Baby talk

March 14, 2014

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Babies! They’re (mostly) cute, but they’re increasingly less common in America. In 2012, America’s fertility rate fell slightly to another all-time low – though it may be closer to bottoming-out as the economy improves. And as economists Melissa Kearney and Phillip Levine write, America has seen a “remarkable 52% decline in teen childbearing since 1991”. Between 2008 and 2012, teen pregnancy fell an astonishing 7.5% per year.

Kearny and Levine say teen pregnancy hasn’t fallen because of any specific US policy. Instead, they cite “broader trends that transcend national borders”, which include “improved contraceptive technology and expanded access to it, along with expanded educational opportunities for young women”. Also a factor: MTV. A recent paper by Kearney and Levine found that the network’s Teen Mom and 16 and Pregnant resulted in a 5.7% reduction in teen pregnancies in the 18 months after its debut.

Falling birth rates are now a largely global phenomenon. “The result will be a much older world, a future in which roughly one-in-six people is expected to be 65 and older by 2050, double the proportion today”, Pew reports. In November, Ian Bremmer declared that the world is near “#PeakChild”, using perhaps history’s worst hashtag.  Martin Lewis wrote last year that it’s “extraordinary that the massive global drop in human fertility has been so little noticed by the media”:

In today’s world, high fertility rates are increasingly confined to tropical Africa. Birthrates in most so-called Third World countries have dropped precipitously, and some are now well below the replacement rate. Chile (1.85), Brazil (1.81), and Thailand (1.56) now have lower birthrates than France (2.0), Norway (1.95), and Sweden (1.98).

Of course, birth rates aren’t just about families — fewer babies mean fewer people to eat, buy, and consume things. Derek Thompson writes “the drop in US fertility rates in recent years has almost certainly had a negative effect on consumer spending (and, in turn, lower birthrates are probably an outcome of the recession)”. Last year, Jonathan Last called for “pronatalist” policies to fight the “demographic disaster” America is approaching, in which we’d have too few young workers to care for an aging population. He’s one of several writers in the coming-demographic-bomb genre.

Germany may already be confronting this kind of demographic conundrum. The NYT reports that Germany is having trouble dealing with increasingly empty smaller towns, and worries of a labor shortage are mounting. “By 2060, experts say, the country could shrink by an additional 19 percent, to about 66 million”. – Ryan McCarthy

On to today’s links:

Abenomics
The next phase of Abenomics: getting the world’s biggest pension fund to take more risk - The Economist

Analogies
How Waiting for Godot explains Iran’s economy - NPR

Fail
Why Ukraine’s economy is such a mess - Chrystia Freeland

Your Daily Outrage
The racist housing policies that created inner-city American poverty - Jamelle Bouie
In 1967, median white income was 43% higher than median black household income. In 2011: 72% - Ned Resnikoff

China
“China is looking increasingly towards higher domestic debt to sustain its growth rate” - Amit Mian and Amir Sufi

Quotable
A top bank regulator says his agency has “a priest-penitent relationship” with banks - Peter Eavis

Inefficient Markets
Everyone is bad at pricing carbon - Ben Walsh

Legal Arcana
Copyright takedown notices are great for everyone — except the public - Wired

Politicking
The marijuana lobby wafts onto Capitol Hill - WaPo

Healthcare
How to shave $1 trillion off of US health care spending - NYT

Big Data Fail
Google’s flu tracker gets it wrong 3 years in a row - New Scientist

Noble But Futile
One blogger’s quest to clean up Wikipedia’s most horrendous pie charts for Pi Day - Junk Charts

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