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 thing. 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?  

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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 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?

Got the Childless Holiday Blues? Curl Up with a Good Book

Anyone else feeling all grinchy on this Friday before Christmas? As the saying goes, this too will pass.

Meanwhile, I’ve got a couple new books to tell you about.

Kidfree and Lovin’ It by Kaye D. Walters just came in the mail this week. I haven’t read too much of it yet, and I can tell from the title that the book leans a little more toward people who don’t want children than toward people who do. But it is extremely well done, with an almost encyclopedic collection of information and references, and she does include us “childless by circumstance” throughout. In fact, I was one of the many people she surveyed for this book. I was tickled to find one of my quotes on one of the first pages. She doesn’t mention my name, but I’m the “56-year-old writer from Oregon.”

What to Expect When No One’s Expecting by Jonathan Last won’t officially be out until February, but I have already put my order in. This book is not about the whole childfree/childless business, but about what’s going to happen in our world when we’re having far fewer children. Last maintains that it’s going to have a big effect on our economy and culture because the population will be shrinking and getting older. It sounds fascinating.

Jody Day of Gateway-women.com has a new book coming out next year that should make us feel good all over. Meanwhile, don’t miss her blog or her website.

My own Childless by Marriage, which debuted last Mother’s Day, is the only book I know about that spends more than a few paragraphs on the situation where one does not have children because his/her spouse is unable or unwilling to make babies together.

Or, if you don’t have the energy to read, and winter storms have knocked out your cable TV like they did mine yesterday, you can curl up on the couch and watch four episodes in a row of “Little House on the Prairie” on DVD. They sure don’t make guys like “Pa” anymore.

Have a happy weekend.