Many people in their prime parenting years aren’t having babies, not because they’re happily “child-free,” but because they think they can’t afford it. WaPo ran a long piece yesterday detailing how financial stress is driving the country’s low fertility rates:
Last year, the nation’s fertility rate hit a historic low — 62.9 births per 1,000 women ages 15 to 44, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Some of that decline comes from a long-term shift toward smaller families. But finances also play a pivotal role. A Gallup poll last year found the main reason Americans were delaying parenthood was worries about money and the economy — even as the stock market rallied and broad indicators pointed to a brighter future, highlighting a disconnect felt by many Americans. A report by Pew Research Center showed birth rates in many states rise and fall in tune with personal income.
This isn’t all that surprising, but it’s worth noting as a gentle rebuke to those who overemphasize the cultural reasons the birth rate is tanking (extended adolescence, for one). There are two ways policymakers can help those who aspire to parenthood: one is to increase cash transfers or tax credits to parents; the other is to lower the overall costs of childrearing by making education, daycare, health services, and other routine expenses parents incur for their children less costly.
We’ve discussed before some of the mechanisms driving up costs in all these areas; each area looks different, and policies that make health care more affordable will differ from those that make education more affordable. But in all these cases remnants of the blue model—like ham-fisted federal mandates and regulations and guild-like behavior—conspire to make it more expensive to raise a child. Looking more closely at how to dismantle those barriers is a good starting point for wonks worried about low birth rates.