falling fertility

| No Comments | No TrackBacks

In "America' Baby Bust," the WSJ draws "an economic parallel to China's bureaucratic method of limiting births," noting that "America has its very own one-child policy. And we have chosen it for ourselves."

The nation's falling fertility rate underlies many of our most difficult problems. Once a country's fertility rate falls consistently below replacement, its age profile begins to shift. You get more old people than young people. And eventually, as the bloated cohort of old people dies off, population begins to contract. This dual problem--a population that is disproportionately old and shrinking overall--has enormous economic, political and cultural consequences.

Our fertility rate has been falling for centuries rather than decades:

In 1800, the average white American woman had seven children. (The first reliable data on black fertility begin in the 1850s.) Since then, our fertility rate has floated consistently downward, with only one major moment of increase--the baby boom. In 1940, America's fertility rate was already skirting the replacement level, but after the war it jumped and remained elevated for a generation. Then, beginning in 1970, it began to sink like a stone.

There's a constellation of reasons for this decline: Middle-class wages began a long period of stagnation. College became a universal experience for most Americans, which not only pushed people into marrying later but made having children more expensive. Women began attending college in equal (and then greater) numbers than men. More important, women began branching out into careers beyond teaching and nursing. And the combination of the birth-control pill and the rise of cohabitation broke the iron triangle linking sex, marriage and childbearing.

Stagnating wages and skyrocketing college costs have helped to make child-rearing an expensive proposition, to the point where we're essentially "outsourcing our fertility" to immigrants:

We've received a massive influx of immigrants from south of the border since the late 1970s. Immigration has kept America from careening over the demographic cliff. Today, there are roughly 38 million people in the U.S. who were born elsewhere. (Two-thirds of them are here legally.) To put that in perspective, consider that just four million babies are born annually in the U.S.

If you strip these immigrants--and their relatively high fertility rates--from our population profile, America suddenly looks an awful lot like continental Europe, which has a fertility rate of 1.5., if not quite as demographically terminal as Japan.

The piece suggests three "starting points" for encouraging couples to have more children:

Social Security. In the U.S., the Social Security system has taken on most of the burden for caring for elderly adults, a duty that traditionally fell to grown-up children. A perverse effect of putting government in the business of eldercare has been to reduce the incentives to have children in the first place.

College. Since 1960, the real cost of goods in nearly every other sector of American life has dropped. Meanwhile, the real cost of college has increased by more than 1,000%. [...]

The Dirt Gap. A big factor in family formation is the cost of land: It determines not just housing expenses but also the costs of transportation, entertainment, baby sitting, school and pretty much everything else. [...] Improving the highway system and boosting opportunities for telecommuting would go a long way in helping families to live in lower-cost areas.

H/t: Boston Review, with this tl;dr summation:

One reason we have low fertility rate: this is a ridiculously unfriendly country in which to raise a child.

No TrackBacks

TrackBack URL: http://www.cognitivedissident.org/mt/mt-tb.cgi/3075

Leave a comment

About this Entry

This page contains a single entry by cognitivedissident published on February 2, 2013 12:03 PM.

the origins of "big data" was the previous entry in this blog.

UniteBlue is the next entry in this blog.

Find recent content on the main index or look in the archives to find all content.

Monthly Archives

Pages

  • About
  • Contact
OpenID accepted here Learn more about OpenID
Powered by Movable Type 5.031