On the NFP board, someone posted a very interesting article about the declining birth rate worldwide, its negative effects, some possible reasons for the decline, and some ideas about what it would take to entice women to have more babies.
Here are some of the highlights:
Even as we bemoan our plummeting birth rate, and the grim economic future it may bring, everything about the way we've organized our culture is designed to force women to choose between work and kids -- and to penalize them if they choose kids. And so, these days, it's not just a matter of a woman wanting children; it's a matter of wanting them at the expense of everything else she's worked for.
The reality...is that a professional, highly educated woman...has invested years of her life in attaining a certain level of education and career success. She may or may not be married. She has established a standard of living, and is less willing to take the career and financial hit involved in having a kid. "So many women in their 30s, they like their lives," says Duxbury, who specializes in work-life balance issues and co-authored a study last year to examine the major factors that influence professional women's decision to have (or not have) children. Many don't see themselves as childless, but child-free. "They're accustomed to control and motherhood is not associated with control."
In Vienna, researchers at the International Instutite for Applied Systems Analysis have developed a disquieting hypothesis called the "low fertility trap," which suggests that the causes of low fertility are self-perpetuating. They foresee the potential for the baby bust to spiral out of control for three reasons: first, negative population growth means there will be fewer women of child-bearing age in the future to produce more children. Second, young people have been socialized to believe that the ideal family size is a small one, which means fewer couples will have more than one child. Finally, the aging population will place tremendous financial strain on younger cohorts -- who have been raised with higher material aspirations to begin with -- which will translate into fewer children, or none at all.
Amazingly, the evidence suggests that the most successful policies have one thing in common: they don't try to pay women to procreate. Rather, they facilitate the careers of working mothers. They are premised on the idea that, the more value a society places on women's work inside and outside of the home, the more likely she is to want to contribute meaningfully in both spheres.
The most promising recent case study is that of France, where the government has successfully sparked a baby boom by implementing a series of extraordinarily generous benefits and incentives for parents. There is a calibrated income-tax rate for families whereby the more children a couple has, the more money they keep in their pockets. The state offers a monthly allowance of roughly $400, which is bumped up when the child reaches the age of 11. Parents are entitled to a tax deduction for in-home child care help (which Prime Minister Dominique de Villepin, who stepped down this week, recently announced will be doubled). There is an extensive state-run crèche system, where parents can leave their toddlers at a moment's notice, for free. Families with three or more kids are deemed "famille nombreuses" and are eligible for zero income tax, heavily subsidized rent and transportation, and state-funded parental leaves that can extend for years. They also get free access to many public amenities, and about $325 per year toward extracurricular arts and athletics programs for the kids.
In only two years, France's fertility rate has climbed from 1.8 to 2.0, and only a quarter of its overall population growth last year was attributed to immigration.
"The European model is, 'We have to make it possible for those people who can afford to have and raise kids to have them.' Our model in North America is, 'Well, you decided to have a child. That was your personal decision, so don't expect us to help you.' "
The great hypocrisy of this model is that we extol family values and the role of the at-home mom, says Bravo, and yet we make it virtually impossible for women who aren't independently wealthy to stay home. We expect middle- and lower-class women to work and, when it comes to parental responsibilities, we expect them to figure it out on their own dime. Then we label it a choice, so we can say, 'If she had only chosen differently, she'd have more money, and more time with her kids.'
You can read the whole thing here.