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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Friday, July 6, 2018

Explaining the U.S. Birth Dearth

A couple of months ago we heard the news that the U.S. birth rate was down yet again. My sense was that this was due largely to the increasing level of income and wealth inequality. The overall economy is doing OK--especially if you have money invested in the stock market--but the average person is not seeing their economic circumstances improve. The New York Times asked the survey research firm Morning Consult to see what it could find out and the results have been published today.
About a quarter of the respondents who had children or planned to said they had fewer or expected to have fewer than they wanted. The largest shares said they delayed or stopped having children because of concerns about having enough time or money.
The survey, one of the most comprehensive explorations of the reasons that adults are having fewer children [1,858 respondents — a nationally representative sample of men and women ages 20 to 45] tells a story that is partly about greater gender equality. Women have more agency over their lives, and many feel that motherhood has become more of a choice. But it’s also a story of economic insecurity. Young people have record student debt, many graduated in a recession and many can’t afford homes — all as parenthood has become more expensive. Women in particular pay an earnings penalty for having children.
The expense of child care was the top reason, as you can see in the graph below: 

This is entirely consistent with information in a blog post following up on the news about the drop in fertility. As I said then: "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 Morning Consult/NYTimes survey results are consistent with this idea.

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