Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Where Have All The Babies Gone, Ask Joel Kotkin And Harry Siegel.

At the Daily Beast.  The article is about:
Sitting around a table at a hookah bar in New York’s East Village with three women and a gay man, all of them in their 20s and 30s and all resolved to remain childless, a few things quickly became clear: First, for many younger Americans and especially those in cities, having children is no longer an obvious or inevitable choice. Second, many of those opting for childlessness have legitimate, if perhaps selfish, reasons for their decision.
Indeed, that opening tells you almost everything you need to know about this article.  It's about the baby dearth and the selfishness of those who don't have children.  It's also about who's-gonna-pay-for-you-when-you-are-old:

As younger Americans individually eschew families of their own, they are contributing to the ever-growing imbalance between older retirees—basically their parents—and working-age Americans, potentially propelling both into a spiral of soaring entitlement costs and diminished economic vigor and creating a culture marked by hyperindividualism and dependence on the state as the family unit erodes.
Crudely put, the lack of productive screwing could further be screwing the screwed generation.
So.  The family will be in the dustbin of the history and nobody will take care of all the elderly.  But note that the women who in the past had many children and stayed at home taking care of them tended to be the poorest in old age because of the way retirement benefits are calculated.  I'm pointing that one out because the article tends to ignore all the costs to women in the various alternatives.

Lest you haven't been scared enough by now, the authors also suggest that:

In the long run, notes Eric Kaufmann, the author of Shall the Religious Inherit the Earth?, high birthrates among such conservative, religious populations as Mormons and evangelical Christians will slant our politics against the secular young, childless voting bloc as well. Even among generally liberal groups like Jews, the most religious are vastly out-birthing their secular counterparts; by some estimates roughly two in five New York Jews are Orthodox—as are three in four of the city’s Jewish children. If these trends continue, and if these children share their parents’ politics—two big ifs, to be sure—even the Democratic stronghold of Gotham will be pulled rightward.
This prospect would pose dangers to our society as a whole, and singletons in particular, including a potential reversion to a more rigidly traditionalist worldview.
What's quite funny about that quote is that the very large families of some of the fundamentalist sects are made possible with the help of the government.  And note that stick (rather than carrots) in the last sentence:  If the liberal young people don't breed more then they will get rigid traditional gender roles back!

The authors then mention a few countries with lower fertility rates than the United States.  Germany and Japan, in particular.

You know, I'm always grateful for Japan having such a low fertility rate, not because I don't care about Japan, but because Japan is not a feminist country.  Neither are Italy or Spain terribly feminist places but they are also places with very low fertility rates.  Of course what all those three countries share are pretty "rigid traditionalist worldviews" when it comes to sexual division of child care tasks.  In short, they are not divided at all but fall to the woman.  This means her costs have risen in a world where two incomes may be necessary.

What are the solutions to this Baby Dearth, then? Joel and Harry tell us:

There are several steps our government could take that might mitigate postfamilialism without aspiring to return to some imagined “golden age” of traditional marriage and family. These include such things as reforming the tax code to encourage marriage and children; allowing continued single-family home construction on the urban periphery and renovation of more child-friendly and moderate-density urban neighborhoods; creating extended-leave policies that encourage fathers to take more time with family, as has been modestly successfully in Scandinavia; and other actions to make having children as economically viable, and pleasant, as possible. Men, in particular, will also have to embrace a greater role in sharing child-related chores with women who, increasingly, have careers and interests of their own.

Perhaps those "other actions" only hinted at include good quality daycare, longer maternity leaves, less financial punishment (in terms of lowered future earnings and retirement incomes) for women who either take time off from the labor force or work part-time.  Perhaps those "other actions" might be doing something about college costs which can now average $40,000  per year?  Or the expectation in this country that all parents should support their children through college?

In short, having children in the United States is expensive and has little concrete support from the society.  At the same time, mothering, as defined in various popular media articles, has almost become an extreme sport:  All-consuming and never sufficient.  No wonder if young women hesitate to join those races.  Incidentally, this article isn't alone in trying to turn people off parenting.  Neither is it alone in that definition of parenting problems as purely individual ones.

Not all of the Kotkin-Siegel article is bad or wrong.  But I find it astonishing that one important aspect of the whole question is simply omitted, or replaced by stories about young women in a hookah bar.  And yes, we can question whether lower fertility rates indeed might not be the best solution to what is ailing Mother Earth.  As I've mentioned before, it would be hard to bring all people to a high standard of living (and leave some place for the rest of nature) without reducing the number of people on this earth.