A worldwide baby bust
Lawmakers try to find ways to stem a downward fertility spiral
In China, men unlikely to find a wife and have children are known as “bare branches.” In 2020, the country had 34.9 million more men than women—according to recent data from the National Bureau of Statistics—a fallout from China’s 35-year one-child policy and one reason China had 6 million fewer babies born last year than in 2016.
Similarly, South Korea—once known for its strict population control measures—now has one of the lowest worldwide fertility rates. The country has to face concerns of a shrinking military, universities with too few students, and an aging workforce with a shortage of young people to keep the economy afloat.
Italy and Japan also face rapidly aging populations and record low birth rates.
These countries provide a stark picture for the United States amid its own looming population crisis and record low birth rates, prompting lawmakers and family policy experts to seek new ways to discourage young people from delaying or forgoing childbearing.
“Everything is working against fertility in this day and age,” said Stephen Mosher, Population Research Institute president and a Catholic father of nine. “This is a worldwide problem. … It’s population control run amuck.”
The U.S. fertility rate dropped in 2020 for the sixth consecutive year, and the country had its lowest number of babies born since 1979, according to a report released earlier this month by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The nation’s fertility rate last year was about 1.6 children per woman, the lowest rate on record.
U.S. lawmakers are seeking to address the problem with a variety of proposals. The Biden administration’s $1.8 trillion American Families Plan includes child tax credits, government-subsidized child care, universal preschool, and national paid family leave programs. Conservative counter proposals, such as Republican Sen. Mitt Romney’s Family Security Act, include monthly child allowances and remove marriage penalties within the current welfare system.
“Instead of saying we’re going to send hundreds of billions of dollars to government-approved child care centers...we [want] to provide that funding to families and let families make the decision as to how they want to care for their child,” Romney said during a recent panel discussion.
Romney noted that numerous factors contribute to the decline in marriage and child births, including cost of living, pressures on working families, social mores, the sexual revolution, and the decline in belief in God and the afterlife.
Government incentives designed to bolster childbearing have had mixed results. In South Korea, for example, the fertility rate dropped to a record low of 0.92, less than one child per woman, in 2019, despite the nation’s universal free childcare, subsidized housing, and multiple cash bonuses, including a monthly allowance of about $90 per child under age 7.
One recent study found that work-related benefits, such as universal child care and paid parental leave, were counterproductive and inefficient solutions to fertility declines.
Mosher argues young couples with children should be protected from burdensome tax rates since they are already contributing to the nation’s future by caring for the next generation.
“We have to reconnect parents with the economic value of children,” Mosher said. “Right now, there is no connection. It’s been severed.”