Breeding for Business: America’s Economy Needs More Babies

America needs more babies for its economic health.

At least, that’s what U.S. News and World Report says in it’s recent article “Why a Falling Birth Rate is a Big Problem.” According to the article, America has historically had high birth rates compared to our cousins in Europe. Many economists feel that contributes to our relative economic well-being.

This article, with its what’s-good-for-business viewpoint, fits in perfectly with the way people in the West have approached their children, homes and families for decades now. Its short-term, through-the-peep-hole way of looking at the situation fits this approach, as well. It’s easy to pick out one thing to be concerned about if you focus to a small enough point. In this way, the article is able to give short shrift to long-term trends and social concerns other than what’s-good-for-business.

One thing that seems clear to me is that when any group of people has a sustained birth rate that falls below the replacement level, they are acting out a form of group suicide. The U.S. News and World Report article looks to economic reasons for declining birth rates. I do think that this explanation fits sudden dips in birth rate that correlate with economic downturns, which is what the small-point perspective gives us. But while the article addresses long-term declines in birth rates in a small way, I don’t think it gives them enough consideration for its analysis to have any real meaning.

The situation which leads to what I referenced earlier — a form of group suicide by low birth rate — is not something that occurs due to short-term economic downturns. In fact, the overall trend in decline in birth rates has been steady throughout the West for almost half a century now. While rates do take a slightly less precipitous drop and may even go up a notch or two during times of economic boom, the overall trend has been a steady downward slope for decades.

One factor that correlates closely with this trend is the decline in respect for motherhood and fatherhood and the social/political dismemberment of the family. I have experienced some of this myself.

When I had my second child, there were plenty of people on hand to tell me that “two was enough” and that I shouldn’t have any more.

When I left the House of Representatives to stay home and raise my first baby, more than one person felt called to inform me that I was “wasting my life” by doing so.

Mothers don’t get any respect. Raising little children, guiding them, making a home for them, nurturing, protecting, training and loving them into productive adults, is considered the lowest form of work we can have. It’s so poorly thought of that women will leave their own children at home and go get a job at a daycare, raising other people’s children. That, the paycheck and the clear-cut employment, are what is respected; not raising their own babies.

Children are universally regarded as a burden in our society, rather than a blessing. We look at our own young and make jokes about being around a little baby will drive anyone to birth control. Why is this? Have babies stopped being cute? Are they no longer cuddly? Do our office cubicles and breakroom microwaves really warm our hearts so much that we no longer feel the need to hold our own child in our arms?

What has become of us in the West that we no longer love our own young? What is wrong with people who have no desire to create life?

Has our cultural narcissism and overweening me-ism supplanted our ability to give to the point that we no longer want and cherish our own children?

If we truly want more babies, for, as this article so crassly puts it, the sake of the economy, then we need to start treating mothers, fathers and families with a little more respect. We are a society that has sacrificed everything, including our fertility and the warmth of home and family to the almighty paycheck. In our world, God is a sideshow while the gods of commerce, like the ring of Mordor, bind and rule us all.

How ironic that the same forces for which people have sacrificed their birthright to home and family are the ones that now “need” a higher birth rate. We need babies to make money. Even though, as we’ve been told many times, babies cost money. In fact, we’ve been told that babies cost too much money. And they make us unavailable for all the other things that we are told we should want instead of children.

How to turn this around? How to undo the selfish deed of selling childlessness as a good thing in life?

Maybe we should begin by giving some respect to the people who make good, productive people: A woman and a man, united in marriage.

The U.S. New and World Report article reads in part:

It sounds like one of those stories you can safely ignore: The U.S. birth rate has hit a record low, led by a big drop in the portion of immigrant women having babies.
[Photos: Kennedy Center Honors Led Zeppelin, Hoffman, Letterman ]
This development doesn’t directly affect anybody, since it’s one of those long-term societal trends that occurs in small increments and doesn’t change the unemployment rate, the price of gas, the direction of the stock market or any of the big economic forces that make our lives better or worse today. And since the trend is strongest among immigrants, it sounds like maybe this is something happening in a shadowy part of the economy that doesn’t matter all that much.
But it does matter, and if the trend persists, it could mean lower living standards for most Americans in the future.
It may seem intuitively obvious that a slower-growing or declining population is good for the economy, especially when you think about starving children in poor parts of the world where there’s not enough food for everybody. In places where resources are severely limited–and economic policies are dysfunctional–it may be true that a growing population is a bad thing.
But that’s usually because such economies are static, and instead of creating wealth they typically just divide up what’s already there. That’s not the situation in America, which has a dynamic economy that creates wealth and more than enough resources for all of its citizens.
[See: What Keeps People Out of the Middle Class ]
On the contrary, one of the great strengths of the U.S. economy, especially compared to Europe and Japan, is a relatively high birth rate, which keep the population young, on average, and population growth robust. “Everybody comes into world with one mouth and two hands,” says economist Donald Boudreaux of George Mason University. “It’s generally true that most people produce more than they consume.”
A growing population is good for the economy when rising productivity continually reduces the amount of resources required to produce a given amount of output. Even now, with the U.S. economy in a rut and too many people out of work, productivity is rising, which means a larger population would generate more wealth per person than a smaller one. Boudreaux points out that Manhattan, one of the mostly densely populated places in America, is also one of the wealthiest, whereas rural states like Mississippi are sparsely populated, and much poorer. (Read more here.)

  • Bill S

    That’s an interesting perspective. It seems counterintuitive. I always thought that overpopulation was a major problem in both this country and in this world. The saying that everybody comes into this world with one mouth and two hands makes sense.

    Does it matter whether it is people born in this country as opposed to immigrants? Is it assumed that the people born here will get a better education and take up higher positions than immigrants? Does it justify allowing the children of immigrants to stay without worrying about being deported?

    And finally, the question that has to be asked, does it make birth-control bad for the economy?

  • Dave

    Very nice writing, Rebecca. Among other things, social security and big government social programs can never remain viable when the birthrate is sub-replacement level, as many of the European nations are now finding out. (I’m not saying I agree with big gov’t social programs in the first place)

    Also, as you pointed out, the state has traditionally privileged marriage (even in the tax code) because of the service that a married couple (a man and a woman) provide – that of raising the next generation of citizens. That’s what is getting lost in the debate over SSM. The state doesn’t give tax benefits because people are sexually intimate and promise to love each other (which promise, of course, can be broken at any time). That is ludicrous, but then, our society has now become ludicrous, and that, at ludicrous speed!

    Perhaps the government should get out of marriage, since society has forgotten why it is important in the first place, and instead privilege couples that raise children, via the child tax credit, etc.

    • Bob

      “What is wrong with people who have no desire to create life?”

      Hmm, I don’t know. Personally, I have never had much desire to create life, and while I recognize that that’s different from how most people feel, I never really thought there was anything was “wrong” with me. You seem to answer your own question, when you add, “Has our cultural narcissism and overweening me-ism supplanted our ability to give to the point that we no longer want and cherish our own children?” You seem to imply that what is wrong with me is that I’m selfish. A narcissist.

      OK. Maybe I am.

      But isn’t the desire to have kids even more selfish? Not the act of the raising a child, which is anything but selfish (when done correctly), but just the desire to have them? To actually build a whole new human just to satisfy one’s own yearn to nurture? People don’t have kids to help the economy, or for society’s sake. They have ‘em cuz the want ‘em. They create whole other people. Just ’cause they want ‘em. That seems selfish, too, no? Just a thought.

      • Pancho

        I don’t think the desire to have kids is any more selfish than is the desire to have more friends and the desire to have someone to love.

      • Dave

        Sure, it can be selfish. It depends on the reason why we want them.

      • Robert King

        There are dangers in two directions about the desire to have children: children can be sought after as nothing more than a pet or a fashion accessory, which is wrong. Or children can be avoided as nothing more than a burnden, which is also wrong. Whether “narcissistic” is the correct diagnosis is perhaps debatable, but clearly both perspectives objectify the children as useful or not to the parents.

        But it is not wrong, or selfish, or narcissistic to take pleasure in children, or to desire the joy and honor of being a parent, any more than it is selfish to enjoy one’s work that contributes to the good of society, or to enjoy recreation with one’s friends, or any other legitimate good.

        I take it for granted that the lines may be blurry at some points, and also that our motives are always mixed to some extent; we all have to guard against tendencies to selfishness, in most everything we do. But abuse of a good does not take away the use of that good. The fact that people sometimes love and care for children inappropriately does not mean that we should not seek to love and care for children.

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  • Brian

    Pardon me, but how do you explain efforts to provide health care and education and protection for children? How do you explain concerns that being able to provide decent standards of living for children as opposed to bringing them into situations where they end up in desitution down the line? Are those signs that humans really do try to do what is best for children? I am not saying that they perfectly consistent. I only wish to point out that they are real.

  • Rebecca Hamilton

    I’m not going to be able to make many comments today, but I would like to make one small observation. In 5 comments, we’ve turned this discussion into a situation where people who want children are on the defensive and have to justify their “selfishness” for wanting a family.

    That pretty much makes my point about how sicko our society has become in this area.

    • Brian

      Aren’t there concerns about being able to actually provide for those children when they are born and as they grow up?

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  • Bill S

    I have fathered three children. One that was aborted without my prior knowledge and consent 40 years ago. Two others that were planned as well as can be planned 30 and 28 years ago respectively. I will admit it. I am selfish, and I can’t find any way not to be. My two boys are also selfish. I don’t believe that selfishness is always a bad thing. I believe that great things have come about thanks to the selfishness of great people. I also believe that bad things have come about through the misguided efforts of unselfish people. Prohibition would be one example. I don’t believe that the temperance movement was the creation of selfish people. I also believe that the pro-life movement is not the creation of selfish people. I don’t believe that the laws that prohibited an abortion that might have led to the death of the Indian woman in Ireland were written by a selfish person.

    So, whether it is selfish or unselfish to have children is really not the issue. No one should be accusing anyone of being selfish for either reason i,.e,, for either having children or not having them.

    What I come away with having read this article is that maybe we don’t have to worry about keeping family size small or even about immigration. That, I think, should come as a relief especially to people that want to have sex but don’t have access to or are prohibited from using birth control.