Wednesday, May 24, 2006

Why Americans Have More Children?

Robert Samuelson takes on the so-called "birth dearth" today, changing horses in midstream. First relying upon the work of Ben Wattenberg, Samuelson states,
Up to a point, we understand plunging fertility rates. Wattenberg reviews the usual suspects: improved incomes; health and life expectancies (as more children survive, parents have fewer babies); growing urbanization (families need fewer children to work the fields); women's access to education and jobs; contraception; later and fewer marriages; more divorces. But our understanding is only partial, because there's one big exception to low fertility rates: the United States.
It would have been interesting, had Samuelson presented some of the socio-economic data apparently considered by Wattenberg, but instead he tells us:
American fertility is roughly at the replacement rate, 2.1 children per woman. Nor does the U.S. rate merely reflect, as some think, a higher rate among Hispanic Americans. The fertility rate is 1.9 for non-Hispanic whites and about 2 for African Americans, reports demographer Nicholas Eberstadt of the American Enterprise Institute. What explains the American exception? Eberstadt cites three differences with Europe and most other advanced countries: greater optimism, greater patriotism and stronger religious values. There's some supporting evidence. A survey by the National Opinion Research Center at the University of Chicago asked respondents in 33 countries to react to this statement: "I would rather be a citizen of [my country] than of any other." Among Americans, 75 percent "strongly" agreed; among Germans, French and Spanish, comparable responses were 21 percent, 34 percent and 21 percent, respectively.
That's the best he can do to support the thesis of "greater optimism, greater patriotism and stronger religious values" resulting in higher birth rates?

Now there is no real dispute that U.S. birthrates are declining along with those of the rest of the developed world - they're just declining a bit more slowly. Looking at Samuelson's data, you can see that he places the birth rates for both African Americans and non-Hispanic whites as below the replacement rate. While he suggests that the U.S. fertility rate isn't merely due to the birth rates of non-Hispanic whites, which I understand to be approximately 2.7 children per woman, there is little question but that birth rates among that demographic do help boost the overall fertility figure to the approximate replacement rate.

Samuelson, of course, provides no explanation as to why Hispanics have greater optimism, greater patriotism and stronger religious values than non-Hispanic whites. Nor, for that matter, does he explain why African Americans also have greater optimism, greater patriotism and stronger religious values.

My guess is that if he had stuck with Wattenberg's analysis, Samuelson might have found some interesting socio-economic and immigration-related fertility statistics which could explain U.S. birth rates. I haven't been able to find birth rates by socio-economic group, but it is my understanding that lower SES populations have higher birth rates than higher SES populations. It is also my understanding that immigrants from developing nations have higher birth rates than non-immigrants. Further, I understand that larger families are more likely to occur in rural communities than among city dwellers - it's more expensive to raise kids in a city. Of course, Samuelson might accept all of that but nonetheless argue that being an impoverished immigrant, particularly in a rural community, leads to greater optimism, greater patriotism and stronger religious values....

But perhaps he would instead take a step back from his advocacy for a wall on the Mexican border, and realize that the population statistics he seems to believe will keep us more vibrant and competitive than Europe arise in no small part from immigration.

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