economics

economics

The Hidden Economy that Love and Mothers Generate

economics, family, marriage, mothers No comments

In his book Redeeming Economics, John Mueller, of The Ethics and Public Policy Center, formerly  an economic forecaster with many Fortune 500 clients, traces the suppression and the loss of the Fourth Law of Economics – the law of distribution.  This law had been well known to economists of the Middle Ages when the study of economics boomed — along with the boom in the European economy   (Adam Smith tried to reduce the laws  to one, failed, and ended up with two, but suppressed two.) Others since have added back the third.  The fourth has yet to be “rediscovered”, if one does not count Mueller’s work.   The distribution of the income of a firm, a family or an individual goes a very long way in adding to the economy of the firm, family or individual.  One basic example is how much spending vs saving vs charitable giving goes on. Some in the family often forego their share to take care of others (the law of the gift — of redistribution, freely undertaken).  Charitable giving at the right moment can make a huge difference to the life of someone in need; saving to send a child to college or to private school is another form of the gift.  There are myriad.  But going to the family level is the mother at home raising her children is involved in multiple gift-giving all the time and Nobel Laureate Gary Becker says makes a greater contribution to the economy than her husband working out in the marketplace.   That mother has a hidden and powerful effect on the money her husband brings home to the family.  She can make it go much further if she is wise.  The husband who has such a wife is much wealthier than the husband with the same income but a wife not as wise or selfless.  With a little thought you can identify women on both sides of this divide.

How large is that mother’s contribution?  We get some idea from the research of a colleague of mine at Catholic University, Dr. Sophia Aguirre.  Drawing on multiple federal economic surveys she demonstrated that when the mother goes out to work she has to reach pretty high levels of income to replace the lost “amplifying redistribution” effect, as well as making  up for the extra costs involved in going to work (clothes, transportation, increased taxes and  child care to name but a few).  Aguirre’s conclusion: “Yet, we also find that for the most part, the net income is [on average] economically insignificant.  Furthermore, the results suggest that the lower the income and the education of the secondary earner, the higher the probability of the net contribution to the total income of the household to be zero, or possibly negative.”

In other words, the net contribution of most mothers to the family income is not great, unless she is very well educated and can command a significant income ($100,000 +, ten years ago when the study was done).  Though this is disappointing news for many, looked at differently it is fantastic news for most:  The mother at home makes enormous economic contributions to her family and multiplies the income her husband brings home – and that does not even address the huge educational, psychological and social benefits of her presence to her children and their future earnings capacity (which was the basis of Gary Becker’s insight of her contribution to the economy being much greater than her husbands.  That conclusion depends on the time frame used to judge her contribution.  In a world of quarterly reports that contribution is totally missed.)

Now back to John Mueller: At a recent conference when he presented on the major insights of “Redeeming Economics” I asked him how much of the economy is hidden by the law of redistribution (the law of the gift, which among other gifts includes  the mother’s contribution at home).  His public answer: “About 50%”.  That is our GDP is twice as big as we think it is.

Mueller’s analysis and Aguirre’s analysis coming from totally different perspectives end up in pretty much the same place.  Mother virtually doubles the family’s economic benefit!

If one were to include the costs to the economy of increases in crime, addiction, school failure, ill health and mental illness — all resulting from “anti-gifts” — the absence of the gift of marriage to the children — with the depletion from the economy (crime, stealing, robbery, fraud, and all costs that would be avoided were all children raised in married families), this changes the picture yet more.

There is a long research road to hoe before this basic insight will be absorbed by the academy, by economists, by professors and their students, by legislators and those interested in wealth (investors and bankers), but the preliminary evidence is very, very big.

It is amazing how learned we can be yet how ignorant at the same time.  No wonder economics is the “dismal science” when it leaves out 50% of its field, all because it leaves out the gift of love in its most basic form: married family life.

Pat Fagan

Marriage: Its Constant and Increasingly Important Contribution to the Economy

child well-being, children, divorce, economics, fathers, intact family, marriage, men 2 comments

Not until the withdrawal from marriage of the last fifty years has the West been able to see so clearly its powerful contribution to all aspects of society including the economy.

Gary Becker’s work brought the family back into economics (where it had been the foundational unit of economics in the beginning, as laid out by the common sense of Aristotle). Becker’s vein of research has gained more traction and has influenced the work of many other Nobel Laureates, including Robert Lucas (1995): macro growth theory of expectations; James Heckman (2000): econometric theory of samples; and George Akerlof (2001): Keynesian market economics. 

Marriage makes men different. And if it does not, their marriages either end or are unhappy. 

Among the economic differences that marriage makes in men, two stand out: they work harder (married men are more productive, and an area’s minor dependency ratio is strongly associated with employment among adult men aged 25 to 54), and thus earn more (their incomes increase 26 percent). 

Conversely, divorce has a major negative impact, reducing the income of the child-raising household by 30 percent or more while driving down the growth rate of the economy by one sixth every year for the last 20 years. This latter happens because divorced men, on average, decrease their productivity enormously.

In education, the precondition for a good wage in the modern economy, marriage is a key ingredient to the productivity of children in their learning. The early home environment lays down a foundation that has an extremely powerful effect later in life. Children born into a married family have a tremendous educational advantage, which is evidenced by graduation rates right through to the college level.

Married families are much more economically efficient households, a characteristic that is not measured in GDP accounting. What is invisible here is the real resource efficiency of a major section of the economy (the home economy). Many married home economies do much better internally because of this totally neglected aspect of productivity.

As the poor and the working class (even into the middle class quintile 3) withdraw from marriage, the productivity of the U.S. declines and the burden on the welfare system increases. Furthermore, the success of the social and welfare policies developed over the last decades greatly depend on the health of marriage. Failing to recognize this dependence, U.S. welfare policies continue to fail to lift people out of poverty (even as the economy grows and world markets massively expand).

Marriage is increasingly the dividing line between those who can learn, who can work in an information economy, who save, who own their own homes, who live happier lives, and who live healthier and longer.

Until now, marriage has been the hidden ingredient of a vibrant economy.

MARRI, Farmers, Fertility and Society’s Foundations

economics, intact family, MARRI, marriage, religion, sexuality 2 comments

By: Pat Fagan, MARRI Senior Fellow
     Avery Pettway, MARRI Intern

It is natural to measure the success of agriculture as an industry by its harvest, but a farmer’s harvest is more of the result of good farming, rather than the source of it. In order to understand the cycle of growth and health upon which a farm’s prosperity relies, we must look first to how the farmer sows and even how he prepares to sow.

Just like the farmer, society must invest in its own future by ‘sowing seed.’  At MARRI we attempt to diligently demonstrate the need for people to take care of their future harvest—the health and even the very existence of the coming generations—by sowing and cultivating good seed in the present time.

When the families in our nation delay marriage and reduce the frequency of childbirth, and when communities and leaders are encouraging such behavior, we fail to lay the proper foundations for a successful harvest and a continuation of a healthy, robust society.

We see this happening in other nations—Greece, Italy, Spain, and Japan come to mind—where the decline of demographic health is linked to lessened fertility and marriage. These countries have seen their average family size shrink and their economies sputter for want of young families … the growers of the next crop, the next generation. As the family goes, so goes the economy. Unfortunately, we see evidence that our own nation is headed the same direction:

But the economy is not the only institution that suffers when the sowing (sexuality) goes wrong.

It is the task of MARRI to show the United States how intrinsically interconnected are our fundamental institutions of government, marketplace, education, and religion with what is the most fundamental institution of all—the family.  We believe (and the data illustrates) that the thriving of the three “person-forming institutions”—the family, church and school—is key if the other two (marketplace and government) are to thrive and hold a sustainable and competitive role in the global arena.

So what is the ‘good seed’ we ought to sow? Philosophers through the ages have dealt with this question, most foundationally Plato and Aristotle.  How are we to rightly prepare for a harvest of health and societal growth?  The focus of this blog from here on will be to present the evidence from the social sciences that cast light on the road to strengths and weaknesses.  In particular we will examine the sexual trends, for that is where it all starts (where people start and are brought into existence).  Are they helping or hurting our families, thereby helping or hurting our basic institutions?

We will explore what has become our basic thesis—as all the data of the social sciences mount over the decades—that the main task of society, of individuals, of families, and of communities is to grow the young, intact, married family that worships God weekly.  If that is done, all the problems of society diminish in size and intensity and all its strengths grow.  It is a thesis that the social science data—but not too many social scientists—seem to uphold.  Therein lies the future excitement of this blog: a good public discourse on the fundamentals, and on the predictions and cautions to which the data point.

Life: a Matter of Convenience?

abortion, child birth, children, economics, family, pro-life No comments

By Avery Pettway, Intern

       Though pro-life advocates can rejoice that the crux of the debate is no longer the question of when life begins, we continue on in an often frustrating conversation with pro-choice commentators. With the life of the fetus scientifically confirmed, choice advocates have become more fixated on nuances and thought patterns that can emotionally inflame the public while distracting from the reality of what abortion is. Amanda Marcotte’s recent article in Slate, “AUL’s ‘Life List’ Crowns the ‘All Star’ States That Attack Women’s Rights Best,” harps on what she claims is the safety imbalance between “extremely low-complication abortions” and the “condition known as child birth that usually requires hospitalization and much more invasive medical interventions.” Indeed, it is difficult at some level to foresee arguments such as this one because of their unfounded logical assumptions, but nevertheless, we must combat them with reason and research.

        For starters, Marcotte’s assertion that “child birth is 14 times more dangerous than legal abortion” is false according to the American Association of Pro-life Obstetricians and Gynecologists. Pregnancy and childbirth may be laborious and intense, but it is a natural process of the life cycle supported and strengthened by modern technology—abortion, on the other hand, is far from a natural process and should be regarded skeptically because of how it surreptitiously invades the bodies of women and children.
       
        Even more troubling than inaccurate information, however, is Marcotte’s underlying claim that our basis for judging whether to encourage child birth or abortion is which one is physically less taxing on the woman. If we were to carry out Marcotte’s claim to its logical end, choosing the apparent ease of abortion over time and energy-intensive pregnancies, our society would be in demographic and economic (not just moral) disaster. MARRI research reveals the disturbing extent to which our abortion policy harms our population stability and economic growth. Marcotte’s argument that abortion is less physically dangerous and less expensive than pregnancy quickly breaks down under the study’s finding that “the overall social and economic burdens of the changes created through legalizing abortion eclipse any claimed benefits of the practice…the act undermines the economy, causes disease, and warps society’s most important relationship [of marriage].” When pro-choice advocates are numb to moral accusation, perhaps well-founded portents such as MARRI’s research will strike a new chord with them.

Does Absence Really Make the Heart Grow Fonder?

adoption, child well-being, children, economics, family, mothers No comments

By MARRI Intern

Olivia Walton from The Waltons and June Cleaver from Leave It to Beaver are just two idealistic television mothers who shaped the idea of what moms were supposed to be. Throughout the years, we have seen drastic changes in the role that women are expected to have in society. Women can be torn between societal expectations and what they personally desire. This is often the case when they are faced with the choice (or the need) to work outside the home, especially if they have young children.
The ratio of stay-at-home moms to mothers who are work full-time outside the home has fluctuated greatly over the years. An articlefrom the UK Daily Mail that was published this past spring highlighted the great value contributed by stay-at-home moms. Not only does their staying home benefit the child or children involved, but it benefits society as a whole, because strong families are the foundation of a strong society.
The attachment theory developed by the psychologist John Bowlby (1907-1990) states that a child needs to be in a loving, stable environment with a consistent primary caregiver in order to develop in a healthy manner. The above noted Daily Mail article noted that the first three years of a child’s life are the most critical years of development and that the child’s greatest need is to feel loved and secure. How the child is treated and the relationships which are established within the first three years are good predictors of the child’s future. However, if this is true and the majority of mothers are in fact working full-time, how will this affect our society?
According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, in 2012 about 70.5 percent of women who had children 18 years old and younger were in the workforce. When mothers spend the majority of their time working outside of the home, their children may not be able to establish a secure attachment to them, especially when they are younger. This attachment is critically important for the child’s development and foundational to all of their future relationships. Depression and behavioral issues are common childhood outcomes linked back to the lack of a secure attachment with their mother (or primary caregiver), the Daily Mail post above states. Sadly, this often means that the child’s needs were not met emotionally or, perhaps at times, physically.
Typically, attachment theory has been associated with the issue of adoption, particularly because it can be difficult to establish a secure attachment if the child is adopted at an older age.  However, whether the child concerned is adopted or one whose primary caregiver is in the workforce, it is of vital importance to establish this deep connection. Additional information on adoption and attachment theory can be found within thisMARRI publication on the benefits of adoption.

Belonging to the Exception

abortion, abstinence, conscience, economics, education, family, MARRI No comments

By Lindsay Smith, Intern

Over the weekend, I was privileged to attend a lecture taught by a woman who devotes her life to pregnancy center and maternity home ministries.  Her presentation focused on the differences among generations, and how to best reach and engage the current generation, Gen Y (born 1977-1995).  According to her notes, my generation has the most disposable income and is very technologically gifted, but we also suffer from short attention spans and the inability to discern actions and consequences.  On average, Gen Y is passively characterized by (and too often actively boasts in) high levels of sexual promiscuity.  Highly influenced by the media, Gen Y’s are devoted to the doctrine of “cool,” and consequently, they explore true Biblical doctrine only when it enhances (and never contradicts) their fleeting idol of fame. 
“Why?”  Quickly this became the pervasive murmur among the audience.  She gave a few reasons, but implored us to engage in individual research, as she didn’t have time to explore all the factors involved.  Sitting there, pondering this less than glowing portrait of my generation, I could not help but recall MARRI’s “Second Annual Index of Family Belonging and Rejection.”  
According to MARRI’s report, in the United States, the national rejection score was larger than the belonging score.  Putting faces to these figures reveals the majority of children are living in a broken family as of 2009.  As the speaker described, our culture (sitcoms saturated with sex, personal credit cards, and adult privileges sans consequences) bears some responsibility for Gen Y’s behavior, but the formation of these characteristics begins with a fractured family.  As Dr. Fagan and Dr. Zill predict, “It is unavoidable that the major institutions of future families, church, school, the marketplace, and government will be similarly weakenedas these children gradually take their place within these institutions.”
And indeed, we are seeing breakdowns in these institutions as time progresses.  This weekend’s speaker noted that most of Gen Y holds only part-time employment, and many articles report an unemployed or underemployed status for Gen Y’s.  You can blame a poor economy or the need for a graduate degree, but as articulated in “162 Reasons to Marry,” we need look no further than the broken family for the origin of this trend.  A child glimpses his first working marketplace through his family.  “Within a family built on such a marriage, the child gradually learns to value and perform these five fundamental tasks of every competent adult and of every functional society” – marketplace (work) being one.  If the teaching unit is damaged, how can we expect the lesson to be whole?  If the marketplace isn’t functional in the family unit, how do we expect it to flourish on a national level?
This weekend’s speaker also commented that some large corporations won’t even hire Gen Y’s, and a quick internet search brings up quite a few articles with similar headlines.  As Kelly Clay concludes, based on recent statistics regarding employment and economy issues, “It seems more like a strong indicator of a generation with an issue of entitlement and extreme laziness – despite the opportunities that await them.”  Another recent article titled “The Go-Nowhere Generation,” seems to agree with Clay’s depiction of Gen Y or rather, “Generation Why bother.”   This article describes their lackadaisical reliance on “random” chance rather than an energetic pursuit of opportunity throughout the country. Clearly rejection at the family level is permeating the workplace and the work-ethic applied there. 
A married family does not just positively impact the marketplace.  Children from intact-married families also perform better in school, misbehave less, are more likely to remain abstinent, less likely to live in poverty, and more likely to attend church.  All of these tendencies contradict the typical characteristics of Generation Y.  Clearly, there are exceptions to this generation generalization, and belonging within a family greatly enhances one’s ability to belong to the exceptional group. 

Unnatural Selection, Part II: A Review

abortion, Asia, crime, economics, family, marriage, men, monogamy, polygamy, pro-life, world population No comments
By MARRI Interns
Mara Hvistendahl’s latest book, Unnatural Selection: Choosing Boys over Girls, and the Consequences of a World Full of Men, is a riveting book full of anecdotes that are simultaneously heartbreaking and revelatory of our global opinions toward the value of life, marriage, and women. From the anti-romance of the East China Sea economy of wife trafficking, wherein Asian airports are the inauspicious meeting places of future loving couples, to the yuppie dream of Southern California fertility clinics, wherein a woman can be artificially impregnated during her lunch hour, to the unnervingly nonchalant disposal of aborted fetuses in India, the anecdotes shared in Unnatural Selection reveal a global confusion about the value of baby girls.

Yet, this tome is not the product of an opponent of abortion. Hvistendahl herself admits in the preface that she endorses abortion even though “the finer points of the abortion debate elude me.” She then resorts to this redoubt of agnosticism in order to withhold her judgment on a practice whose ramifications she lambasts on every page: “Since I refuse to venture a guess at when life begins, this is not a book about death and killing… but about the potential for life—and denying that potential to the very group responsible for perpetuating our beleaguered species.”

With this preface, thus begins Hvistendahl’s 300-page endeavor to elucidate the defining demographic dynamic of our day—the global paucity of women and its attendant social disturbances. She primarily investigates the effects of this demographic inequality in Asia, where the social sciences display unanimously pernicious effects of the lack of women, including a rise in violent crime. Studies across China show “a clear link between a large share of males and unlawfulness, concluding a mere 1 percent increase in sex ratio at birth resulted in a five to six point increase in an area’s crime rate.” Nor are these trends confined only to China: “The best way to predict whether a certain part of India has a high murder rate, indeed, is to look at its sex ratio.” Bachelors report generally lower standards of living than married men, culminating in poorer physical and mental health, and a shorter lifespan. 

By increasing the rate of crime, the sex selection bias against women thus creates a social dynamic similar to that of a society in which the number of available women is depleted by polygamy. In “The Puzzle of Monogamous Marriage,” a recent articlepublished in the Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society of Biological Sciences, Joseph Henrich and colleagues use an elementary economic model to explain the rise of monogamous marriage as a social dynamic designed to foment a number of beneficial social dynamics, including “reduc[ing] the size of the pool of unmarried men.” In economic terms, both polygamy (when more than one woman enters a marriage relationship with one man) and sex selection against females creates a deficit of women in the pool of available marriage partners. Elementary economic theory dictates that the “price” of wives will then increase concomitantly with the increase in competition for them. This competition will squeeze lower-class males out of the marriage market since they have neither the financial resources nor the social standing to attract women. Consequently, the less affluent and socially inferior men are left without brides. This is doubly pernicious since it is exactly that class of men that is most likely to commit crimes, and “across all crimes, marriage reduces a man’s likelihood of committing a crime by 35%.”

Furthermore, Henrich et al. postulate that this paucity of women will be equally deleterious toward the women themselves: “the reduced supply of unmarried women, who are absorbed into polygamous marriages, causes men of all ages to pursue younger and younger women.”

Nicholas Eberstadt of The New Atlantis elaborateseven further upon the negative social effects of a sex selection-induced decline of women and applies them globally to say that “sex-selective abortion is by now so widespread and so frequent that it has come to distort the population composition of the entire human species.” Thus the pernicious trends identified in Hvistendahl’s book as sweeping the Asian subcontinent presents serious hazards for the future of the entirety of mankind. If the international demographic data is to be believed at all, one must confess that all is not well with the global practice of abortion.

Dr. Henry Potrykus, Senior Fellow at the Marriage and Religion Research Institute, has also done work on demographics and the future of the West illustrating not only the effects of abortion or sex-selective abortion, but the decline in women’s fertility in general. He finds that “[t]he peoples of the West are self-depleting because of the adoption of extra-marital sexual norms coupled with a rejection of fertility: Negative trends in the openness to marriage and the openness to children drive an exponential decrease in the generations to come in Europe.”

To address this decline in fertility, Potrykus suggests that society must re-adopt stable marriage between a man and a woman as a societal norm. Governments and cultures must reject the non-sustainable model of society that is devoid of religion but open to polymorphous sexuality and serial polygamy. Placing religion and family at the center of a culture is the only way to make it thrive.

What Hath the Hedge Fund to Do with the Household?

child well-being, divorce, economics, family, feminism, marriage, social institutions, Wendell Berry No comments
By Julia Polese, Intern
Slate.com recently featured an article provocatively titled: “Help America: Get Divorced!” Author Michael Yglesias cites federal data to show that divorce rates have been falling as the economic recession continues. He writes that “the United States fell from 3.6 divorces per 1,000 Americans in 2007 to 3.5 divorces per 1,000 in 2008 to 3.4 divorces per 1,000 Americans in 2009.” As fewer couples are getting divorced – presumably because of the tremendous cost associated with the dissolution of a household – fewer new households are being formed, so fewer goods are being consumed. He concludes rather spuriously that one solution to the current recession is for more Americans to get divorced. He writes: “That’s why I, at least, will be rooting for more marriages to fail in 2012.” Yikes.
Setting aside the “correlation vs. causation” alarm bells triggered by his conclusion, Yglesias’s view of marriage as a purely economic good – he concedes that a married couple living together is “more efficient” than two people living alone – misses the “softer” benefits of the intact married family. While MARRI has shown that the family has a huge positive impact on the American economy in productive value alone and a recent estimation of an equivalent salary for a homemaker’s services was found to be almost $100,000, the all-encompassing picture of a productive household is not only measured in dollars and cents. In his essay “Feminism, the Body, and the Machine,” agrarian author Wendell Berry writes about how the consumerist anti-ideal of marriage has caused a separation between men and women, husbands and wives. Traced to the devaluation of care for hearth and home for both men and women, the culture’s profound individualism disdains the value of a productive household and looks only to the ways the disconnected members of the family can compete against each other on the market as worthwhile. Now, working inside the home generates the question “But what do you do?” Berry writes: “By this [feminists] invariably mean that there is something better to do than to make one’s marriage and household, and by better they invariably mean ‘employment outside the home.’”
This attitude, Berry argues, removes a sense of belonging from the marriage, for both husband and wife and their children. MARRI’s research has shown that a sense of belonging is essential to a child’s success in school, financial well-being, and avoidance of out-of-wedlock births.  Children from intact families are less likely to get expelled or suspended from school or commit theft and are, in general, more socially developed. Divorce harms the next generation in manifold ways. The family’s functioning as a household, not simply as disparate silos of production for the national economy, has profound implications for local community and society at large. An ordered oikos means a more harmonious polis.
Yglesias sees the tenuous link between divorce and an improving economy as something worth pursuing, but he does not consider the long term implications for a breakdown in society beginning at its most basic level: the family economy. A generation of limited connectedness will not aid an ailing economy. Perhaps what the national economy needs is a new “romance of thrift” and knowledge of the true micro-economy, as G.K. Chesterton lauded, found in the houses on Main Street, not the banks on Wall Street. This vision is inextricably linked to the intact married family in which, Berry writes, “‘mine’ is not so powerful or necessary a pronoun as ‘ours.’”

American Population Growing at Slowest Rate Since before the Baby Boom

economics, human capital, news, US population No comments

By Anna Dorminey, Staff

Reuters reports:

The population of the United States is growing at its slowest rate in more than 70 years, the U.S. Census Bureau said on Wednesday.The country’s population increased by an estimated 2.8 million to 311.6 million from April 1, 2010, to July 1, 2011. The growth rate of 0.92 percent was the lowest since the mid-1940s. “The nation’s overall growth rate is now at its lowest point since before the Baby Boom,” Census Bureau Director Robert Groves said in a statement. Texas gained more people than any other state in the 15-month period, at 529,000, followed by California at 438,000, Florida at 256,000, Georgia at 128,000, and North Carolina at 121,000, according to the latest Census estimates. These five states accounted for more than half of the total U.S. population growth, the bureau said.

To read the full report, click here. Also, be sure to read the MARRI report “Decline of Economic Growth: Human Capital and Population Change” for more on the implications of the decline in population growth and human capital generation.

The Devil is in the (Demographic) Details

anti-natal, economics, family, Sweden, world population No comments
By Julia Kiewit and Henry Potrykus, Ph.D., Staff
Despite critiques of the U.N.’s world population predictions, a recent Wall Street Journal article by Jonathan Last could have gone even further in pointing out how bleak the developed world’s demographic picture is.
This past May, the U.N. released its latest report on world demographics, saying that Italy, Poland, and the European continent as a whole, have rosy demographic futures. Mr. Last correctly takes issue with these predictions, saying that in order for the world to actually achieve the U.N.’s projected numbers, one big assumption had to be made: That “starting tomorrow, every country in the world with fertility below the replacement rate of 2.1 will increase its fertility. And this rise will continue unabated, year after year, until every First Worldcountry has a Total Fertility Rate (TFR) near replacement.”
Mr. Last reasons that this projection is dubious, in part because the U.N.’s model was based on data taken from a small group of mostly Scandinavian countries that have “recovered (sort of)” from sub-replacement fertility. Last highlights Sweden, saying that its story is a complicated one, “involving pro-natalist policies, culture and not a little luck”—but somehow, the U.N. assumes that all low-fertility, industrialized countries from Russia to Italy to South Korea will follow this pattern.
While Last does highlight the dubious nature of the U.N.’s projections, he has not gone far enough in emphasizing exactly how incorrect they are. His suspicion was correct that other countries will not necessarily follow Scandinavia’s supposed trend. Though it (reportedly) experienced positive fertility results, even if Sweden’s success were based on culture and policies, these are not universal. However, the fact of the matter is that any projection made based off the “success” of these countries will be incorrect.
Focusing on Sweden, the story of their fertility rates must differentiate between the fertility of nationals and the fertility of foreigners (immigrants). According to the Vienna Institute of Demographics, from 1986-2008, the increase in the total fertility rate of Sweden’s nationals went from 1.76 to 1.85, a difference that is statistically insignificant, and is actually because the ‘dip’ to 1.76 in 1986 was a TFR underestimate! The total fertility rate of foreigners ranged from 2.24 (1986) to 2.55 (2008)—a range that is above both the replacement level, as well as the level of Swedish nationals. Any increase in Swedish fertility levels must be understood with this division in mind, with the result that Swedenwould not experience population increases of its young for any reason other than immigration. This casts the U.N.’s model into question, as immigration is not a true account for the increase in a country’s fertility. Furthermore, immigration depends strongly on (relative) economic factors, something that varies between countries and is difficult to predict.
Additionally, we all know that Romewas not built in a day—it takes around 20 years before our newborns are ready to enter society as adults, and cultures change about as quickly. Why then should the U.N. anticipate that Italy, Poland, Japanor any country would change overnight? There is no reason to suspect that we will see a drastic positive change in the fertility habits of individuals (and, thus, nations) any time soon. On the contrary, anti-natal trends are alive and well in the West when cultures are spawning no-kids-allowed movements: Malaysia airlines banned babies from many of their first-class cabins; McDain’s Restaurant, in Pennsylvania no longer allows children under 6 to dine; Double Windsor bar in New York bans babies after 5 p.m.; a Central Florida homeowners association is considering a ban on children from playing outside, and the examples continue.  All of this is strong indication that the trend we’re seeing, and one modeled by more serious demographers than those at the U.N., is here to stay.
We are still slouching into a demographic crisis, and Mr. Last is right to highlight economic concerns that will spin off from low fertility rates.