In The Washington Free Beacon’s recent article, “American Fertility Hits Historical Low: Economist blames culture of caution” Charles Fain Lehman lays out some new data on falling birth rates in America. According to new data from the Centers for Disease Control, the “American birth rate tied its historical low in the first nine months of 2018,” and “demographers say it will likely go lower.”
The data show that “as of September of 2018, an average American woman can expect to have about 1.73 children in her lifetime. That rate is effectively tied with the rate 42 years ago, the lowest on record.”
Lehman discusses reasons for falling birth rates, such as post-recession lag in the US in particular. Yet, even as the economy has recovered, he points out “fertility has continued to fall.” Lyman Stone, an economist and adviser to Demographic Intelligence speaks to the bigger picture – that fertility is falling “because of deeper changes, both in the economy and in culture as a whole.”
One change Stone describes I find particularly interesting: how today’s young people have more of a “risk-averse model when it pertains to starting their families.” Sociologist Phillip Cohen contends that unlike in generations past, they have “begun to think about marriage and family formation as something which one does only after one is financially stable, rather than in order to become stable.”
Related to this stability approach includes young people today being “more cautious” about major decisions in life. This word describes how they approach who they marry and when making large purchases. They want stable employment, paid off loans and money in the bank before becoming a parent. All of these things represent positive change in my opinion. They make for prepared parents, at least from a financial perspective.
Lehman makes the point that young people don’t respond to pronatalist policy attempts for them to make more human cogs in the economic machine, and to this I say good! Stone believes it is less about delaying, e.g., waiting until those life factors line up, and more about a story of “decline” in an era of “caution and prudence.” Decline from an overpopulation perspective, to this I also say – good.
We needn’t “blame a culture of caution;” instead we should applaud it. This approach of would-be parents and its impacts on the lives of the children who will be more apt to have prepared parents represents progress. This evolvement extends wider; having more prepared parents will make a positive impact on the many costs society pays for unfit parents.
In a culture of caution, I hope that it can also first involve taking the parenthood decision seriously – looking hard at why they think they want to become parents to begin with. And realizing that it is completely fine if they decide the parenthood life is not something they ultimately want.