Just as I stopped blogging with a discussion of how fertility and proselytism shape the ideological landscape with a Bloggingheads discussion as its centerpiece, I’m returning with another Bloggingheads discussion, this time between two liberals, Allison Yarrow and Harry Siegel, the latter of whom co-wrote a Newsweek article concerning the future of fertility for the United States:
Unfortunately, the discussion is somewhat one-sided in terms of common sense. Allison Yarrow repeats the widespread myth that women do not receive equal pay for equal work and seems to think that continued work by the elderly necessitated by economic conditions will fuel innovation in our economy. However, the discussion is an interesting illustration of how liberals approach the issue of fertility.
Siegel expresses what is probably the largest liberal concern when it comes to matters of fertility and that is how age demographics will affect the stability of the welfare state. Like many liberals, he also sees immigration as a possible way of softening the blow to state coffers that will come with the wave of Baby Boomer retirements.
As for an explanation for the declining fertility rate, the conversation is a bit murky. Siegel proffers the notion that as more and more women are educated, many of them decide to strive for careers and decide that childbearing is unappealing while also discussing pessimistic economic prospects for couples in recent decades. While to some extent this may be true, I think that a shift in cultural values is playing a more important role. This comes out in a statistic from Siegel than among young people who do not think marriage is obsolete (those that do are 44% of the population), only 41% think that children are important for marriage, down from 65% in 1990.
I don’t think that materialist factors should be discounted entirely. For instance, Yarrow mentions that Obama’s Affordable Care Act doesn’t include many pro-fertility provisions: that employers must provide women a place to breastfeed their children is the only one she could think of, while it does require that all healthcare plans include funding for birth control. However, it seems like the arrow of causation may be moving more from the a culture that devalues having children while promoting careerism and consumerism to lawmakers’ favoring of policies that benefit the childless than those that benefit those with children rather than the other way around. If public policy were the driving factor, then pronatalist policies in various European countries from Sweden to Russia would yield replacement level fertility, a feat they have yet to achieve.
An interesting aside is what the two of them consider to be “normal”. At one point, Siegel, while arguing that the children of high fertility groups are more “normal than their parents, brings up a woman whose mother was an unspecified famous country singer who is now a childless anarchist tattoo artist. While I understand that famous country singers are not an everyday occurrence, anarchist tattoo artist hardly seem to be more normal to me, but then again, I’m not a writer for The Daily Beast.
The context for this was the discussion of high fertility subcultures such as Orthodox Jews, Muslims, and Mormons, who Yarrow had proposed as a solution for the effect of declining fertility on the public purse. Siegel found this unpromising, in part because particularly high fertility groups often abuse the welfare system to fund their families, but more importantly because of what he saw as negative views on homosexuality and women. The irony is that while Siegel wants higher fertility, the last thing he is willing to consider is a cultural outlook conducive to that end.