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Is The Economy Behind The Low Birth Rate? Unlikely

Stop feeding the victimhood complex.


Charlie Kirk recently shared an “important” video of author Scott Galloway lamenting how difficult it is for young people to have children in modern America. I hear this sentiment all the time on the right.

I’m not a social scientist, granted, but I’m highly skeptical young people are especially hindered from having children because of economic struggles or an inability to buy homes or inflation or the nefarious workings of the “unfettered” free market or “globalism.” I do think we’ve trained a generation to see themselves as victims of (completely normal) circumstances.

To begin with, the notion that young people are toiling in some uniquely grueling economic era is completely delusional. Partisans want you to think everything is falling apart. There are plenty of serious problems — there always are — but historically speaking, Americans are largely living in a uniquely wealthy, safe, educated, and meritocratic world.

Young people can be “enraged” and jealous of the “exceptional wealth” of their parents, but Zoomers are probably wealthier than any other generation at the same point in their life cycle. Having to pay back a ridiculous student loan on a useless sociology degree isn’t one of the great tragedies to have befallen mankind, it’s just the consequence of a bad choice.

But, for the sake of argument, let’s concede life is super tough these days.

Does anyone believe Zoomers are worse off than young people during the Depression, when the birth rate was far higher? That generation gazed back at the Roaring ’20s. Why did they have kids? The birth rate was over four times higher in the early 1800s, when around 90 percent of Americans had to wake up before dawn to engage in the backbreaking work of farming — often subsistence farming — with no other prospects available.

The replacement rate began to drop after the post-war boom and has dropped, or remained stagnant, under virtually every president since Eisenhower. Replacement rates dropped during recessions and during booms. It dropped under Donald Trump. It dropped under Joe Biden.

Birth rates drop under leftist governments and capitalist governments and hybrid governments. They dropped in both socialist India and nationalist Hindi India, and in both communist Hungary and Russia and nationalist Hungary and Russia. Birth rates have been declining in China and in the Islamic world. Twice as many Japanese died than were born in 2023. Is it because they’re poor? The place with the highest birth rates is sub-Saharan Africa, the poorest place of all.

Fifty years ago, Ireland was one of the poorest countries in Western Europe and had one of the highest replacements on the continent. Today it is one of the richest and is way below replacement levels, which is 2.1 kids per woman. Other (formerly) Catholic countries like Spain (1.16), Italy (1.24), and Portugal (1.43) are even worse.

South Korea is one of the largest and wealthiest economies in the world, and it also has the lowest replacement rate. A South Korean woman ($32,422 per capita GDP) has 0.72 kids in her lifetime, as of last year. In Laos ($2,054), women have an average of more than two children.

Since 2006, South Korea has plowed hundreds of billions of dollars into programs incentivizing citizens to have more children. The rate keeps plunging. The government is now offering $22,100 for each new kid, on top of paying for childcare and infertility treatment. Some private companies are offering significant cash rewards to employees to have more children.

These kinds of technocratic inducements are quite popular on the populist right. A normal person doesn’t have kids for the tax break or a check. Anyway, the American middle class already pays comparably low taxes, and the “working class” pays very little. We are already the wealthiest people on Earth. Maybe if the state started handing out million-dollar checks per kid, it might make a small dent in the problem. But what kind of society are we building then?

One strongly suspects that many progressive New Right types attack the “free market” and romanticize the 1970s — Marco Rubio comes to mind, but there are many others — because they believe uncontrolled economic growth is bad for the soul and the family. Like every other group that believes they’ve finally cracked the mystery of harnessing the economy and human nature, they will only cause needless problems.

Instead of pushing for expanding the welfare state — one that has already undermined community and family — maybe do a better job by expanding your flock. Or keeping it, for that matter. Because in the U.S., the loss of religiosity is likely a bigger reason for low birth rates than the economy. Studies consistently show that the more one attends church, the more kids they have. As of the 2020 Census, the top 10 states with the highest fertility rates were all red states. The bottom 10 were all blue.

Abortion is also a factor, obviously. The widespread availability of birth control, even more. To some extent, perhaps the Malthusian “eco-anxiety” created by climate-change alarmists and the “overpopulation” myth might play some part. Trendy pseudoreligions are nothing new.

I’m sure there are other factors. But the leading reason we’ve seen declining birth rates is surely that women have joined the workforce and postponed marriage and thus families. This is obvious. People are living longer, but biology doesn’t calibrate itself to your cultural expectations.

Yet many people function under the false expectation that having kids is supposed to be easy and without any inconvenient life choices. It’s never been easy to rear children, though it is immensely rewarding. So, for instance, one of the big complaints I hear is that daycare is too expensive. Well, move somewhere more affordable, or stay home with your kids. Or don’t. Life is a series of tradeoffs.

None of this is to dismiss the fact that younger generations have been infected with debilitating social ideas that undermine their future. There is something to Galloway’s contention that the pool of “economically and emotionally viable men” is shrinking. Though, I don’t know if this is breaking news, but men in their early 20s have rarely been economically and emotionally “viable.” Women help make men better, and vice versa. Kids help both become more mature people. That’s one of the reasons you get married in the first place.

What should be done to entice people to grow up? I don’t know. As I noted up top, I’m not a social researcher, and I don’t have any elaborate charts or big policy ideas. I suspect nothing can be done to mitigate the problem with policy.

In the end, though, even if you are marginally less prosperous than your parents, not having kids is (most often) a choice. We need to convince people it’s the wrong choice. One way to do that might be to stop feeding their sense of victimhood and entitlement.

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