Oxford Study Finds Generational Education Levels Impacting Fertility, Most Educated Families Having Fewer Children

UNITED STATES - CIRCA 1950s: Mother watching baby eat cookie. (Photo by George Marks/Retrofile/Getty Images)
Getty Images

While it has long been understood that a woman’s level of education is a key predictor for fertility, a new study finds there’s a considerable impact of the level of education a woman’s own parents has on that metric as well.

Total fertility has plummeted in the United Kingdom this century an Oxford University study on birth rates reminds us, and women of all educational groups are now having fewer children than ever. But the lowest ‘Total Fertility Rates’ are reserved for women whose own parents are well educated, it has found.

Considering both the education level of a woman’s parents — split into high or low — as well as the woman herself, again as a high or low, for the first time, the Oxford Leverhulme Centre for Demographic Science report suggests the education of parents may have a larger impact on fertility than previously known. High and low education were defined as those who had continued study after completing school or not — like going to university — the paper said.

Indeed, according to the data relayed in the Institute’s press release on the findings, those who have the fewest children are not necessarily the most educated, but those with the most educated parents.

In the 2017-2022 period of the study, those with the lowest Total Fertility Rate, or number of children per woman, were actually those with highly educated parents but who had not gone to university themselves, perhaps underlining a double pressure of high parental expectations matched with lower personal outcomes impacting willingness to start a family. As expressed, there is evidence for “less support for childbearing among the educationally mobile”, but this was not investigated further.

As the paper notes, it appears that “women with more educated parents start childbearing more slowly and end up with fewer children”.

The fastest fall in fertility in the period studied from 2010 to 2020 was actually among the least educated women, but even that precipitous fall was not enough to ‘catch up’ with the most educated, who were already far ahead of the curve in having so few children. As noted by the researchers, by the end of the decade outcomes for all the differentiated education and family history groups were narrowing and becoming more alike.

In all, fertility rates among all educational groups are at their lowest levels in recorded history. England and Wales have this in common with other comparable European nations, Oxford said.


Please let us know if you're having issues with commenting.