Americans don’t have enough kids to keep the population up.
We are blessed with immigrants, who both add instant population when they move here, and have more kids than the average American. But that seems to be a phenomenon of one generation. The United States, like all the other industrialized nations, has too few kids per native-born mother – under the replacement level of 2.1 kids (on average) per mother.
In the past there have been “natalist” movements in countries that thought their population was shrinking or not growing fast enough. Columnist David Brooks has talked about a natalist movement in this country, but he really just means that some Americans want to have a bunch of kids and live in places that are safe, cheap, and family-friendly. This is not so much a movement as a name for one smallish subsection of Americans, mostly quite religious people who are moving away from the big cities.
Demographer Ben Wattenberg has been lamenting the “birth dearth” for nearly two decades. He is critical, though, of government-run natalist movements, like those in Europe, where the birthrates and immigration rates are even lower than here. Italy, for example, has a fertility rate of 1.2 children per woman, whereas the U.S. is a bit under 2.
I agree that a government-run natalist movement would probably not work in this country. In fact, since many people believe that we have too many people, not too few, it would be politically disastrous to the administration which officially tried to encourage people to have more kids.
The American way to do just about anything, though, is for the movement to begin with the people, not the government. Some conservative religious groups already support family life as a blessed vocation. So far, though, I have not found an organized politically based natalist movement.
Centrists should seriously consider a movement with this modest goal: all stable married couples should think about having three kids. Each couple has different circumstances, of course, and not all couples can have all the children they want. But for the last generation the norm in the stable middle class has been that one or two kids was the responsible limit. The facts have changed: consider three.
The natural home for such a movement would be among conservatives, and therefore in the Republican Party. I think, in response to this natural inclination, that liberals and Democrats should take the lead in a new natalist movement. Supporting a more generous standard of how many kids we can afford is, after all, a liberal thing to do.