Wednesday, May 31, 2006

Three is the New Two

A new story in the Boston Globe reports the happy news that among educated marrieds, there has been a slight return to replacement-level families. Married people need to have a bit more than two kids per couple merely to replace the population. In recent years, though, the whole country has not been having enough kids to keep up. Among married people – those in the best position to care for kids on their own – the birth rate has dropped well below replacement level, and among educated marrieds the birth rate has fallen alarmingly. Even among educated married people who do have kids, there has some sense for the past generation that two was the maximum responsible number.

As I have argued for some time, though, it is precisely among educated marrieds - those people most likely to consider the impact of their family size on the world - that we need a few more kids. So it is encouraging that there has been a small but real uptick in the number of third-or-more births, from 26% in 1995 to 28% in 2004, according to the National Center for Health Statistics. This statistic includes unmarried as well as married women, so is not exactly what this doctor ordered. But it is a movement in the right direction.

At a time when Russia and much of the former Second World is trying desperately to keep their population from collapsing, it is encouraging to see that more Americans vote for the future with a third child.

13 comments:

LMR said...

I don't really see how Americans having more children is tied at all to the major population decline in the former Soviet Union. Although birth rates are down in Russia, they aren't so far off the rest of Europe. In fact, despite the attention that has recently been paid to the efforts to increase Russia's birth rate, experts have stated that the population crisis cannot be solved without some changes in immigration/migration policies. After all, last year 33% of the population growth in the US was the result of immigration.

I will also add that raising children in Russia is hard. Housing is limited, baby goods are expensive and the cities simply aren't child-friendly. Any thoughts we have had of having a third child have been postponed until we leave Russia because of the difficulties, and we're in a better situation than alot of people.

In some ways, however, Russia already does more to help families with children than the United States, allowing women 2 years of maternity leave and providing state-run preschools for children from the age of 2.

Gruntled said...

The connection I was making is that people are more likely to have larger families when they are more optimistic about their ability to support them in the future. This optimism rests, in part, on their reading of how stable the society is, and how bright its future. Americans are inclined to optimism, and our future is stable and bright. Late Communist Romania was the opposite. I have been reading reports of low birth rates and high alcoholism and crime rates in Russia as sounding more like Romania than America. Does that seem right to you?

LMR said...

Russia right now is more stable than it has been in a very long time and many average Russians are optimistic about the future. Crime rates are down, emigration levels are down and many young people see more opportunities at home than abroad. I may even go as far as to say that young Russians are more optimistic about the future of their country than young Americans.

Certainly Russian men have a serious problem with alcoholism, which contributes to the fact that life expectancy for a Russian man is among the lowest of developed countries.

I would say that the birth rate problem in Russia is much more tied to physical problems (money, housing, etc) than any amount of optimism.

LMR said...

...meant to add that I don't think the reasons Russian men drink are tied to optimism. After all, Finland also has very high rates of alcoholism and the Finns are experiencing a population boom - the highest birth rates in Europe. The connection here is that drinking has cultural significance (also that when you live in a country that has an average of 4 hours of daylight in the winter months and 6 months of snow, it's easy to drink more).

Gruntled said...

That is somewhat encouraging about Russia. Why do you think Putin has had such comic lack of success with his pro-natalist initiative?

LMR said...

well, it's just kind of funny. Money would certainly be a nice benefit for people with two kids, but it's hard to believe that giving people some money would cause them to decide to have more kids. What do you think? If Russia has a baby boom 9 months from now, I guess we'll know it works!

Gruntled said...

I think if you gave people enough money, most fertile couples would strongly consider having another child. It is something that many want to do, anyway. I think the amount Putin is offering in laughably small, but the principle is not silly.

KLG said...

What a fascinating article! I have noticed just in my area a climbing number of families with 4, 5, 6 and more children, in contrast with the 2 child scenario most families of my childhood had, but I had no idea it was a national trend. This article speaks specifically of birth rates, too - it make no mention of the number of affluent families who are choosing to enlarge their brood by adoption, especially international adoption, two or three times. - Kathy

Gruntled said...

Do you know if the larger families are strongly religious.

KLG said...

The family in my neighborhood with 10 children are strongly religious, yes, but most of us 4-5-and 6ers are mainline Protestants who grew up in 2 child families and always thought that kids needed more siblings than that. (Now that I have 3 teens in the house at once I am rethinking that line, but too late)

Gruntled said...

How many incomes are these large families working on? Are any home schoolers?

KLG said...

The expecially large family has both parents working, plus the help of a military pension coming in - I would say the majority of us are now two income families, but a lot of us were able to have mom stay home with the kids until the youngest started school. The split is about 70/30 between public school and home school. Funny thing is, in my suburban neighborhood, only children are the exception, not the rule (and are much envied by my children, anyway :-) ).

Gruntled said...

This sounds like a great neighborhood to raise kids in. Do the homeschool kids continue to play with the school kids?