The Global Fertility Panic
So, what would it take to persuade you to have another baby? A big tax break? A monthly stipend? Free child care? A big house?
“I wouldn’t do that again for all the money in the world” is a perfectly reasonable answer. But be prepared: At some point, your government is going to pitch you on a larger family.
We have entered the age of the fertility panic. Country after country is discovering that smaller families are causing the population to shrink, which means more old people, and therefore higher government expenses and lower tax revenues. And many of those countries are then jumping to the wrong conclusion: that they should persuade people to have more kids.
The latest victim is the United States, which until recently was proud of its big, corn-fed families, but discovered last year that the economic crisis and constricted immigration have pushed its average family size down to 1.9 children, below the 2.1 needed for population stability.
This has led a number of American voices to propose what European countries have been doing for more than a decade and what Quebec has tried since the 1980s: attempting to create larger families through policy.
This theme has been seized upon most dramatically by the conservative author Jonathan Last, whose book What to Expect When No One’s Expecting created alarming headlines across America this week. He is not satisfied to warn of rising pension and health-care costs. “Declining populations have always followed or been followed by Very Bad Things. Disease. War. Economic stagnation or collapse. And these grim tidings from history may be in our future,” his first chapter warns. (He follows this by reassuring us that unlike the population-growth scaremongers of the 1970s, “I’m not selling doom.”)