A Closer Look at the Second Demographic Transition in the US: Evidence of Bidirectionality from a Cohort Perspective (1982–2006)
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Second demographic transition (SDT) theory posits that increased individualism and secularization have contributed to low fertility in Europe, but very little work has directly tested the salience of SDT theory to fertility trends in the US. Using longitudinal data from a nationally representative cohort of women who were followed throughout their reproductive years (National Longitudinal Survey of Youth 1979 cohort, NLSY79), this study examines the role of several key indicators of the SDT (secularization, egalitarianism, religious affiliation, and female participation in the labor market) on fertility behavior over time (1982–2006). Analyses employ Poisson estimation, logistic regression, and cross-lagged structural equation models to observe unidirectional and bidirectional relationships over the reproductive life course. Findings lend support to the relevance of SDT theory in the US but also provide evidence of “American bipolarity” which distinguishes the US from the European case. Furthermore, analyses document the reciprocal nature of these relationships over time which has implications for how we understand these associations at the individual-level.
KeywordsSecond demographic transition Low fertility US fertility Reciprocal models
The author wishes to thank Paul Amato, Alan Booth, and Nancy Landale for helpful comments on earlier drafts. Support for this work was provided by the Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development, Interdisciplinary Training in Demography (Grant No. T32 HD007514, PI: Gordon DeJong) to the Pennsylvania State University Population Research Institute. Opinions reflect those of the author and not necessarily those of the granting agencies.
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