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Thursday, February 21, 2013

America's Birth Dearth

The Daily Beast/Newsweek examines the decline in fertility in the U.S. and the implications for the country. Notable comment:
These changes are not theoretical or inconsequential. Europe and East Asia, trailblazers in population decline, have spent decades trying to push up their birthrates and revitalize aging populations while confronting the political, economic, and social consequences of them. It’s time for us to consider what an aging, increasingly child-free population, growing more slowly, would mean here. As younger Americans individually eschew families of their own, they are contributing to the ever-growing imbalance between older retirees—basically their parents—and working-age Americans, potentially propelling both into a spiral of soaring entitlement costs and diminished economic vigor and creating a culture marked by hyperindividualism and dependence on the state as the family unit erodes.

Crudely put, the lack of productive screwing could further be screwing the screwed generation.
After considering the situation in Japan, the article goes on:
American marriage is faltering—and the baby is being thrown out with the bath water. Forty-four percent of millennials agree that marriage is becoming “obsolete.” And even among those who support tying the knot (including many of those who say it’s obsolete), just 41 percent say children are important for a marriage—down from 65 percent in 1990. It was the only factor to show a significant decline. (Others, such as sharing chores, sexual relationship, and sharing politics, either held steady or were seen as increasingly important.) On the flip side of the coin, the percentage of adults who disagreed with the contention that people without children “lead empty lives” has shot up, to 59 percent in 2002 from 39 percent in 1988.

Even before the 2008 crash, childlessness among American women ages 40 to 44 of all races and ethnicities had steadily increased for a decade, with the proportion of childless women doubling from 10 percent in 1980 to 20 percent today. But the negative trend has accelerated since the Great Recession began. In 2007 the fertility rate in America was 2.12 and had been holding nearly steady for decades at about replacement rate—the highest level of any advanced country. In just half a decade since, the rate has dropped to 1.9, the lowest since 1920 (when reliable records began being kept) and just half of the peak rate in 1957, in the midst of the baby boom, according to the Pew Research Center. Now projections of future U.S. population growth are diving, with the census estimate for 2050 down almost 10 percent from the mark predicted in 2008.

Making the trend even more worrisome, the sharpest drop in fertility and birthrates came from immigrants, particularly Hispanics, who hitherto have been responsible for much of our continued population growth. But that unique advantage seems to have ended, with net migration from Mexico to the U.S. having stopped or possibly even reversed since 2008, according to Pew. Mexico’s own fertility rate has plunged, from 7.3 in 1960 to 2.4 today; among immigrants, the rate drops to the American norm in just a generation.

In the short run, the falling birthrate has coincided with the emergence, for the first time, of the single and childless as a self-aware, powerful, and left-leaning political constituency. Yet what’s proven good for the Democratic Party may not be so good for the country in the long term. Even using the more optimistic 2008 projections, the proportion of retirees to working Americans—sometimes called the “dependency ratio”—is likely to rise to 35 retirees for every 100 workers in 2050, twice today’s ratio. That sets the stage for a fight over debt, austerity, benefits, and government spending that will make the vicious battles of the last four years seem more like, well, a tea party.

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