Book predicts decreasing birth rate will lead to disaster

What to Expect When No One’s Expecting: America’s Coming Demographic Disaster by Jonathan V. Last, Encounter Books, 2013. 

After years of hearing that we have too many people on this planet and that we have to decrease our population, here comes Jonathan V. Last to tell us that if we don’t start having more children, we’re in trouble. We’ll have a population of old people with no young ones to support them. Other authors tell us the exact opposite. Whom should we believe? This book is a slow read, a scholarly compilation of statistics that show the birth rate going down below replacement level in most first-world countries. Last blames it on many factors of modern life, including the cost of raising children, women going to college and having careers instead of babies, the decline of marriage and religion and the general belief that having children will take all the fun out of life. He details the efforts, mostly unsuccessful, that have been made to encourage people to have more children and makes suggestions for how to encourage more births. Last has a strong conservative bias and occasionally laces this footnote-fest with sarcasm, but there’s a lot of interesting information here, and it certainly provides food for thought. 

There’s no doubt the birth rate has been going down. In some countries, such as Germany and Japan, the population is shrinking at a rapid rate. The question is whether this is a problem. I had this book with me at the doctor’s office a couple days ago. When I showed my doctor the cover, she exclaimed that a smaller population is a good thing, that this world has too many people in it. That’s what most people think. Just visit any large American city at rush hour. Wouldn’t fewer people and more open space be good? Yes, we’d have to work out how to manage things like Social Security with fewer workers contributing to it, but wouldn’t it even out in time? 

And how does this affect our individual decisions on whether or not to have children? Certainly overpopulation is often cited by the childfree crowd as a good reason not to have kids. If we’re to believe Jonathan V. Last, anyone who has more than two children should be rewarded with tax breaks and other incentives. But Laura Carroll maintains in The Baby Matrix, reviewed here in February, that couples should be given tax breaks for NOT having children. 

So what’s the answer? I think if you want to have children, you should have them, and if you don’t want them, don’t have them. The population will sort itself out. 

What do you think?  

Who can afford to have children these days?

Back about 23 years ago, I wrote articles for Bay Area Parent and Bay Area Baby. One of my assignments was a piece on the cost of childbirth and “Baby’s first year.” Knowing nothing, I called hospitals for quotes and drove around to the various baby supply stores taking notes on what they sold and how much it cost. As if I knew what I was doing, as if I knew what one really needed to take care of a baby. I’m the one who always showed up at baby showers with a stuffed animal or a ludicrously wrong-sized garment. I should have sat down with some actual parents who were willing to go through their receipts for the past year or at least make a list of the essentials. I mean, what did I know? Did I include breast pumps, vaccinations, itty bitty shoes? Do six-month-olds even wear shoes? I know more about what a dog needs than what an infant requires, but I did my best. I came up with $33,700 (in 1990 dollars). That’s a lot of lattes.
Jonathan V. Last, author of What to Expect When No One’s Expecting, has children. He knows what they cost. He estimates raising a child from birth through college costs way more than anyone thinks, more than the USDA estimate of $207,800. Add $66,452 to $145,060 for college, which takes it to over a million dollars. Fast says the median price of a home in the U.S. in 2008 was $180,000, so “having a baby is like buying six houses, all at once. Except you can’t sell your children, they never appreciate in value, and there’s a good chance that, somewhere around age 16, they’ll announce: ‘I hate you.'” In addition to the out-of-pocket expenses, couples need to factor in lost wages for whichever parent does most of the childcare, usually the mother. These numbers don’t include the ridiculous cost of fertility treatments for those who need them or caring for a child with special needs.
Now, I’m sure parents can cut back somewhere. Do kids need the most expensive version of everything? Do their parents have to send them to the most expensive colleges and pay for food and lodging? Do all kids have to go to summer camp? But if we had children, we’d want to do the best for them, right?
The high cost may explain why the birth rate has gone down in recent years. I can barely afford to take care of my dog, whose main problem is persistent ear infections. So, let’s talk about the cost of having babies. The young people I know worry a lot about having enough money. Some of them have delayed childbirth indefinitely for that very reason. Has this been a factor in your discussions with your partner about whether or not to have children? Should it be? How would you handle the costs if you got pregnant?