Fertility, longevity and an aging population
The fertility rate is defined as the average number of children born per woman of childbearing age in a country. In the United States, there were 3,853,472 births in 2017 — “down 2 percent from 2016 and the lowest number in 30 years,” the Centers for Disease Control said. Additionally, “The decline in the rate from 2016 to 2017 was the largest single-year decline since 2010,” according to the CDC. But, as The Associated Press reports, the U.S. birthrate is “still above countries such as Spain, Greece, Japan and Italy, but the gap appears to be closing.’
A related concern is the median age of a country’s population and the percentage of the population that is over 65 years of age. Plummeting birthrates and aging populations mean fewer workers and may threaten economic growth, as both labor and consumer consumption decline. Outside of the U.S., there is a similar story unfolding. In Italy, which once had one of the highest birthrates in Europe, 2017 was a record low with 464,000 births registered while the median age has crept up to 45.9 years.
Are government incentives the answer?
The Italian government is offering land to fertile families in an attempt to boost birth rate.
A new offer of state land is on the proverbial table for those Italian families that are fertile enough to have children. The ploy hopes to buffer the nation’s plummeting birth rates. It is called the children-for-land incentive, and it gifts state farm land for 20 years to those families who give birth to a third child between 2019 and 2021. Other countries are using incentives as well to stem the tide of plummeting birth rates.
In Singapore, which has the lowest birth rate in the world, the government reminds people that they have civic responsibility outside and inside the bedroom. Denmark has begun teaching sex education with the idea of instructing young people on how to make babies instead of how to avoid making them. Japan has implemented government-sponsored matchmaking events.
These family-friendly incentives, however, may not be the answer to falling birth rates. Instead, the expense of having children is often cited as the real disincentive. Childcare is expensive, particularly in the U.S., where it is not usually subsidized. Education, health care and housing are also expensive and influence people’s decisions regarding the number of children to have. Some countries have acknowledged the costs by providing cash grants at the birth of a child, such as Finland has done, or providing other forms of material support like a baby sling and a diaper bag as was done in Singapore. The Italian land grant is a more sizeable effort, but there is doubt that even a gift of farmland will be able to reverse the trend toward low birth rate, longevity and a high median age.
Childcare expenses are the real issue
Many question whether the money set aside for these incentive programs wouldn’t be better used for addressing the rising cost of child care, education and health care as well as ensuring that mothers can return to work in ways that are economically viable. The cost of childcare may be the real deterrent to having children in the U.S. as well as in other developed countries where childcare is not subsidized.
In 2018, a middle-income couple with two children in the U.S. will spend approximately $233,000 to raise a child from birth to age 17. Daycare costs on average more than $11,000 a year, although the average differs considerably from state to state. Healthcare is another major expense. The average price for healthcare for a U.S. family of four in 2018 was $28,000. None of these numbers include the cost of college tuition. With these high costs of supporting a child, it may not be practical for both parents to return to work, thereby adversely affecting women’s participation in the economy. Without quality childcare, grandparents, and grandmothers in particular, play a major role in both regular and occasional care for grandchildren.
Real economic help in supporting families has had some success, for example in France where a combination of stipends, high-quality subsidized childcare and discounts on everything from train fares to movie tickets for parents seems to have helped to raise its birth rate to one of the highest in Europe.
It remains to be seen if the trend toward falling birth rates in the developed world actually can be reversed. Short-term gimmicks such as land grants or free infant pajamas may not be able to counteract the high long-term costs of raising children.
Have something to add to this story? Comment below or join the discussion on Facebook.
Header image: ShutterStock