How We Incentivize Americans Not To Have Children

How We Incentivize Americans Not To Have Children

People tend to respond to incentives, even if those incentives run counter to their biological drives.

According to a new study by the New York-based think tank the Center for Work-Life Policy, 43 percent of college-educated women between the ages of 33 and 46 are childless. And nowhere does that statistic resonate more than here.

Tamsen Fadal, 40, is one of a growing number of NYC women – who include TV host Rachael Ray – who are prioritizing their fabulous lifestyles over having kids.

Whether they call themselves “childless,” “childfree,” “childless-by-choice” or even just “still on the fence,” a significant number of New York women in their 30s and 40s are taking a pass on motherhood.

It seems the ’90s term “having it all” isn’t so appealing to many in this generation of women, who aren’t particularly interested in working nonstop in an office and then working nonstop at home just to prove they can.

…According to studies by the Pew Research Center in 2008, the number of women between 40 and 44 who’ve never given birth has increased by 80 percent since 1976. The average age at which a New York woman first gives birth has also increased (as it has nationwide). According to the NYC Health Department, the average age for NYC was 25.85 in 1989; by 2009, it had jumped to 27.46.
The public perception of children as essential is also diminishing. Back in 1990, 65 percent of adults polled by Pew said children are very important for a successful marriage; in 2008, only 41 percent said that.

For good or ill, Western civilization now has a number of built-in disincentives to having children.

Although children have always been expensive, a hundred years ago, having a big family could be the difference between living hand-to-mouth and being comfortably taken care of when you became too old to support yourself. Now, Social Security and Medicare fill that role.

Additionally, percentage-wise there are roughly three times as many women who are part of the work force as there was a hundred years ago. There are a lot of positives to that statistic, but it also means that there are a lot less stay-at-home mom candidates than there have been throughout most of our history.

Then there’s the increasing emphasis we place on leisure in the modern era that runs up against the soaring price of having children. The cost of having a child today runs somewhere between $140,000 and $280,000 for most families. There are an awful lot of attractive alternate uses for that kind of cash in our consumer-driven microwave society.

These aren’t simple issues to deal with; nor are there easy fixes we can implement to make child rearing considerably more appealing to most people. Moreover, there are certainly still a lot of Americans who are ignoring these disincentives and choosing to be “fruitful and multiply” anyway. But, for better or worse, we should realize that the way we’ve structured our society is going to increasingly lead to a declining American birth rate. Given that demography often turns out to be destiny, this is not good news.

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