December 08, 2006

Prosperity and the Birth Rate

Lately, much has been written about the "Birth Dearth," the point at which we as a nation or a world fail to replace our dying population with new births. The fear is that we'll be a country of old people without enough young working people to pay into the fiction we call social security. As tempting as it might be for some to point the finger of blame for this dilemma at the childfree, it's not that simple.

In his article 300 Million and Counting, published in a recent edition of Smithsonian Magazine, Joel Garreau rightly points out that the more affluence and education a person attains the fewer children she will likely have, and he credits immigration for the fact that the U.S. has managed to avert the "Birth Dearth:"

"The United States' population is growing at the rate of almost 1 percent per year, thanks in part to immigration…Not only does the United States accept more legal immigrants as permanent residents than the rest of the world combined, but these recent arrivals tend to have more children than established residents…"
That is true, but their children may not. The native born children of immigrants, encouraged by their parents to achieve success in their home country may go to college, delay childbearing, and as a result have fewer kids. Just like their fifth or sixth generation American peers. They may be busy working two jobs just to pay the mortgage, or, as Garreau observed, helping to "create companies such as Intel, eBay and Google."
So if you’re looking for someone or something to blame for declining birth rates and populations, look beyond the childfree. Blame education, opportunity, and prosperity.
The reality is: global birth rates decline as populations find their own versions of the American dream. The children of those who had three or more children are having two, one, or none.

In the short term, it’s unlikely we will see an increase of families with three or more kids and many countries in the developed and developing world will face declining and aging populations in the coming decades.

That's the reality. So let’s stop the blame game and just deal with it.

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Teri said...

Laura - This just seems so contradictory. The American Dream has been depicted in Normal Rockwell-like images and always includes the right number of children per family, right?

I have also read this fact about delayed birth, and related declining births, as a factor of education and prosperity. Access to proper birth control, thus control over unwanted pregnancies, is also contributes to this trend.

These are lightning rod issues for those who don't see our side of things.

AthenaMarina said...

Ah I LOVE this post! And some very good points. My husband and I are not even immigrants yet (in the UK) as I'm on a work permit but mid next year we will be eligible for residency. He's Egyptian, I'm New Zealand we are both 100% childfree and VERY happy to KEEP it that way!
Sometimes also, I'm sure children from these bigger families (immigrants or not) yearn to have the peace and quiet of childfree living in their OWN futures - not always! but I know of some who do!

AlphaGirl said...

There has been a lot of grumbling in Fundamentalist Conservative circles about the "birth dearth" among Caucasians; the irrational fear being that "minorities" will outnumber Caucasians as the years pass. This has been a topic of discussion in the some of the other CF communities that I frequent. Needless to say, it rightfully has been shot down as the hateful, racist rhetoric that it is.
As someone who spouted the virtues of ZPG(Zero Population Growth) as a kid, I'm glad to see the decline of births world wide. Let's give this tired planet a break!