Wealthier states have an aging population and lower birth rates. That’s not all bad news: older societies tend to have less violence and political instability than younger ones. But they also have lower economic growth rates and are not always good global citizens, reports The New York Daily Paper.
Declining fertility rates
More importantly, we must address the cause of the rich world’s declining fertility rates, as we must assume that it represents the future of our planet if, as we hope, the whole world remains richer, healthier and better educated.
Some causes of declining fertility are clearly benign. In much of the wealthy world, the number of pregnancies completed in early adolescence is now so low as to be statistically insignificant. Worldwide, the proportion of young women who give birth before the age of 18 is only 15 percent. Given that maternal disease is one of the top five killers of girls aged 15 to 19 worldwide, this is an undivided positive and stems from greater reproductive freedom and easier access to contraception.
But in the rich world, not all causes of declining fertility rates are equally positive. In the UK, the introduction in 2017 of the two-child limit on child benefit claims was “important” in women’s decision-making, according to the UK Pregnancy Advisory Service. That has led many British leftists to argue that the country’s declining fertility rates are the result of socio-economic disparities. No wonder fewer people choose to have children if they can’t afford a house and have high childcare costs.
Family incentives and other welfare measures
That makes intuitive sense, but some data suggests the decline in fertility in the wealthy world can withstand increased spending on family incentives and other welfare measures. In the UK, the cause of the decline in the birth rate is increasing childlessness among the middle and upper classes. It is true that family formation in Britain has slowed down, but it is far from clear that this is mainly caused by poverty or inequality.
According to an analysis by the Office for National Statistics, highly educated women are almost twice as likely to remain childless as women without a degree. As women are the main driver of increased participation in higher education worldwide, this points to a very strong increase in the number of childless households in the future.
The real cause, I think, is not injustice in the housing market or the cost of childcare, but in the workplace. With a few fortunate exceptions, motherhood is economically a terrible thing for working women. While there is a deplorable lack of high-quality studies on this, I suspect that the pattern we see in the UK data would be even stronger if we separated the reproductive choices of women who are the second earner of the family from those who be the first.
The rise of so-called “greedy jobs” — where your progress is closely tied to how much of your personal life you’re willing to put on hold — is a further disincentive to having children. But some policymakers deny this is a problem: A minister recently told me they weren’t so concerned about the remaining gender pay gap because it was ‘just’ a maternity penalty.
Of course, most people with children will tell you, not unreasonably, that motherhood is a lot. In general, loss aversion is a powerful factor in our decision-making. Someone who has a career they enjoy and who doesn’t have a supportive employer will be reluctant to trust that their hypothetical child will make up for the loss of income and prestige at work. The writer Richard Reeves has compared the economic impact of childbirth on the average woman to a ‘meteorite’. It’s not surprising when women try to avoid the collision.
In the rich world, for the time being, this is a problem that policymakers can ‘solve’ through immigration. But as wealth, education and prosperity spread, the only way to prevent global fertility rates from plummeting and to prevent the world from ending up in adult diapers is to make childbirth a better deal for professional women. We should start now.
Did you subscribe to our daily Newsletter?
It’s Free! Click here to Subscribe
Source: The New York Daily Paper