In case you haven't heard, the United States is currently in the midst of a "Baby Bust." The birth rate in America has been declining for more than a decade. According to Stewart Friedman, author of "Baby Bust: New Choices for Men and Women in Work and Family," the national birth rate in 2011 fell below "replacement" level. This means Americans are not reproducing fast enough to maintain our current population level.
People are concerned about this trend. There are, of course, existential worries about the survival of our species. However, with 6 billion people on our planet homo sapiens are probably in little danger of extinction, at least for the foreseeable future.
Dr. Stuart Bramhall (open.salon.com/blog/stuartbramhall) thinks interest in the so called "Baby Bust" is driven by something nearer and dearer to our hearts: money. Capitalism, he explains, relies on growth. Success in a capitalist society requires perpetual economic growth. Economic growth is fueled by population growth. If the population stops growing so does the economy.
While Dr. Bramhall makes an interesting argument, I'm not convinced there's a vast capitalist conspiracy to keep American women having babies. If that were the case, both the private and public sector would adopt policies and practices that make it easier for people to work while raising a family. Instead, we have extremely expensive child care, schools that let out at 2 or 3 PM - in the middle of a typical nine to five workday - forcing parents to figure out what to do with their children for the two or three hourse after school lets out, and outrageously expensive health care (which is costly at the individual level and becomes financially burdensome at the family level). Paid maternity or paternity leave is practically unheard of. For these reasons and others it has become increasingly difficult to balance the demands of career and family. If people think it impossible to have children and a successful career they feel forced to choose only one of these options. Many choose career over children. So while capitalism may need perpetual growth to sustain itself - as Dr. Bramhall points out - concern about population decline is not yet pressing enough to be a priority.
And then there are those who simply don't want to have children. This was unthinkable in past generations. Not having children wasn't an option. Today, people are far less constrained by cultural norms and societal prescriptions. Having children is no longer a prerequisite for leading a meaningful and fulfilling life.
By far the most interesting thing I read about the "Baby Bust" is an article by Joel Kotkin entitled "Why the Choice to be Childless is Bad for America" (http://www.newsweek.com/why-choice-be-childless-bad-america-63335). The "Baby Bust," Kotkin asserts, will have unintended consequences. First, the population as a whole ages. This is already happening as the baby boomers grow older and begin to retire. According to Kotkin, retirees already receive $3 in government spending for every $1 spent on children under 18. This trend will increase as our aging population retires, placing an increasing burden on younger workers (and ironically making them more likely to opt out of parenthood for economic reasons).
Beyond the economic impact, the Baby Bust could also have significant political implications. Evangelical Christians, mormons, and similar conservative religious groups have much higher birthrates than other segments of the population. If these children adopt their parents' politics the country as a whole will become drastically more conservative. Whether or not this is a good thing depends on who you ask.
My husband and I have been considering having a child. At one point, we'd decided to start trying in January with the hope of bringing a child into the world by the end of 2014 or the beginning of 2015. My husband is extremely concerned about the financial impact of expanding our family. This explains why I've taken an interest in why people choose to have or not to have children. Just thought I'd share what's been on my mind lately...