The Declining US Birthrate
Q: What factors in our current environment contribute to a declining birth rate?
A: Many things impact people’s reproductive choices. A few of the most significant drivers of this shift are as follows. People take a look at the economy: can they financially support a child (or another child)? People also consider the cultural challenges (i.e., drugs, crime, etc.) facing America: are they comfortable bringing a child into this socioeconomic environment? People consider the physical elements of reproduction. For example, are both partners fertile? Are both partners healthy enough to reproduce and parent? How does the prospective mother feel about the discomforts and pains of pregnancy and birth and the permanent changes that would happen to her body through reproduction?
It bears noting that never before in human history has mass perception been shaped so significantly by one source: mass media. Television programs (inclusive of news shows) and movies bear themes of difficult economic times, struggling families dealing with children in crisis (drugs, teen sex, crime victimization, etc.), and the physical risks and challenges of reproduction. News programs cover the economic struggles within the US and internationally. We hear about adults without jobs, the American “fiscal cliff”, foreign countries that may be filing for bankruptcy, and other bleak economic news stories. Television programs and movies depict an American drug culture, rife with crime. We are warned about stranger danger. Mass media depicts many of the worst elements of this or any other society, and those depictions heighten our awareness. Further, mass media glorifies the human body and inspires young women to try to have “the perfect figure”. Then, mass media relates horror stories of pregnancy and labor (picture the nearly omnipresent image of a woman screaming in labor) and its aftermath (think of the myriad commercials that promise to help a woman lose the weight she gained during and after the birth of a baby).
It’s little wonder that the US birthrate has declined. Unlike the early 1900′s, we today are being exposed, on a daily basis, to factors that make adults shy away from reproduction . . . and today, we have the tools (contraceptives) to avoid reproduction.
Q: How does a declining birthrate impact society?
A: The declining US birthrate will impact society in myriad ways, many of which are long-term. Absent a proportionate increase in immigration of working age individuals, our workforce will dwindle. Jobs will go unfilled. Employers, desperate for employees, will begin looking elsewhere for a labor force. Meanwhile, the number of workers paying into the Social Security fund will be insufficient to support the retired Americans who are receiving Social Security benefits. The federal government will need to pass legislation to avoid bankruptcy of the US Social Security Administration. This legislation may delay eligibility for Social Security retirement benefits, reduce Social Security retirement income, or otherwise alter the fate of the Social Security program. Seniors may delay retirement due to economic fears. This will, to some degree, reduce US labor force reduction concerns, but those younger workers will not have the career growth potential that they hoped for because senior level positions are not being vacated by older workers. Aspiring professionals will ultimately seek work elsewhere, which will exacerbate US labor force reduction concerns. There will also be an increase in the number of “cottage industries” as people, frustrated by their lack of career opportunities within standard employment, open their own businesses out of their homes or small storefronts. And through this all, American families will survive. American marriages will continue to fail at an approximate 50% rate, due in part to the socioeconomic challenges referenced above. Education of children (and adults) will see increasing emphasis and will become more targeted to employment needs (i.e., “job readiness”). Individuals will become more culturally diverse, multilingual, and adaptable. Adults with much-needed knowledge and skills will command higher incomes and be able to support their families in comfort. Education is the key.