping, but as soon as you “empower” / “enlighten” / “open doors” for women, they choose anything but.

notice prog types also believe that characteristics of people and features of institutions are deeply “socially constructed.” especially gender roles. although progs mostly allow that men and women might be a little different innately on average and at the margins, the cause of most of our apparent differences is nurture. a society which treats men and women very differently reaps what it sows: men and women who are very different. this is morally unacceptable because a person deserves to be treated as the tabula rasa she is: a self-determined and autonomous creature ultimately of her own (not society’s) making.

so here’s my question to the fertility false consciousness-type progressive: if we take some human female raw material, and split them into into two groups, leaving one alone and coercively subjecting the other to years if not decades of increasingly value-laden instruction, and find that these two groups have different preferences regarding children. which practice has done more to respect the autonomy and innate preferences of those women? and which might be thought, prima facie and ceteris paribus, to have (wrongly) “constructed” some non-native preferences?

to be fair, part of this depends on what you think the purpose of education is. I know sadly more about this bizarro corner of academia than I care to admit, but basically you have a few competing camps (with overlap): educating for happiness, educating for flourishing, educating for the social good, and so on. progressives, being strangely both individualistic and collectivistic, won’t do themselves any favors in defending on these grounds because women don’t individually seem to be that happy post-education-revolution and society is in many respects functioning less well than it used to, with respect to the family.

now, I don’t necessarily accept the conclusion that we should stop educating females. it’s difficult to deny that a certain level of education (probably middle school levels of literacy and math) is a huge gain to most women themselves as they function in their everyday lives, and to the children who they raise (either directly, from being taught by mom, or indirectly from her being able to do more for and with them). the fertility drop from that level of education is, then, morally less questionable, because it trades off for substantial value – it’s a choice we might even argue that hypothetical autonomous agents would make for themselves, ex-ante.

my (admittedly possibly non-representative) impression from reading mainstream media accounts of educating girls in undeveloped countries is that they feel left out from learning how to read and such, because it’s clear that that would help them do the thing that they (*and* their brothers, incidentally) seem most to want to do: “help the family.” a few exceptional underprivileged girls (and boys) go on to become engineers or whatever. but, noticeably, basically no one reports that they aspire to a hedonistic DINK (dual income, no kids) lifestyle until after they’ve been put through the education machine. this observation is only non-suspect to those who assume from the get-go that (especially higher) education is an unalloyed good.

if anyone’s suffering from fertility false consciousness, it’s the very same college-graduated elites who want you to think that the most plausible and significant explanation for highly-fertile families is ignorance. they have been educated and enculturated out of even being able to imagine that sacrificing for the growing family is something that normal humans would often like to do, and something from which they derive meaning. displace some of your pity for under-educated girls onto them.