Trend of late marriage, childbearing traced to women born in early 1940s

October 07, 1990|By Carol Kleiman | Carol Kleiman,Chicago Tribune

CHICAGO -- Joyce DuBow is 46 years old and was married at the age of 30. She has two children. Her first child was born when she 34; her last, when she was 37.

Ms. DuBow, who has an undergraduate degree in political science from the University of Michigan and a master's degree in urban planning from City College of New York's Hunter College, is public policy associate for the Older Women's League, a non-profit agency in Washington. She has worked for the federal government and as a health-care consultant.

The facts of Ms. DuBow's life -- getting married "later," having fewer children, having them "later" and working outside the home -- are a typical profile of women who were born from 1940 to 1944.

That is the finding of a recent study by the U.S. Census Bureau, "Work and Family Patterns of American Women." It is based on life patterns of 40.6 million women born between 1920 and 1954 who have been married at least once and have children. The statistics were collected by the Census Bureau in 1985 as a supplement to its Current Population Survey.

The report indicates that Ms. DuBow, born in 1944, and other women now in their 40s were the pioneers, the first generation to step out of traditional roles for American women. They were the pacesetters for today's "modern" woman, the study suggests.

"I never felt I was a pioneer, though most of my friends and I were aware we were part of many of the battles women were fighting," said Ms. DuBow, who consults with OWL members on issues such as health care. "My mother, now 80 years old, was my role model. She believed women should work and have their own identity. My father taught me to ride a bike and play ball. I was a middle child between two brothers and grew up knowing I was as good as my brothers. I never had a doubt about it."

It generally has been assumed that women born in the 1950s -- the baby boomers -- set in motion the work and family patterns associated with today's typical working woman. But the study shows that the seeds were planted by the previous generation, the women born during World War II, who grew up with Rosie the Riveter and whose mothers were involved in the war effort -- even though Rosie and the mothers went back home when the war ended.

Women born in the 1940s were in college during the 1960s, when the women's movement, the birth control pill and the sexual revolution enveloped the United States.

The data for these women indicate a familiar pattern of married women with good educations pouring into the labor market.

The study by Louisa F. Miller and Arthur Norton, demographers in the bureau's marriage and family statistics branch, focuses on basic stages of life such as the first marriage, birth of the first and last child, divorce and employment. The researchers refer to their findings as "timing patterns."

"Women born in the early 1940s were the trendsetters," said Ms. Miller, a sociologist. "For those in that age group, it was beginning to happen. It looks as if they were the first of the new modern group of women."

Married or divorced women born between 1920 and 1940 had children at an average rate of 3.2 to 3.4 births each. Women born in the early 1940s were the first to average fewer than three children: They had children at an average rate of 2.8 each. By the time women born from 1950 to 1954 started having children, the rate had dropped to 2.2.

The years between first marriage and first birth continued to decrease for women born before 1940, but they began to increase for those born in 1940 or later -- resulting in the current pattern of many women putting off having children to devote full attention to pursuing an education and a career.

"Age at first marriage and age at first birth are both positively related to income and to educational attainment," the study concluded.

June C. Terpstra, a sociologist and director of Northwestern University's women's center, says the findings on life cycles are diluted by the inclusion only of women who have children and who are now or were once married.

"The way we've always used statistics has been elitist, and that concerns me," said Ms. Terpstra. "Over the years, I've seen a higher proportion of African-American and Hispanic women who are heads of single-family units -- and they are not included in this study."

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