What causes the birth dearth?

June 30, 2008 | no comments

Do two posts: an intro to the demography problem, and a second post on causes of the birth dearth. Do a third on my unique explanation for the birth dearth–countries that are more conscious of the importance of demography have more kids, and that correlates with countries that had a more active eugenics movement.

The United States has children at the replacement rate (meaning enough kids are born to replace the people who die).* If you exclude recent immigrants and their first generation descendants, the United States has birth rates a little below the replacement rate. France, the United Kingdom, and some Scandinavian countries are slightly below the replacement rate. All of these countries will experience serious but theoretically manageable problems as their populations gradually age and diminish.

The New York Times has taken a fascinating and in-depth look at the birth dearth.

The article has an agenda but hits on most of the important themes of the demography problem. I’ll use it as a starting point to address some of the themes of the demography problem.

Women have smaller familes then they say the want:

Maybe the most striking way to set up the issue is via a statistic that emerged from a 2006 Eurobarometer survey by the European Commission. Women were asked how many children they would like to have; the average result was 2.36 — well above the replacement level [2.1] and far above the rate anywhere in Europe. If women are having significantly fewer children than they want, there must be other forces at work.

(However, while this average is above replacement level, the average itself has been dropping. Further, there is no nice cluster around the average of 2.36. Record numbers of women in some European countries want no children or one child.)

Conflicting explanations: birth rates drop as women enter the workforce, but developed countries where men help more with housework and children have higher birthrates.

Put differently, Dutch fathers change more diapers, pick up more kids after soccer practice and clean up the living room more often than Italian fathers; therefore, relative to the population, there are more Dutch babies than Italian babies being born.

Hard patriarchal attitudes coupled with a non-patriarchal options for women are terrible for birthrates in Japan and Southern Europe.

the worst sort of system is one that partly buys into the modern world — expanding educational and employment opportunities for women — but keeps its traditional mind-set.

On the other hand, the United States is more patriarchal than western and northern Europe and has higher birthrates. And Longman argues that patriarchy makes men more willing to marry and support children. CITE. Arguably as patriarchy increases it makes marriage and children harder for women but as it decreases it makes them harder for men. Perhaps there is a sweet spot of soft patriarchy?

Whether subsidies and child credits work or not is ambiguous–

nobody is sure if natalist policies have much of an impact on birthrate, let alone on population

–though they seem to have had an effect in Australia and France. The subsidies that have marginal effects are usually quite small compared to the cost of raising a child.

Middle class and upper class parents have neurotic expectations about the amount of attention they need to give each child. Whether this is a cause or a result of declining births is unclear.

One explanation is that “the love of many has waxed cold”–i.e., that modern society is narcissistic. If smaller families means more child-centered rearing, and child-centered rearing leads to more narcissism, than this explanation builds on itself.

“Fertility is about equally inversely related to per capita social benefits and per capita national savings, but strongly, positively related to frequency of worship”

John D. Mueller

Sailer, Affordable Family Formation


*These figures are based on TFR (Total Fertility Rates, the number of children that the average woman has in her lifetime. In the West, a TFR of 2.1 is the replacement rate). TFR figures are estimates and vary from source to source, but they broadly agree on the ranking of countries. I used the CIA World Factbook figures for this post.

http://www.futurepundit.com/archives/005993.html (convinced atheists and convinced believers have more kids).

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