5For generations, we worried about overpopulation around the world, but, increasingly, we are now more worried about too few babies arriving in the United States and in many other developed nations.
Let this statistic sink in.
Our nation’s birth rate has dropped an astounding 23 percent since the Great Recession. In less than a century we have transitioned from the unexpected and stunning Baby Boom following World War II to today’s average American mother having 1.6 children, well below the replacement rate of 2.1 needed to maintain population stability.
We are hardly alone.
Nations from Italy to Korea and all in between are in the same or a similar boat, with governments scrambling to entice young citizens into parenthood. Some offer incentives including 2.5-year maternity leaves (Austria), cash payments of $7000 (Russia), and a $30,000 loan which is forgiven if the couple has 3 children (Hungary). Public education campaigns around the baby shortage abound, including one in Denmark asking, “have you counted your eggs today?” Some nations, especially the more authoritarian ones, are restricting access to contraception and reproductive health care, and there is concern in some circles that the United States is moving in that direction as well.
Demographers say there are many reasons for declining birth rates, some positive and others not so much. Education levels have risen since the Baby Boom years, giving men and especially women more options for how to spend their lives as well as greater economic resources to make individual choices.
Many of child-bearing age delay parenthood and some never get there at all. In addition, many young people express concerns about bringing children into our current world of rapid climate change, rampant gun violence, and highly toxic politics. Minority women fear disparities in maternity care and higher pregnancy mortality rates. And, across the board, prospective parents understand the high cost of raising and educating children and understandably wonder whether they can afford to become parents.
I doubt that pleas from politicians and other policymakers for young people to start families ASAP make much difference at all, including promises of cash payments. Deciding to have children changes one’s life forever, and most of us do not care what our government thinks about this most personal decision.
What can we do to encourage young people to reproduce and replace us with new generations, most of whom will become productive, taxpaying adults?
The obvious answer is to make it easier to be a parent, a job that is intense for about two decades and continues even beyond that.
Paid parental leave is a no-brainer. Anyone who has had a baby knows that the adjustment takes not weeks but months and that families need income during that period. When it is time for parents to return to work, someone has to take care of the little one. Some families are fortunate enough to have a grandparent or other relative/friend willing and able to tackle that task for free or with small compensation.
Most families, though, need daycare services, now prohibitively expensive for millions, making affordable daycare a must. Instead of underfunding public education as North Carolina has done in recent years, parents want and need to know that high-quality public education is and will remain available to their children.
The bottom line is this: patriotic pleas for parenthood fall on deaf ears, even for people who might want children.
Smoothing the way for parenthood and supporting those who choose it will help more prospective parents think pink and blue.

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