Friday, August 31, 2007

More on the Demographic Transition

H&R links to an American Conservative piece about how the demographic transition might affect warfare. In societies where families don’t have a lot of back up children, it may be harder to send your kids off to war. If it turns out that declining fertility leads to peace, then I’m all for it. Of course, the writer at AmCon figures that internal demographic dynamics may threaten internal security as the younger, non-European population displaces the less fertile descendants of Europeans.

The demographic transition, where more developed, wealthier societies see a fertility decline relative to poorer societies, has been observed for a long time. It also shows up in lower fertility in wealthier classes within a society relative to the poorer classes. Even Augustus had to deal with a fertility crisis among patricians and equestrians some 2000 years ago.

A lot of explanations have been advanced. It has been argued that fertility rates are a function of intergenerational floes of wealth. If wealth flows from children to parents, fertility will be high. If, on the other hand, it flows from parents to children, fertility will be low. I would argue that the investment in children almost always exceeds the return and that the wealth flows model is unpersuasive. Another model centers on capital investments. Wealthier folks’ kids are costlier, so they have fewer. The usual argument is that wealthier folks invest more in each child presumably because they are more valuable to them than poor kids are to their parents.

I reckon that the central factor in this phenomenon is higher opportunity costs for women which makes children more costly to wealthier and more highly educated women. If we assume that people calculate whether the satisfaction expected from another child will offset expected costs, then differences in opportunity costs will be among the biggest cost factors leading to differential fertility rates across classes. A woman who stands to lose $100,000 a year in salary and a degree of seniority by staying home with a child for the first two years of its life will have a different calculation than a woman who is giving up $20,000 a year.

And it’s not just the monetary costs at work. It’s other opportunities that must be foregone. While it is possible to breed and go to college or grad school, it isn’t easy to do so. Educated women have lots of outlets and opportunities that might be incompatible to some degree with mothering a large brood of offspring. For less well educated women, there might not be as many attractive choices for deriving satisfaction.

So the way to solve the dilemma of cultural and demographic change caused by the lower fertility rate of educated women is to: (a) deny women education or opportunities for satisfying careers so that they will have lots of children, or (b) see to it that the immigrant populations and developing countries afford education and opportunities to women so that their fertility will decline as well.

Frankly, there are so many anti-natalist policies in America that I am surprised that anyone can afford to breed. The biggest is confiscatory taxation. You need two earners in many cases just to get by thanks to the chunk the government extracts form you, and you can’t afford too many kids and costs of care or costs of being out of work to care for them yourself. And if you can’t care for them yourself, it kind of takes the shine off the whole undertaking.

1 comment:

jomama said...

Maybe it's as simple as 'wealthy people don't have as much time to breed'.

Ergo, they get wealthier.