Cultural Models and Fertility Timing Among Cherokee and White Youth in Appalachia

Beyond the Mode

Published in: American Anthropologist, v. 111, no. 4, Dec. 2009, p. 420-431

Posted on RAND.org on December 31, 2008

by Ryan Andrew Brown, Daniel J Hruschka, Carol M Worthman

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Much anthropological research and theory concerns how group differences in behavior, subjective experience, and ways of seeing the world (i.e., cultural differences) are created and maintained. Both within and outside the United States, there are dramatic group differences in fertility. In the United States, American Indian groups exhibit some of the highest and earliest fertility. We used ethnographic data as well as structured card-sort and questionnaire data to compare cultural models of childbearing among Cherokee and white youth in Appalachia. The critical difference between Cherokee and white youth was not a modal difference in ideal ages for first childbirth but, rather, the degree of latitude for the timing of having children vis-à-vis other major life events. Group differences in modal norms are often posited as the critical axis of group distinction. In many cases, group differences in the intrapopulation variability among multiple norms may play a more critical role.

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