Wednesday, May 17, 2006

What Is the Cause of Our Declining Birthrate?

Earlier this year I wrote here about Mark Steyn’s landmark article about Europe’s baby bust. I was reminded of this when I read Mormon Wasp’s post about declining birthrates among members of the LDS Church. It seems that LDS women still have more children than the broader culture, but the LDS birthrate has declined at approximately the same rate as the broader culture as well.

Glenn Reynolds of Instapundit fame and Donald Sensing have both written articles (here and here respectively) exploring the reasons behind the declining birthrate. They are attempting to look beyond the symptoms. Here is a (combined) list of what they (and some of their readers) suggest are the reasons behind our declining birthrate:

  • Movement of people from rural to urban settings, where children offer no economic benefit.

  • Economic structure “based on human capital that created by parents” offers proportionately greater benefits to those that avoid having children.

  • Society pressures us to provide a lot more stuff, entertainment, and opportunities for children than in the past.

  • “We've taken a lot of the fun out of parenting. …the "social costs" of parenting continue to rise, and, more significantly, perhaps, the "social returns" continue to decline.”

  • Policies promoted by parenting “experts” and “safety-fascist types” that both decrease benefits while increasing costs of raising children.

  • “[T]he pressure to take children for a seemingly endless array of after-school activities…”

  • Increased “amount of parental responsibility for things their children do wrong …”

  • “[S]teady legal diminution of parental authority …”

  • “[S]chools, anxious for parental "involvement," place far more demands on parents than [in the past].”

  • “[T]he decline in parental prestige over generations.”

  • Reynolds contends that today there are actual social penalties for being a parent. “This is like a big social tax on parenting and, as we all know, when things are taxed we get less of them.”

  • “[M]ost adults have been brainwashed over the last forty years or so to think that the world is badly overpopulated and human beings are a blight upon the planet.”

  • “[T]he feminist movement has continuously and often rabidly devalued mothering as something successful women do.”

  • “The social pressure on young women to “succeed” at something before having children - even before getting married at all - is huge.”

  • Marriage age has increased.

  • Unmarried rate has increased.

  • Women begin bearing children much later in life than they used to, limiting the total number of children they can bear.

  • Due to the “sexual revolution,” men no longer find that marriage is the only sure way to ensure sex.

  • One poster on Donald Sensing’s site claims that the middle class has always limited family size, so he attributes the declining birthrate to the expansion of the middle class.

  • Several posters on Sensing’s site claim that the desire to bear children is strongly impacted by the weakened institution of marriage.

  • One of Sensing’s respondents claims the whole problem is due to Baby Boomer narcissism.

  • Movement from extended family living together to only nuclear family arrangements.

I know that my kids are far busier and have far more demands on them than my siblings and I did when we were kids. And I know that we were far busier and had far more demands on us than my parents did when they were kids. My life would be incomplete without each of my five children, yet I have often reflected on how much greater of a burden society places on parents for their children than was the case a generation ago.

Reynolds concludes, “…we need to look beyond subsidies and finances to culture. … [We] should look at ways of making parenting more rewarding, and less burdensome, in social as well as economic terms.” Adam Greenwood disagrees (here) with Reynolds' assertion that government can't help. He feels that government policy not only can help, but he asserts that employing public policy agrees with LDS doctrine outlined in the final paragraph of the Family Proclamation.


That One Guy said...

"Several posters on Sensing’s site claim that the desire to bear children is strongly impacted by the weakened institution of marriage."

That's a load of horse apples.

I tend to place more validity in the claim that economic and social pressures have a MUCH deeper impact on birth rates now than almost any other argument.

Looking at Mormon Wasp's post, The Church would have members believe that they should be cranking out babies to further its cause, and supply its missionary desires. That's a pretty self-serving and self-aggrandizing claim on members, and one that offends me, frankly.

Cameron said...

The Mormon Wasp essay was actually an addition to a previous essay. Please read the first one for more "reasons" to "crank out babies".

The institution of marriage is being weakened by social factors. Those who don't marry have fewer children. Those that do marry feel social pressure to keep families small. I feel it myself. I am 28 and when people find out I have 3 kids "already" they look at me strangely and ask my age again.

Economics is simply an excuse. Did my grandparents have more money and opportunity than I do? They had seven children. If our economy is so much bigger, and our opportunity so much greater, than shouldn't we have more money to spend on offspring? We do have more money than previous generations. We just choose to spend it on other things. Or we choose to give in excess to the one or two children we do have.

The Opinion Journal essay was incredible. Thank you Reach for linking to it. I have read many things on this same topic over the last few years, and yet the idea of "overpopulation" is still very prevalent. It is an attitude that I don't think will go away.

Scott Hinrichs said...

I think the overpopulation thing will probably start to go away within two generations as people are faced with the realities of depopulation. A parallel preview can be seen in Africa, where huge swaths of the continent are depopulating due to the devastating AIDS epidemic. It's not a pretty thing to look at, so many of us in comfortville put on our blinders and ignore it. Maybe we're a lot like the man L. Tom Perry quoted here<, as saying, "I will be long gone before we have to face that problem."