Today at work, I stumbled across (as in: I actually tripped over) a copy of this weekend’s Wall Street Journal. I won’t even pretend that this is a news source I read regularly. I opened up the newspaper solely because a cover feature caught my eye – an essay called “America’s Baby Bust,” about how the birth rate in the United States has steadily fallen below the replacement rate since the 1970s, and the political and economic implications of this phenomenon (namely: doom and gloom – prepare yourselves, Americans. Apparently we’re in for a rough ride).
We’re having fewer babies these days because we’re all getting creamed by a recession and high costs of living and student loan debt and women working (the horror!) and we’re all very environmentally conscious and are terrified of overpopulation. We think that choosing to have fewer children is akin to being responsible. However, according to author Jonathan Last, what we don’t realize is that with our record low birth rate, we’ll be expected to carry the rising costs of a huge aging population on the relatively small shoulders of a shrinking young working population. I’m not an economist (I know – you’re shocked), but this appears to be a “chicken or egg” situation: are we having fewer children because the economy is tanking or is the economy tanking because we are having fewer children (and have been since 1800)? Is it both? Should we blame birth control? Women’s lib? Taxes? Are we truly headed over the apparently disastrous “demographic cliff,” on the our way to becoming the next Japan? (This essay really steamrolls Japan, which I think was a little uncalled for.)
The essay was fascinating, and adapted from a book called What To Expect When No One’s Expecting, by Jonathan V. Last, which I’ve already ordered because it is exactly the kind of alarmist non-fiction I love to read. I’d highly recommend at least reading the article, linked above. It’s great (and horrifying).