Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Have Babies. For America. Or Something.

By Amy Phillips Bursch, Media Relations Manager

The Population Reference Bureau's 2012 World Population Data Sheet is out, and it doesn't hold many surprises. The world's population is still increasing rapidly -- there are nearly 7.1 billion of us. Most of the growth is happening in the world's poorest countries.

But a few of the statistics for the United States are liable to cause a freakout:
  • Between 2010 and 2011, the U.S. population grew by only .7%, down from a more-typical 1%.
  • The number of people under age 18 dropped by 190,000.
  • The number of older Americans grew by 917,000. In other words, the U.S. population is growing more slowly and aging more rapidly.
This is when right-wingers usually argue that American women need to have more babies. Right now. For Social Security and Medicare, among other reasons.

An example of this reasoning was contained in a recent Wall Street Journal op-ed by Ben J. Wattenberg, a fellow at the American Enterprise Institute. He writes:

“Never-born babies are the root cause of the ‘social deficit’ that plagues nations across the world and threatens to break the bank in many. When a very large cohort of population (a ‘baby boom’) is followed by a very small cohort (a ‘birth dearth’), there will be relatively few working-age people to underwrite the benefits of the many seniors who have paid into national retirement systems, such as Social Security and Medicare.”

So whom does Wattenberg blame for this “birth dearth”? Selfish, hedonistic American women, it seems:

“Women are pursuing education to an extent never seen before, and women with advanced education have fewer children than women with less schooling. …  As incomes go up—and they have gone way up over recent decades—fertility tends to decline, and this is especially true as more women enter the workforce. The additional family income is important. But pregnancies and child-rearing interfere with that, and so are sometimes viewed as unacceptable sacrifices to the good life.” 

What are you doing, lady? You're supposed to be having kids! (Ralph and Jenny/Foter)
So ladies: It appears that you're supposed to forgo an education and career in favor of staying home and pumping out babies in order to pay for Mr. Wattenberg's Social Security. Yeah. We'll get right on that.

We sent a letter to the editor in response to Wattenberg’s op-ed, but the Wall Street Journal didn’t publish it (shocker!) So here’s our take. Enjoy:


Ben J. Wattenberg’s solution (“What’s Really Behind the Entitlement Crisis,” July 12) to increase the American birth rate seems a bit like solving the problem of 100 mice in your home by investing in 100 cats. Sure, it might take care of the problem, but you’re looking at much bigger problems down the road.

First of all, children are not free. Society must ensure that they receive adequate nutrition, health care, and – if they are to grow up to read the Wall Street Journal – education. Adding millions more young Americans would require enormous investments in roads, bridges, water systems and schools – where will the money come from? And speaking of water, ask anyone in the West: They’re already running low.

Wattenberg also seems quite dismissive of the desires of young American women. How can it possibly be a bad thing that women are pursing higher education and careers and marrying later? As for contraception, what’s wrong with people who don’t want a child at the moment taking steps to prevent one? It seems that Wattenberg is criticizing people for taking responsibility.

The only way we can expect to meet future needs is through increased productivity – so that additional needed goods and services can be produced. It stands to reason that smaller families are in a better position to provide for each child. Investments in health and education are critical to greater productivity. The old adage about “building a better mousetrap” still applies. There really is no limit to what a healthy, well-educated person can do to make the world better.

John Seager
President, Population Connection


  1. There's still time! We can turn this global depopulation thing around! Currently, the world's population doubles every 54 years. If we eliminate birth control now we can get back on track to match 1960's rates where it doubled every 35 years. Of course that's not accounting for all the increased deaths from disease, famine and violence.

  2. The shortage of people will be made up with increased automation. I.e. robots.

  3. The hidden agenda of Repugs is more white babies at any cost.

  4. Can you say "bear foot and pregnant"?

    This is ridicules. The world needs far fewer people not more. If there were 4 billion fewer people, there would be room for more people, but as it is, we are approaching the tipping point for the environment. After that, nature will become the "agent of population control", and nature is neither discriminatory, nor merciful.

  5. There's not enough jobs or food for the people who are here now!!

  6. Incomes have most certainly NOT gone up - "way" or otherwise - in recent decades. "Since 1980, the American economy has doubled in size, but adjusting for inflation, most peoples' wages *barely* increased. Almost all the gains have gone to the super rich. The top 1% used to take home about 10% of total income. Now it takes home more than 20%, and the super rich have 40% of the nation's entire wealth." http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JTzMqm2TwgE