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Thursday, May 25, 2006

Fewer Kids Spells Big Troubles

Analyzing the declining birth rates around the world, Robert Samuelson cannot pin down the reason. However we see countries that need a 2.1 birthrate to maintain population (absent immigration) carrying repopulation rates well below that. In Spain its 1.3, in Italy its 1.3, in Germany its 1.4, in Russia its 1.3 and Japan its 1.4 . USA is holding firm at 2.0.

What does this mean? I was taught from my liberal teachers that we had an impending population bomb and so reduced family sizes were good for the future. It is if you are saving the planet for rodents.

Samuelson explains that US higher rates are:

American fertility is roughly at the replacement rate, 2.1 children per woman. Nor does the U.S. rate merely reflect, as some think, a higher rate among Hispanic Americans. The fertility rate is 1.9 for non-Hispanic whites and about 2 for African-Americans, reports demographer Nicholas Eberstadt of the American Enterprise Institute. What explains the American exception? Eberstadt cites three differences with Europe and most other advanced countries: greater optimism, greater patriotism and stronger religious values. There's some supporting evidence. A survey by the National Opinion Research Center at the University of Chicago asked respondents in 33 countries to react to this statement: ``I would rather be a citizen of (my country) than of any other.'' Among Americans, 75 percent ``strongly'' agreed; among Germans, the French and Spanish, comparable responses were 21 percent, 34 percent and 21 percent, respectively.

The problem is when the population has too few people of working age to support the over 65 retirees. Ben Wattenberg in "Fewer" says that while in 2000 one in six people were over 65 in Germany and Japan, in 2050 the projection is the ratio will be one in three over 65. Has anyone ever visited Boca Raton?

I suspect that the cradle-to-grave protection provided by these low birth countries is a major factor in low birthrates. As the government has replaced family as elder-care provider, as women have devoted more time to their jobs, and as societies have allowed for alternative family arrangements (see divorce), then people wonder what is the need to put forth so much effort and money in raising children. As all of you parents of young children know, High School Musical comes out on DVD this week. For those of you with no idea what that means because you have no children, it is the Disney phenomenon that will generate enough income to keep many third-world countries afloat for years. When you do not have children (or close nieces and nephews) you are saved the regular "must have" purchases such as this DVD.

While it costs money that you could more easily spend on yourself, I must requote from Samuelson's essay the following comment by Adam Smith:

``The chief part of human happiness arises from the consciousness of being beloved.''

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