Priceless Fertility

Our falling fertility problem is worse than I thought:

We analyze a staged expansion of subsidized child care in Norway. … There is little, if any, causal effect of subsidized child care on maternal employment, despite a strong correlation. Instead of increasing mothers’ labor supply, the new subsidized child care mostly crowds out informal child care arrangements, suggesting a significant net cost of the child care subsidies. (more)

It is harder than you might think to pay people in cash to have more kids. Alas paying them in status is much harder to arrange.

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  • Wonks Anonymous

    The excerpt only discusses the effect on employment, not fertility. Bryan Caplan reviewed some research on subsidizing fertility here.

  • Apparently we can’t pay people in cash to have more kids.

    Augustus Caesar found the same problem back in the day. Didn’t turn out so well for them either.

  • Lxndr

    Do we really want people to have more kids?

    • Anonymous

      Good question. I fail to see why I should want that.

      • Konkvistador

        more young high IQ people > faster technological progress
        greater fraction of old people > greater cultural conservatism

      • Anonymous

        Does the rate of violent crimes and/or the probability of warfare decline with aging populations?

    • Jeffrey Soreff

      I certainly don’t want them to have more kids.
      There are lots of relatively short-term hazards our society is subject
      to, but insufficient fertility isn’t one of them. Most of the hazards
      (particularly environmental limits) get more dangerous as population

  • botogol

    In the UK after decades of declining fertility, in the last ten yaers we have a rising fertility rate (from 1.6 per female in 2002 to 1.9 now, that’s pretty significant

    During these ten years the labour government had a series of significant initiatives aimed at reducing child poverty. The main policy was to increase welfare payments to people with children. It seems very likely that this policy is the reason for the remarkable sudden reversal of trend, and increase in fertility — see graphs.

    (for those of you who are thinking it’s actually the greater fertility of migrant women increasing the average — no, the ONS address that as well. Migrant women are more fertile but overall there aren’t so many that it makes a big difference to the overall fertility rate, about 0.1 per female. No this is a big increase in UK born female fertility)

    It seems like you CAN pay people to have children. In the UK at least. I don’t think any economist should really find this surprising.

  • Buck Farmer

    There’s a direct monetary cost to the government to replacing informal child-care with formal, but there’s a direct benefit to the people in the form of increased time.

    That new time will get divided between taxable activities (a benefit to the government) and leisure.

    Presumably in some cases there are people who would have preferred to maintain the social connections maintained by informal child-care who feel social pressure to let the government handle it now. By the same token I expect their are some who are glad to just see their nephews on the holidays and not to have the social pressure to provision child-care.

    Overall, the people’s welfare situation is not clear cut.

  • Don’t pay to poor to get more children

    Do not reduce child poverty. Then the poor would make more children. Their children become are badly educated, unintelligent welfare dwellers.

    In the Northern Europe, the government pays maternal and paternal benefits in proportion to their salaries. This makes good taxpayers produce more good taxpayers and innovators. At least, these people should get effectively the same as the poor, for making children. Now they get much less: you only get the welfare money for children if you are poor.

    • Anonymous

      >implying that only the children of good taxpayers and innovators can become good taxpayers

    • Fertility is falling because society has gotten much better at giving people reasons to not want to have children (by applying psychosocial stress to women) and technology has gotten much better at preventing pregnancy.

      A major cause of infertility is stress because if a woman is in a stressful environment, it is a bad time to become pregnant and many times more vulnerable. Evolution has configured the physiology of woman to not get pregnant when they are under high stress. That physiology affects psychology, and so many women under enough stress don’t want to become pregnant.

      If you want to raise the birth rate, you have to reduce the stress that women of child-bearing age are under. All stresses integrate together, so you have to address all of them simultaneously. A good start would be:

      1. Wage equality, where women receive the same pay for the same work.
      2. Opportunity equality where women have the same opportunity to work at any job they are qualified for.
      3. Affordable, reliable and low cost access to reproductive health care, without political, religious, ethnic, economic or other interference, so when women become pregnant they don’t risk impoverishment from health care costs.
      4. Reliable shelter, food, education, and health care, for single and not single women taking care of small children while they are spending significant time mothering those children.
      5. Reductions in politically, ethnic, religious and economically mediated misogyny.
      6. Greater protection from domestic and non-domestic assault and violence.

      I appreciate that many people think these prescriptions look like nanny state socialism. The problem is that what you think doesn’t matter. What matters is what women of child-bearing age think. If you think you can bully anyone into exhibiting the behaviors expected under low stress without actually producing low stress conditions, you are mistaken.

      The statement that poor women should not be helped because then poor women will have more children is exactly the mindset that is causing the problem. A single woman taking care of an infant in the way that is optimum for that infant can’t work full time. If the economy is structured such that full time employment is required to not be poor, then women with small children have the choice to either be poor, or to provide less than optimum care for her infant. Usually the children get both, suboptimal care while poor. Then without reliable shelter, food, education, and health care, the next generations grows up with the same lose-lose choices.

      The problem in implementing this is that the idea of putting people in difficult situations is so ingrained in humans that many are simply unable to perceive they are doing it and unable to not do it.

      When females are put in unfavorable situations, the less apt they are to have children. Do that enough and fertility falls. Do it for long enough and the population crashes. This is what John B Calhoun found.

      • Wonks Anonymous

        High-fertility populations are often characterized by poverty, gender inequality, misogyny, domestic assault etc.

      • John Laing

        What about restructuring higher education to be more friendly to people who are raising a kid at the same time? Allowing breastfeeding during calculus class, that sort of thing. As a happy side effect, impressionable youngsters would be exposed to advanced concepts.

        The optimal time to give birth and the optimal time to learn important things overlap heavily, so of course, in the current system, teenagers are forced to choose one or the other before they understand the consequences of that choice.

  • sabril

    “A good start would be:”

    Is there any evidence to back this up? Sounds to me like wishful thinking. Seems to me that from the point of view of fertility, giving girls equal career opportunities is counterproductive. A girl getting an advanced degree is normally spending years during which her fertility is at its peak.

    In the developed world, many of the subgroups with the highest fertility have strictly defined sex roles and are very patriarchical.

    • Yes there is good evidence. Human population was stable or very slowly increasing from prehistoric times until quite recently. Exponential increases in population only occurred after modern disease prevention. Exponential increases in population occurred last in regions where there is misogyny and abuse of women, which also happen to be regions of poverty (except where there are natural resources to sell such as oil).

      I presume that misogyny and abuse of women are not recent cultural changes but have existed in those regions since antiquity.

      In any case, if women don’t want to have children, what ethical principle allows abuse and coercion? Especially when market solutions have not been tried first?

  • Two broad reasons it may be harder to motivate intelligent, high-SES people to breed compared to less intelligent, low-SES people:

    1. Intelligent, high-SES people are more AWARE of the bad consequences of childbearing, including self-interested consequences (financial, emotional, toll on physical beauty) and other-interested consequences (overpopulation, ecology, etc.).

    2. The bad consequences for intelligent, high-SES people breeding are GREATER than those for less intelligent, low-SES people, both self-interested (more expensive to raise a child in high-SES circumstances, high-SES women less likely to be obese to begin with so childbearing takes more of a visible toll, etc.) and other-interested (a high-SES child has a greater environmental impact than a low-SES child).