This blog is intended to go along with Population: An Introduction to Concepts and Issues, by John R. Weeks, published by Cengage Learning. The latest edition is the 13th (it will be out in January 2020), but this blog is meant to complement any edition of the book by showing the way in which demographic issues are regularly in the news.

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Thursday, March 6, 2014

Crazy Talk About America's Birth Rate

My thanks to Zia Salim for pointing me to an article yesterday in the Atlantic that I would otherwise have missed. Derek Thompson, who "oversees the Business Channel" at the Atlantic has a new complaint about the relatively low birth rate in the US--it is bad for the economy because people spend money on kids, so with a low birth rate the economy is going to go in the tank. The inspiration for Thompson's story is the release of data by the Gallup poll day before yesterday on the amount of money families spend according to the number of children people have. Let me start with the Gallup Poll:
These results are based on 2013 Gallup Daily tracking, which asks Americans about the amount of money they spent on purchases "yesterday," excluding normal household bills and major purchases. Americans without children under 18 reported average daily spending of $79, while Americans with children reported a $108 daily average.
What's the problem here? Well, the data as reported do not reflect per person spending. If an American family of two adults spends $79 per day, then the average is $39.50 per person per day. If they have one child and the three of them spend $108 per day, the average is $36 per person per day. I'm sorry, but less is not more!

Now, let's go to the Atlantic story:
The drop in U.S. fertility rates in recent years has almost certainly had a negative effect on consumer spending (and, in turn, lower birthrates are probably an outcome of the recession). In particular, childless couples don't need space for more kids so they're less likely to buy homes in the suburbs, depressing demand for housing in an economy that badly needs to sell more homes.
First, as I pointed out last September when these birth data came out, the total fertility rate in the US in 2012 was exactly the same as it was in 1987, even though there had been some ups and down in between. The Centers for Disease Control use the General Fertility Rate instead of the TFR and they thus do not take account of changing age structures. Secondly, the low birth rate in the US does not mean that there is some huge number of childless couples. As I pointed out some time back, the percent of women who end their reproductive years without children has risen from 17.4 in 1994 compared to 18.8 percent now. I'm sorry, but this does not sound an alarm in my firehouse.

1 comment:

  1. Hey Prof - thanks for injecting a voice of reason into the debate. Good for you! Listen ... I have an idea. I have noticed that very few readers post comments here. My suggestion is that you require all the grad students doing research for you - to post one reply per week on this Blog. I think you will find if they do that - that it starts to stimulate some very interesting side-discussions. I do suggest that they use their first name, or an appropriate avatar, for their Comments. The reason being that very likey their personal interests will start to show up - the topics where they have a special interest. And that in turn my stimulate more conversations.

    good luck,
    Pete, Redondo Beach, CA