What about desired fertility? Does that change with educational attainment for either sex? If not, then the challenge is to close the gap between desired and actual fertility. If so, then there is something wrong with the “education” being provided. If a liberal arts education doesn’t impress upon a woman the importance and necessity of “paying life forward” (as you call it), then it has utterly failed.
The GSS routinely asks respondents what the ideal number of children to have is. The survey also asks respondents how many children they actually have. The following graph shows women’s responses, by educational attainment, to the ideal number of children for a woman to have and the number of children those women have actually had. To avoid racial confounding, only non-Hispanic whites are included. For contemporary relevance, results are from 2000 onward. To allow family formation to have occurred, responses are only taken from those aged 35 and older at the time of participation:
The realized fertility gap by educational attainment is nearly four times as large as the idealized fertility gap is. Women who try to have it all tend to come up short on the birthing front. But women who drop out of high school often end up having more than they can handle. Somewhere between sophomore year and graduating from high school before heading to the hearth is the goldilocks sweet spot! These are the women most likely to make their ideals come true.
Parenthetically, the pattern for men is similar but the divergence between ideal and realized fertility is half what it is for women. Nothing reduces female fertility like higher education does.
Feminism’s results are mixed. On the one hand, it hasn’t done much to reduce the number of children women would ideally like to have. It has, however, reduced the number of children women end up having. Feminism: Ensuring women’s dreams don’t come true by making sure the next generation doesn’t come through!
GSS variables used: CHLDIDEL(0-7), CHILDS, SEX(2), RACECEN1(1), HISPANIC(1), AGE(35-89), YEAR(2000-2016)