Now for a little good news for a change. As reported in the above-linked USAToday article, the National Center for Health Statistics reported on Friday that the birth rate fell in the U.S. in 2009 by 2.7% to 13.5 births per 1,000 people, its lowest level in a century.
“When the economy is bad and people are uncomfortable about their financial future, they tend to postpone having children. We saw that in the Great Depression in the 1930s and we’re seeing that in the Great Recession today,” said Andrew Cherlin, a sociology professor at Johns Hopkins University.
This is great news – a significant improvement from the 14.14 birth rate at the time that I wrote Five Short Blasts – but still above the rate of 12.73 needed to reach stability in the native population. But just as significantly, as the professor observed above, it’s proof that peoples’ decisions about whether to have more children is indeed influenced by economic conditions. I have had people argue that there is no such effect, and they offer the example of single mothers on food stamps and welfare who continue to have more and more children. While there may be isolated examples like that, the overall decline in the birth rate is proof that they are wrong. This is significant because it’s proof that population management policies aimed at achieving stability through economic incentives, as I proposed in Five Short Blasts, will indeed work without the need to resort to coercive, draconian measures like the one-child policy employed by China.
But, alas, the article goes on to bemoan falling birth rates as some sort of economic threat:
The downward trend invites worrisome comparisons to Japan and its lost decade of choked growth in the 1990s and very low birth rates. Births in Japan fell 2% in 2009 after a slight rise in 2008, its government has said.
Not so in Britain, where the population took its biggest jump in almost half a century last year and the fertility rate is at its highest level since 1973. France’s birth rate also has been rising; Germany’s birth rate is lower but rising as well.
“Our birth rate is still higher than the birth rate in many wealthy countries and we also have many immigrants entering the country. So we do not need to be worried yet about a birth dearth” that would crimp the nation’s ability to take care of its growing elderly population, Cherlin said.
Very true, we do not have to worry about a “birth dearth” if nothing changes. However, we do have to worry about the consequences of overpopulation, not least of which is declining per capita consumption and a corresponding rise in unemployment and poverty.
I’ll take the “birth dearth” any day.