Do religious conservatives actually think before expressing their views on demographics?
I ask, because there seems to a sizeable percentage of religious conservatives who believe that birth rates are inversely related to prosperity.
Certainly birth rates tend to be lower in rich countries than poor countries, but that doesn’t mean they’re lower because of greater economic opportunities.
The recent recession is a strong case in point. According to the logic of religious conservatives, westerners should have been having more children over the last five years since jobs are scarcer and wages are lower, so there’s been more incentive for women to stay at home and have children. But this hasn’t happened. Instead, women in both Europe and North America have had even fewer children, and the modest increase in birth rates that occurred just before the recession has abruptly ended. According to one estimate, at least 20 percent of US adults between 18 and 34 have consciously delayed having children because of the recession.
This is basically the same pattern that occurred in the Great Depression of the 1930s. Birth rates fell significantly during the tough times, and then increased when the economy picked up at the end of WWII. They then continued at a high rate until birth control arrived and the 1970s recession slowed down the economy.
Similarly, birth rates are now also declining in the Middle East, which is struggling with high food prices, and a lack of jobs for young males.
So religious conservatives are wrong – people do have more kids when the economy improves and less when the economy gets worse. It’s also important to bear in mind that just because we live in an affluent age doesn’t mean we live in an age of economic security. Out-sourcing, free markets, and the increased use of temporary labour, may not had reduced prosperity per se, but they have made a lot of people’s work lives much more insecure, and economic insecurity is a big turn off for young people contemplating having children.
Some conservatives cite the high birth rates of immigrants from poor countries as evidence that prosperity reduces birth rates. Newly arrived immigrants from poor countries have lots of babies, so poverty must increase fertility. The difference here is that these immigrants are moving from a poor country to a rich country, so they having rising economic expectations, as well as access to health and welfare services that may be unavailable in their home country. So this line of reasoning doesn’t hold when you’re looking at affluent natives who are facing the depressing prospect of getting poorer.
Education is another overrated factor in birth rates. Sure, university does take up time and money that could otherwise be spent on family formation, but if all the men and women who went to university got high-paying jobs when they graduated, then they would still have plenty of time and money to pay off their debts and raise families, and would have more money with which to do it.
The problem is that education is in many respects a symptom of economic decline – people go to university in the increasingly desperate hope of getting a higher paying job in a competitive job market, only to find there aren’t enough high paying jobs for graduates either.
If education is lowering birth rates, it’s because too many people are getting unmarketable degrees in a weak job market and the combination of being over-educated and underemployed is making it even harder to start a family
I don’t what the best solutions to the West’s population decline are, since population decline is due to a range of factors that are difficult to untangle, but I’m pretty sure that impoverishing people isn’t one of them.