Decline in Child Rearing – “Late-Modern Exhaustion”

December 2012

byMarcus Roberts

A very good piece from Ross Douthat that appeared in the New York Times a couple of days ago is well worth a read. In it, he discusses the Unites States’ advantage that it has historically had over its rivals: a robust birth rate and expanding population.  As he states:

“It’s a near-universal law that modernity reduces fertility. But compared with the swiftly aging nations of East Asia and Western Europe, the American birthrate has proved consistently resilient, hovering around the level required to keep a population stable or growing over the long run.

America’s demographic edge has a variety of sources: our famous religiosity, our vast interior and wide-open spaces (and the four-bedroom detached houses they make possible), our willingness to welcome immigrants (who tend to have higher birthrates than the native-born).”

However, that is the historic position. Douthat goes on to cast doubt that this demographic advantage will continue for the US.  He cites the dropping birthrate in the US since the 2008 recession, the even faster falling birthrate amongst foreign-born Americans, and the declining “push” factors from the US’ source of immigrants: Mexico and Latin America.  These factors have been looked at before on this blog. Of more interest however, is his discussion of the cultural shifts that have pushed down the birthrate:

“…there’s been a broader cultural shift away from a child-centric understanding of romance and marriage. In 1990, 65 percent of Americans told Pew that children were ‘very important’ to a successful marriage; in 2007, just before the current baby bust, only 41 percent agreed. (That trend goes a long way toward explaining why gay marriage, which formally severs wedlock from sex differences and procreation, has gone from a nonstarter to a no-brainer for so many people.)”

While the US Government can try and help things by introducing family-friendly policies such as a family tax code, flexible working hours or reducing the cost of college, these won’t change the cultural shift in the US. (A point that we have also made over the last few months – will giving a tax break really encourage people to have more children??) Douthat makes the same point in a much more elegant way:

Keep reading.

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