Monday, December 4, 2017

Not Enough Babies

I’m immersed in enjoying a new grandbaby right now. And this past week a niece and nephew both had their first babies, so there’s a sudden rise in little second cousins.

New granddaughter, Little Social Sphere II

In contrast, someone shared an article with me about the rather sudden drop in fertility rates here in the US. I’ve written about this issue before, but it has been a while. Principles are still true, but there’s updated data since I wrote these:

·         Demographic Winter,[i] June 16, 2011
·         Why Civilizations Die, parts I, II, III, beginning February 3, 2012
·         Death of Marriage, in three parts, but particularly part II, July 1, 2011   
If you’re new to the idea that declining birthrates are a bad thing, let me repeat this scenario on Greece that I refer to in “Demographic Winter.” This is from a 2010 United Families International article, using Greece’s 2008 population of 11,237.074.

If you consider that a generation is about 27 years, and you have a fertility rate of 1.4 (Greece’s is actually 1.37), then you’ll lose a third of the population every generation: 

Generation 1                 11,237,094 – 3,745,698 = 7.491,396

Generation 2                   7,491,396 – 2,497,132 = 4,994,264

Generation 3                   4,994,264 – 1,664,755 – 3, 329,509 

As I explained in “Demographic Winter,”

In a little over half a century the population is likely to decline to under 30% of its current population. Without disease or war. Voluntarily. 

The cutoff seems to be a fertility rate of 1.4. In the history of the world, no population has ever recovered once hitting that level. Right now the following are at, near, or below that level: 

United Kingdom             1.66
Portugal                        1.49
Austria                          1.42
Russia                          1.34
Spain                            1.31
Japan                           1.27
Czech Rep.                   1.24
South Korea                  1.21
Hong Kong                   0.97 
OK, so we’ve established that decline is looking bad mathematically. For the social and economic impact, read that whole piece.

In the piece I read this week, “The Great Baby Bust of 2017,” blogger on demographics Lyman Stone talks about a sudden drop in US fertility rates. For many years, while other countries declined, we held steady at replacement levels. However, a closer look showed that immigrants had been bumping up our fertility data. US-born citizens have been a little over 1.7, which isn’t as bad as much of Europe, but it’s sure not good. But now even the immigrant rates can’t pull us up to replacement.

Screen shot of chart in Stone's article

Stone uses the latest data, along with some extrapolation:

If you google “USA Total Fertility Rate,” you will see a graph from the World Bank, with the most recent data showing 2015 TFR of 1.84. As such, many people wrongly believe that U.S. TFR is 1.84.
I’m here to tell you that U.S. TFR is actually 1.77, and falling with alarming speed.
We have provisional-but-complete fertility data for 2016 showing a total fertility rate of about 1.82, so slightly below the 2015 level. However, since then, fertility has fallen still further. We have monthly birth data through June of 2017 which allows us to estimate total fertility over the previous 12 months. Remember, total fertility is demographically-controlled, so it is not impacted by the age composition of the population, simply showing age-controlled birth rates….
Fertility has fallen sharply over the last 6 months or so, even as the economy has picked up steam. The most plausible forecast for 2017 calendar-year total fertility is 1.77; which, by the way, I’m not the only person who thinks that; professional demographic consultancy firms independently arrive at the same conclusions.
To be clear, in 2008 and 2009, the U.S. had replacement-rate fertility. Since then, we’ve fallen to about 0.3 kids below replacement.
Stone uses a helpful illustration of what this means.

Here’s an example of what their fertility might look like in 2008 vs. 2017:
Screen shot of chart in Stone's article
In 2008, your friends Emma-thru-Emily all would have had about 2 kids if their lifetime fertility followed 2008 age-specific birth rates. Harper and her husband, however, decided to go for a 3rd, because they wanted to have the best of three children and name him Lyman, named for the demographer who inspired them to do society a favor and have a third child.
But in 2017, things have changed. Emma ended up breaking up with the guy she thought she might marry because he turned out to be kind of a deadbeat, so she didn’t have that kid she hoped to have in her 20s. Olivia got a great job… which has really long hours, and she really loves the job and she loves how comfortable it has made her and her husband’s life, but there’s no way she and Bob can care for a kid right now: life is just too busy. And Harper? Well, Harper and her husband were enticed to take a few extra vacations by generous credit card rewards programs and super-low mistake fares online, so they used up their vacation time and their disposable income, and so a third kid just isn’t in the cards anymore.
The important thing to understand here is these are big changes in your friends’ lives, and they happened really fast. This is not some gradual easing into lower fertility, but a pretty speedy change.
Something else caught my attention in Lyman’s piece. He uses a graphic showing rates in all 50 states:

Screen shot of chart in Stone's article

This chart is messy, I know, and there are no labels, but the point is to see that there are lots of “down” trends in 2016 and 2017. And by the way, that highest line that declined a lot… that’s Utah.
It’s even happening to the Mormons.
That’s my people. We love families. We love children. We value children. But something cultural is happening. I’m hypothesizing that it has to do with a combination of reasons: less value of marriage in society, less value of children in society, less confidence in being able to afford children, and maybe less willingness to sacrifice comfort and financial stability for more children when a couple already has one or two.

The decisions of Stone’s Emma-to-Harper example is pretty realistic. The economy is a big factor when it has been so uncertain for so long. Add in the societal pressure defining children as a burden instead of the character-building joy that they are, and people weigh having another child against having a better home or car or travel experiences for them and the child or two that they do have.

I’m wondering whether a consistent improvement in the economy will bring back the confidence to have more children. But I think we need more cultural shift than economic.

In “Why Civilizations Die” I refer to David P. Goldman’s book How Civilizations Die (And Why Islam Is Dying Too). Goldman proposes that loss of faith is the underlying cause of fertility decline:

“The truth is that humankind cannot survive without faith, specifically faith that our lives have meaning beyond the mere span of our years. Civilizations that lose their faith also lose their desire to continue and fail to reproduce themselves” (p. 16).
Goldman saw the US and Israel as exceptional, because they are countries of faith. And faith is tied in with seeing ourselves as covenant people—with inalienable rights granted by God. Cultures that see government or the collective as the giver of rights, in general, see themselves as being owed, rather than purposely connecting themselves to a future. As I summarize in “Why Civilizations Die,”

Our children pay a rising portion of their wages to the government, which doles out elderly care as it sees fit. So there is a disconnect between the number of children an individual has and the amount of care he receives in old age.
The disconnect means there is no incentive to personally have more children. We look at the quarter million dollars it costs to raise a child, and think about whether we would prefer to spend that income on ourselves instead. The only social reason to have children who contribute to collective elderly care is altruism; there is incentive to freeload.
Those who have a “faith” reason for having children, however, still have them. On the individual and national/cultural level, people who believe only in themselves fail to find something worth caring enough about to reach into the future.

We need more babies. 

More important, we need more faith so we will grasp the life-affirming choice and civilizational need to have more babies.

[1] The title “Demographic Winter” refers to a documentary by that name, which I link in the blog post about it.

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