The new importance of children in America

Shannon Roberts
December 1, 2017
Reproduced with Permission
Demography is Destiny

With a healthier economy, good employment rates and lots of women entering their prime childbearing years, American demographers thought back in 2014 that the country's birth rate would begin to recover by now. Historically, that has always been the case. However, instead it has continued to fall. Deseret News reports:

We are seeing the opposite," said Samuel Sturgeon, president of Demographic Intelligence (DI) and author of its U.S. Fertility Forecast . DI's most recent forecast says births will have dropped about 2.8 percent by this year's end to 3.84 million, compared to 2016's 3.95 million.

When 2017 actual births are counted, the total fertility rate in America will likely hit a 38-year low of 1.77 children per woman, well below the "replacement rate" of 2.01 children per woman.

It is uncertain whether women are simply delaying having children or choosing to forgo them altogether. However, one explanation lies in the fact that young people are having less sex. For instance, a recent Pew Research Center study on reduced sexual activity found a dramatic drop in the share of young Americans who are choosing to settle down romantically before age 35, even net of economic factors. And it is not a phenomenon unique to America. At the end of last year the Swedish government launched an official study to find out why Swedes are having less sex. Some wonder if technology and social media is fuelling a relational disconnect. Japan, a country wtih extremely high technology take-up, provides some evidence of this, and is another country in which sex has seemingly gone out of fashion.

Whatever the cause of its decline, the effects of a falling birth rate are significant, upsetting future job markets, economic growth, social programs that provide for the elderly, and influencing immigration policy. According to a recent article in Health Affairs , a leading American journal of health policy, thought and research, the seismic demographic shifts taking place in American society mean that how we raise, educate, and care for children has reached new importance. While I would argue that each child has always been just as important as now, it is an interesting comment that is the focus of a new research report: The New Importance of Children in America , which finds:

Declining birthrates mean that each child is proportionately more important to society than ever before. Beyond our moral obligation as a country to care for children for their own sake, our future economy, standard of living, and place as a leader in the world demand that children become our highest priority.

Declining birthrates will lead to a shortage of workers and taxpayers in the near future. Meanwhile, the aging Baby Boom generation is retiring and beginning to draw on federal programs like Medicare and Social Security, leaving the retiree population to rely on a shrinking population of working-age people for support in their retirement years. For example, in 1970 there were twenty-three seniors for every 100 people of working age. By 2015, the senior-to-worker ratio climbed to twenty-eight seniors per 100 working-age people, and by 2030, that senior ratio will leap to forty-two seniors per 100 workers (Exhibit 1). This number possibly could rise still further under changed immigration policy.

We need to go back to the basic building blocks of family, committed relationships, and a society which values parenthood to help birth rates recover.