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 12th (it came out in 2015), 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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Monday, May 28, 2018

Higher Status for Modern Women Increases the Birth Rate

There has been a lot of discussion over the past week and a half about the decline in the birth rate in the U.S. When the National Center for Health Statistics revealed this news, I suggested that an underlying factor was the increasing level of income and wealth inequality in this country, aggravated by lower taxes and thus fewer government programs designed to help ordinary people in ways that would encourage them to have a chid. A few days ago, Michelle Goldberg wrote a very good column for the NYTimes in which she got much more specific about what she thinks is going on. 
Most women seem to want both jobs and children, and when they’re forced to choose, some will forgo parenthood, or have only one child. In a 2000 paper, the Australian demographer Peter McDonald theorized that if women have educational and employment opportunities nearly equal to those of men, “but these opportunities are severely curtailed by having children, then, on average, women will restrict the number of children that they have to an extent which leaves fertility at a precariously low, long-term level.”
Livia Ol├íh, a demographer at Stockholm University, has studied how gender equality affects choices about having children at the family level. She found that in Sweden, women were more likely to have a second child if their male partner took paternity leave with their first child, a proxy for his willingness to share the work of parenting. In Hungary, she told me, couples that shared housework equally had a higher probability of having a second kid. Women “want structures and policies that make it possible for them to combine family life — housework and child care — with career,” she said.
The policy point here is that if you want a higher birth rate, the government needs to subsidize child care for women, so that they can combine a career with parenthood. Men always have that option because society assumes that the child's mother will be the caregiver. But the evidence from Europe suggests that the government has to step in with child care to free women to be both workers and mothers. In essence, governments must accord women equal status with men on this score.

The idea that a feminist, rather than a patriarchal approach will increase the birth rate is also exactly the conclusion drawn by a group of European demographers in an article published online today by the IUSSP in Paris:
Interacting the effect of women’s labor market status with that of their partner, we found that dual employment favors the transition to a second child more strongly than any other configuration. Dual-earner couples are more likely to have a second child than “traditional” couples, in which only the man is employed, probably because of their greater economic security.
And, of course, the idea that a feminist, rather than a patriarchal approach will increase the birth rate is exactly the opposite of how the current Prime Minister of Hungary thinks his government should approach its low birth rate.

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