The most incisive guide to issues facing the American family today . . . An invaluable resource for anyone wishing to stay on the cutting edge of research on family trends.

-W. Bradford Wilcox
Associate Professor of Sociology, University of Virginia 

Can Public Policy Encourage Fertility?

Bryce J. Christensen and Robert W. Patterson

The field of economics seems to appreciate, more than other branches of social science, how public policy can reinforce marriage, temper divorce, and increase birth rates. That difference is illustrated by a study by a New Zealand economist that quantifies how the elimination of draft deferments for childless men during the escalation of the Vietnam War triggered a substantial increase in first births to young married couples.

Using Vital Statistics data, Andrea Kutinova charted the month-by-month proportion of first births to two cohorts of American women, those aged 20 to 24, and those aged 25 to 29, from 1963 through 1968. She found the proportion grew linearly with only minor deviations from the overall trend during the six years. But the data show a spike, especially among the younger cohort (which the researcher used as a proxy for fathers of draft age, 18 to 25), in August 1966. That was twelve months after the new draft policy was announced by President Johnson in August 1965 and ten months after the Selective Service System in October 1965 declared the policy applicable toall married men, not just those married since the president’s announcement. A detrending and deseasoning of the data revealed a similar pattern overall, but an even greater impact of the new draft policies on the fertility of potential draftees (the younger age group) during the summer of 1966.

Regression analysis of the adjusted data yielded positive and significant correlations with dummy variables that measured births with the baseline treatment group (ages 20 to 24) ten months after the presidential announcement (June 1966) and ten months after the Selective Service announcement (August 1966). Moreover, when Kutinova added teen mothers (ages 15 to 19) to the treatment group, the confidence levels for June and August increased to 99 percent and the coefficients for the months of July and September achieved statistical significance.

Believing that her results strongly imply causality, Kutinova conservatively estimates that the new draft policy increased births among women, ages 20 to 24, by 15,532 in June and August 1966. If the teenagers are added, the estimate rises to 19,540 for those two months and 32,914 for the months June through September.

Seeing a “substantial” magnitude of the effect of the Vietnam War paternity deferments, the economist says her baseline estimate represents more than 7 percent of first births, and about 28 percent of Selective Service calls for inductees, in those two months. This finding, she concludes, “adds to the growing body of evidence that government interventions may indeed affect individuals’ reproductive behavior.”

(Andrea Kutinova, “Paternity Deferments and the Timing of Births: U.S. Natality During the Vietnam War," Economic Inquiry 47.2 [April 2009]: 351–65.)