I’m chasing my own fertility journey at present — you can generally tell what I’m chasing based on what I’m currently blogging about, and here’s something on fertility journeys, as well as something on jelly being placed on my scrotum — so when I see stuff about babies and growth rates and all that, my ears perk up a little. I always hate how these Census and population figure discussions default to “future workforce,” as if the only justification for having a child is that someday they can occupy a cubicle or office. In reality, we all know one of the primary justifications for having a child is Instagram likes. I mean, let’s be honest.
Here’s where the USA is since about 1790:
For one thing, polls show that many Americans want more children than they are having, as The Times’s Claire Cain Miller has noted. But the slow-growing incomes and a shortage of good child care options have led some people to decide that they cannot afford to have as many children as they would like. The decline in the birthrate, in other words, is partly a reflection of American society’s failure to support families.
That would be my big thing. I know a lot of people who wanted 2, but had 1, or wanted 4, but had 1. It’s largely a cost thing. PS — companies fucking love it when someone has four kids, because that usually means two completely-beholden worker bees (mom and dad), unless there’s some measure of familial wealth somewhere or a generous uncle who passes away of mysterious causes.
Back in November 2019 — “The Old Normal” — there was another New York Times article called “The End of Babies.” I actually emailed with the author a couple of times because the article resonated for me so much (the other random people I tend to email with are District Attorneys who prosecute crimes I saw on 48 Hours). There are a lot of good sections in that article. Here’s one:
In the United States, the gap between how many children people want and how many they have has widened to a 40-year high. In a report covering 28 countries in the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, women reported an average desired family size of 2.3 children in 2016, and men wished for 2.2. But few hit their target. Something is stopping us from creating the families we claim to want. But what?
This part also slaps:
Our current version of global capitalism — one from which few countries and individuals are able to opt out — has generated shocking wealth for some, and precarity for many more. These economic conditions generate social conditions inimical to starting families: Our workweeks are longer and our wages lower, leaving us less time and money to meet, court and fall in love. Our increasingly winner-take-all economies require that children get intensive parenting and costly educations, creating rising anxiety around what sort of life a would-be parent might provide. A lifetime of messaging directs us toward other pursuits instead: education, work, travel.
Lyman Stone, an economist who studies population, points to two features of modern life that correlate with low fertility: rising “workism” — a term popularized by the Atlantic writer Derek Thompson — and declining religiosity. “There is a desire for meaning-making in humans,” Mr. Stone told me. Without religion, one way people seek external validation is through work, which, when it becomes a dominant cultural value, is “inherently fertility reducing.”
In sum: late-stage capitalism is probably, in some respects, the enemy of fertility, or at least desired fertility. Plus: that vaccine is making people sterile. I jest, I jest.
“I see a lot of parallels between this tipping point that people feel in their intimate lives, around the question of reproduction under capitalism, also playing out in broader existential conversations about the fate of the planet under capitalism,” said Sara Matthiesen, a historian at George Washington University whose forthcoming book examines family-making in the post-Roe v. Wade era. “It seems like more and more people are being pressed to this place of, ‘O.K., this system of value is literally going to kill us.’”
Is it “the end of babies?” No, probably not. And maybe we will see a COVID Baby Boom — there’s some discussion of that now, and the recent Census figures didn’t take COVID deaths and births into account. Maybe we will see a roaring 20s of free-spending (uhhh, depleted savings accounts won’t be a good match-up with child care) and more. Maybe the Biden tax credits and all that will work. Maybe the USA will go full Hungary and start giving people minivans for popping out kids. There’s a lot that could happen. But I know, aside from my scrotum jelly, the faces of many people I consider friends and acquaintances thinking two kids is an absolute fiscal ceiling.