Bryan Caplan  

Department of Yay: The American Baby Boomlet

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To counter Tyler's "Department of Yikes" series, I'm officially inaugurating my "Department of Yay." First in my series: The American baby boomlet. Thanks in part to Hispanic immigrants, the U.S. has rebounded to replacement rate fertility. Today's USA Today has the facts (plus a serious statistical gaff):

A record number of babies were born in the USA in 2007, according to early federal data released Wednesday that some demographers say could signal an impending baby "boomlet."

The 4,315,000 births in 2007, reported as "provisional" data by the National Center for Health Statistics, gives just a glimpse of what's ahead in the nursery.

[...]

Nelson [a demographer at the U. of Utah] attributes the 2007 numbers to a "perfect storm" of factors: more immigrants having children, professional women who delayed childbearing until their 40s, and larger numbers of women in their 20s and 30s in the population, keeping the fertility rate high. The average number of births per woman was 2.1 in 2006, the highest since 1971.

Unless human biology has radically changed, I don't think the average woman in 2006 gave birth to 2.1 kids. Nelson was presumably talking about the total fertility rate, and fell victim to USA Today's effort to simplify his statement. The basic point of the article, though, is sound: These are truly impressive numbers for a developed country.

Here's an earlier FoxNews story on recent U.S. fertility trends:

Experts believe there is a mix of reasons: a decline in contraceptive use, a drop in access to abortion, poor education and poverty. [Aside: Notice how the first two explanations are changes, but the second two are levels? Very fishy. -B.C.]

There are cultural reasons as well. Hispanics as a group have higher fertility rates — about 40 percent higher than the U.S. overall. And experts say Americans, especially those in middle America, view children more favorably than people in many other Westernized countries.

"Americans like children. We are the only people who respond to prosperity by saying, `Let's have another kid,"' said Nan Marie Astone, associate professor of population, family and reproductive health at Johns Hopkins University.

[...]

The same report also showed births becoming more common in nearly every age and racial or ethnic group. Birth rates increased for women in their 20s, 30s and early 40s, not just teens. They rose for whites, blacks, Hispanics, American Indians and Alaska Natives. The rate for Asian women stayed about the same.

If these trends continue for three more years, they could be as good for sales of Selfish Reasons to Have More Kids as I suspect Bush's re-election was for sales of The Myth of the Rational Voter. Zeitgeist matters. But all petty vanity aside, I'm looking forward to teaching econ to a bunch of these kids in 2026. See you there, baby boomlet.


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COMMENTS (5 to date)
BGC writes:

An increase in fertility caused by increased numbers of *accidental* pregnancies is nothing to celebrate - either more people are making mistakes or there are more people prone to mistakes.

Fertility is inversely correlated with IQ and the personality trait of conscientiousness, both of which are substantially heritable. These national fertility trends may well be caused by reduced average IQ/ conscientiousness.

People who have the IQ and personality-type to use birth control effectively but who are nonetheless _choosing_ to have more kids is a different matter; and the only people who conistently choose to have extra kids are religious - evangelical Christians to some extent, but especially Mormons.

Accroding to Eric Kaufmann religiousness is consistently associated with fertility in modernizing societies. Atheists have very low fertility. Even people who do not attend Church but who express religious beliefs have a fertility advantage.

Bryan's pro-natalism is very unusual for an intelligent atheist - which will make his book interesting.

But my hunch is that the accumulated evidence will show that from a perspective of *individual* happiness it is *rational* to have few children or no children - that is clearly the revealed preference suggested by the data.

Deliberately having bigger families, as Bryan advocates, seems to require a much larger perspective than libertarian individualism - indeed almost the opposite perspective: a supernaturally-underpinned communitarianism.

So, the people who do as Bryan wishes will be churchy, conservative and religious; but atheists, libertarians and progressives will (whatever nice things they may say about Bryan's book) almost certainly continue to pursue the pattern of reproductive self-annihilation - as for more than 100 years.

jurisnaturalist writes:

Here in NoVA, there are a lot of retired military folks who get a pension, and hold another job. This allows for a 1-worker family to get the needed 2-incomes, allowing a mother to stay at home. Then you get more kids.
So, is there any correlation between number of retired military and birth rates?
It takes 20 years in to get a pension, and 10 years to get 3+ kids. 30 years ago we had just finished up in Vietnam. How many of those guys went career?
Probably not a large factor for demographics overall, but could be a contributor.

scottynx writes:

This post and Arnold Kling's "Goldin-Katz Filters into the Mainstream" post right above should acknowledge each-other in some way. The forfeited US lead in average education levels that Brooks is referenced lamenting in that post is directly related to the demographic trends cited here.

Here is a study, from Vilma Ortiz and Edward Telles of UCLA that shows the connection:

"Mexican American integration slow, education stalled, study finds"
http://newsroom.ucla.edu/portal/ucla/ucla-study-of-four-generations-46372.aspx

excerpt: "The educational levels of second-generation Mexican Americans improved dramatically. But the third and fourth generations failed to surpass, and to some extent fell behind, the educational level of the second generation. Moreover, the educational levels of all Mexican Americans still lag behind the national average."

excerpt: "Economic status improved from the first to second generation but stalled in the third and fourth generation. Earnings, occupational status and homeownership were still alarmingly low for later generations. Low levels of schooling among Mexican Americans were the main reason for lower income, occupational status and other indicators of socioeconomic status."

Ortiz and Telles specifically state in the UCLA press release that Mex-Am assimilation levels are worse than that of 4th generation European immigrants.

Also see Steve Sailer's article on the study here (he actually read the book based on the study instead of just the UCLA press release I cited above):
http://www.vdare.com/Sailer/080601_barone.htm

Mark Seecof writes:
But all petty vanity aside, I'm looking forward to teaching econ to a bunch of these kids in 2026. See you there, baby boomlet.

I doubt your students will show up for class-- only around half of US-born hispanics even graduate from high school. Perhaps you can land a gig making educational videos or something.

Kitten writes:

Yay. More illegals coming to America to have their Taco brats to tie up the welfare/food stamp/Medicaid system. Yippee. If we got rid of public asistance and let them go back home or starve we wouldn't have this problem. Yes, I WORK for the goverment, and pay for these children out of my pitiful paycheck... I liked immigrants alot more before I realized we pay for all of their children... Halba espanol, free foodio for mucho childreno...

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