Why do commentators, like Chicken Little, treat this worldwide trend as a disaster, even collective suicide? It could be because declines in fertility rates stir anxieties about power: national, military and economic, as well as sexual. Margaret Atwood’s 1985 dystopian classic “The Handmaid’s Tale,” and the Mexican director Alfonso Cuarón’s 2006 film “Children of Men,” based on the P. D. James novel, are among the more artful expressions of this anxiety.
In reality, slower population growth creates enormous possibilities for human flourishing. In an era of irreversible climate change and the lingering threat from nuclear weapons, it is simply not the case that population equals power, as so many leaders have believed throughout history. Lower fertility isn’t entirely a function of rising prosperity and secularism; it is nearly universal.
I have often wondered why there’s so much pressure to have kids when our schools are crumbling:
The fewer children who need primary and secondary education, the more resources there are that can be invested in higher-quality education per child — especially crucial for younger children — and in expanding access to higher and continuing education for teenagers and young adults.
And when jobs are scarce:
It’s true that in the United States — the world’s largest economy for more than a century — younger workers face significant employment and career problems, which may partly be because of older workers’ holding on to their jobs. The labor-force participation rate among older workers, especially older men, has increased over the last decade (but represents only a recent reversal). Indeed, the uptick may have something to do with improved health and productivity of older workers; the rise of service industries and the decline of manual-labor occupations; gradual but small increases in the Social Security retirement age; and the destructive effects of the financial crisis on the housing and retirement assets of many baby boomers. One cannot extrapolate a long-term trend from the last six years.