Thursday, November 29, 2012

The Baby Dearth. HELP!

I've always found the writings about fertility fascinating, and not the least because it gives one of those wonderful opportunities to blame women.  Either uppity and selfish women want BMWs and careers* and not enough babies, or uppity and selfish white women refuse to keep the white race going or ignorant and oppressed black women keep Africa backwards by having too many children and so on and so on.

What's fun about those pieces is that the fault hardly ever belongs to anyone else and that the solutions never include carrots for women but just whips.  For instance, white race proponents want white women not to have access to abortions at all or demand that women should, once again, become interested only in making more babies (I think that was in Pat Buchanan's book.)

That having children and bringing them up is much, much more expensive and much less productive in the developed countries than in poorer agricultural countries is ignored.  Each child in the western world costs a lot to bring to adulthood, yet produces mostly only emotional benefits to its parents, whereas children in a labor-run agrarian societies are low-cost labor from fairly young age onwards.  They are also the old-age security for the parents.

The most recent story about the US fertility drop isn't quite so bad (though I didn't read the comments at this link).  It points out that in recessions people have fewer children.  Because of that uncertainty about the future and the greater likelihood that the family can't afford extra children at a time when jobs disappear like soap bubbles. 

Thus, the main gist of the article is that births are down because of the recession and that they have dropped the most among immigrant women.  The latter can be explained fairly easily:  This group of women is already economically challenged and the initial birth rates are high enough to easily allow a large percentage drop.

The recession-related fertility changes cancel themselves when economic times improve.  But the Washington Post article I linked to talks about something else, too, and that is the US dependency on high birth rates by immigrants to keep the population from not falling.  That is unlikely to be a permanent solution, simply because immigrant birth rates end up being similar to the birth rates of the new host country.

Time, now, to make my radical proposal:  If the US wants to see higher birth rates, support families with children, make having children compatible with work in the labor markets (proper maternity leaves, good daycare) and encourage fathers to participate in child-rearing (both to share the joys of children more and so that women aren't discriminated against in the workforce because of their parental responsibilities).  This has worked quite well in the Scandinavian countries, for instance.
*Ideally, the protagonists of high fertility would like to blame feminism for the birth dearth in general.  But as Japan is the country with the most severe problems and as it is thoroughly conservative in its assumptions about the proper place for mothers (at home, by the cradle), this approach doesn't work terribly well.