Home > Economics - General > Fertility and partnering

Fertility and partnering

May 21st, 2004

There’s been a bit of discussion of fertility issues in comments threads. Rather than present a view of my own, which I’m still refining, I’ll point readers to a paper by coming out of the Monash Uni Centre for Population and Urban Research, and commissioned by the Australian Family Association[1]. Here’s the blurb. As I read it, the central theme is a causal chain from economic reform to less secure employment for men with low education to low rates of partnering to lower fertility. The paper gives some good evidence on the later links in the chain, while assuming the earler ones. I don’t have a problem with this, since I think it’s clear that there has been a general increase in economic insecurity, though it rises and falls over the economic cycle.

I’m less concerned than the authors, and some commentators on this blog, about declining aggregate fertility levels. But I think the study makes a strong case that economic insecurity is producing a society in which central life goals like having a family are out of reach for (or at least not attained by) an increasing proportion of the population.

fn1. The AFA is a socially conservative lobby group, which is very concerned about things like cloning and the “gay agenda”. As with all such groups, it’s necessary to apply an appropriate level of scepticism. But in my reading of the Monash study, I haven’t noticed any obvious signs that the research has been slanted to fit a particular agenda.

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  1. Mark Bahnisch
    May 21st, 2004 at 12:28 | #1

    John Gray, the British political philosopher who turned his back on Conservatism when he concluded that it no longer existed and is now a sort of Social Democrat (kind of the UK’s equivalent of Robert Manne) has some interesting things to say about the relationship between neo-liberalism and family structure in his mid 1990s writings. Taking as his starting point the argument that the form of the family has always been related to economic factors, he looks at middle-class families and argues that there is a correlation between increased pressures for geographical and labour market mobility, as well as perceptions of economic risk, and family breakdown and the propensity to have kids.

  2. Fyodor
    May 21st, 2004 at 12:53 | #2

    JQ,

    I’m amazed that you missed the key point of the blurb you refer to. You appear to focus on this point:

    “Contrary to much of the literature on the subject, partnering rates amongst degree-qualified men and women have stabilised. Much of this has to do with the deterioration in the economic circumstances of men without post-school qualifications.”

    Without remarking on the sentence immediately after:

    “For their part, women are now in a stronger position through their engagement in the workforce to be selective in their choice of partners.”

    and, further on:

    “The study shows that when women do marry, by age 35-39, they almost have at least one child. The problem is the drastic decline in the proportion of young women who are married.”

    Without reading the study, the blurb suggests to me that the key causal factor in the low fertility rate is the drastic decline in the number of young women partnering and having children early, not the increased economic insecurity of men. I think the fertility “problem” (if it is a problem) is much more to do with socio-cultural change (women acquiring more education, more professional choice, greater economic power, more choice in general) than economic disruption.

    Economic insecurity was much more prevalent in the early 20th century and 19th century, but this didn’t result in low fertility.

  3. Harry Clarke
    May 21st, 2004 at 12:57 | #3

    There does seem to be a correlation between higher rates of divorce and reduced fertility although the series are trend-dominated. This could be taken to reflect increased risks (particularly to women) of taking on a risky long-term investment in kids. Unemployment risks and so on also have an impact particularly if couples have fallen into the ‘two income trap’ (borrowing against joint incomes to fund a mortgage).

    But this security issue is minor compared to the major concern which has been the rising role of women in the workforce and hence the increased opportunity costs of having children. (Women are still the primary child-carers, paid child care is expensive and many parents don’t like paid child care anyway).

    Fertility is an issue because of the population aging issue and because there are pecuniary externalities from having children (households make decisions on the basis of their own utilities ignoring the social ‘gains from trade’ in having more children). Kids are good! Having lots of them is equivalent to a trade liberalisation and is socially-beneficial provided good policies deal with congestion or pollution externalities.

    As the recent Federal budget suggests policies can target working women, direct child-raising costs and so on.

    Another factor currently limiting fertility not targeted by these policies is the effect two-income families have in bidding up the price of fixed assets such as housing. This is putting pressure on women to work even if they don’t want to and limits fertility. Even though the welfare transfer as a result of this ‘bidding-up’ accrues to parents it won’t accrue to their own children as bequests until well after family formation has been initiated. Bequests arrive too late.

    The net effect of women entering the workforce is then to reduce fertility partly by increasing the cost of women having kids and partly by permanently redistributing wealth from young to old.

  4. John Quiggin
    May 21st, 2004 at 14:45 | #4

    Fyodor, although the sentence you mention in the blurb is developed in the paper, I think the main thrust is that of the sentence I mentioned.

  5. Jill Rush
    May 21st, 2004 at 21:54 | #5

    There is mention of the risks to women.

    One of the major risks is the “Peter Pan” factor where there are increasing numbers of young and not so young men who refuse to grow up. This means women are often left with stark choices – get pregnant, watch Peter Pan run away just at the time they need financial support.

    The lack of support in household tasks by Peter Pans was just this week commented on in a survey discussed on AM radio. Women with support with housework had more children than those left to bring in an income and do household chores.

    When men start looking at families and fertility they seem to inevitably focus on women. The reason why low socio economic men will struggle to find permanent partners will have something to do with issues like personal hygiene, violent behaviour, willingness to perform household chores and preparedness to babysit and even be nice to the in-laws.

    When all that is brought to a relationship are negatives then the choice is less attractive than being alone. This would be a good choice when you see what bad choices such as Trish Draper made in 2000 can do to a career.

    Women have changed in their expectations and some men have managed to change their expectations and behaviour too. As I look around the Peter Pan syndrome is growing so don’t look too soon for a rise in fertility despite the carrots of the budget.

  6. James Farrell
    May 21st, 2004 at 21:57 | #6

    So there is now a verb to partner? Ugh. What’s wrong with coupling or pairing?

  7. kyan gadac
    May 22nd, 2004 at 01:35 | #7

    let’s not forget the impact of declining sperm counts and increases in reported rates of male infertility over the last 50 years. Given that the cause of this biochemical abnormality is widespread then, whatever the affect of changing economic circumstances, it will amplify it.

    Also Fyodor overlooks the impact of “technology” through the pill and other contraceptive methods which make comparisions with the economy of the early 20th Century flawed. Certainly, there are plenty of feminists who will point to this, but there may be other more importnt factors that are not yet properly understood.

    One thing the debacle of the sixties and the population bomb stories should teach us is that it’s unwise to make predictions about population trends.

    The collapse of marriage amongst the working class with men becoming transient is more reminiscent of the thirties, the military response is also familiar in an eerie sort of way.

  8. kyan gadac
    May 22nd, 2004 at 01:37 | #8

    that should be ‘militaristic’ response.

  9. Warbo
    May 22nd, 2004 at 01:53 | #9

    Jill said, “When men start looking at families and fertility they seem to inevitably focus on women.”

    I’m not sure that men are the only ones guilty of that bias; for all that has changed in the past 30-odd years, the base line of almost all debate is that raising young children is women’s business. Not unreasonably, they want men to do more – much more – to help with the task, but implicit in almost all of the debate from almost all commentators is still the idea that preschool children are ultimately the mother’s responsibility.

    Which pisses me off left, right and centre. As a man, I resent the way women in the public debate claim ownership of this area. As a father who’s equally shared the workload of bringing up three kids (the oldest is nine and the youngest just turned one), I feel invisible (again, we’re talking public debate here). And as a feminist or feminist-sympathiser or whatever, I’m outraged that men have collectively failed to meet the challenge of taking on more of the burden of raising young children – and I don’t mean working longer hours to earn more money for the family.

    The fact that men still earn more for comparable work is obviously an important factor in this, but I wonder if that’s partly because it’s still assumed they’ll be the breadwinners.

    I’d be really interested to know if there have been any serious studies of men’s involvement in early-childhood care – whether it’s increasing or static; and any qualitative studies (are they allowed on an economist’s blog?) about men’s responsibilities towards their young children.

  10. Harry Clarke
    May 22nd, 2004 at 01:59 | #10

    The risk of Peter Pan running away reflects in part the reduced costs of divorce (financial, legal, attitudinal) and the greater acceptance of de facto relationships. It also reflects the reduced dependence of women on male incomes through the greater role of women in the workforce.

    Reducing the costs of splitting up allows partners to separate and move onto better things more easily. But often, too, it just leaves mum and the kids financially impoverished. So women, seeing this, and having an option to remain in the workforce without financial stress, are reluctant to commit to relationships and children.

    Many who believe this is a bad outcome point towards the socially conservative agenda of the type alluded to by John in the footnote to his posting — promoting the family, making marriage contracts more binding, the white-picket fence view of households with dad the sole provider etc. And, as John says, its necessary to treat such views with ‘an appropriate degree of scepticism’.

    I think he’s right (such policies have costs) but I have a nagging problem. How do you judge a society that isn’t reproducing itself because having kids is unpopular?

  11. May 22nd, 2004 at 14:43 | #11

    There are at least two known approaches that work to raise fertility levels. (I’m not counting changes that can’t be implemented but can happen anyway, like cash poor but subsisting environments.) You won’t like them:-

    - Slavery, with costs of children falling on the owner and not on the mothers. The Romans noticed this, but realised it made little slaves and not little Romans.

    - Have taxes that fall on households rather than individuals, and don’t vary with size. Over time, you get large supportive households with extended families, and the costs of children are externalised from the immediate caregivers. The Byzantine Kapnikon achieved this, and was continued by the Ottomans; it eventually caused the traditional Albanian living style, in family compounds, which paradoxically was destroyed by Enver Hoxha and only survived in places like Kosovo (where it made targets for ethnic cleansers).

    These work, eventually, unless overwhelmed by other pressures (that’s what happened to the Byzantines). The main point of describing them is to highlight the non-cash costs.

  12. Harry Clarke
    May 22nd, 2004 at 18:36 | #12

    I think P.M. Lawrence’s proposal for taxing family income rather than individual incomes is worth (yet again) putting on the political agenda. With progressive taxes there are incentives for both parties in a marriage to work even if a division of labour based on one person staying at home would be preferred by both.

    Of course built into tax law is a distortion that already creates incentives for one party to not work — the fact that household outputs created by, for example, a mother working in her home are untaxed whereas her paid work is taxed. This is often used as an efficiency-based argument for subsidising paid-for childcare to offset mum’s disincentive to work.

    Coupling non-taxation of unpaid-for household work with taxing family rather than individual incomes will provide good incentives for families to start reproducing themselves again.

  13. May 22nd, 2004 at 21:17 | #13

    Well… I wasn’t proposing, I was describing.

    My own preferences would involve moving away from direct personal taxation entirely, and minimisimg other taxes in favour of revenues from domains.

    To me, things like the need for progressive taxation reflect institutional failures. Granted, while these remain in place there is a transitional need, nevertheless there is no real justification for using taxation to remedy the damage of institutional failure. Progressive tax is an analogue of tourniquets, and continuing to use tax as a social instrument carries all the risks of lifting with one’s back.

    If we ever could remedy the underlying problems, we wouldn’t have family level problems; people would face undisrupted personal incentives, since they wouldn’t have direct taxes and they would have a supportive economic environment.

    And all the cops have wooden legs…

  14. theilliterateones
    May 22nd, 2004 at 21:23 | #14

    Guys, those are good ideas, but perhaps we should make it easier for people (especially women, obviously) to have children and a career.
    Is no one going to mention the solution of incorporating childcare facilities inside or close to the main buildings of major institutions?
    We just thought that then, you know, working parents wouldn’t have to get in late from dropping their kids off at childcare, or duck out early to pick them up, and would be less stressed about the safety of their proginy because they could go and CHECK during their lunch breaks.
    And it would endear workers to their employers, and with parents more willing to use childcare services, create more jobs within the childcare industry.
    And mothers would have to spend less time at home because they couldn’t find a babysitter, or on maternity leave because they didn’t want to be separated, and if their kids needed them, as we’ve said, they could easily get down to the childcare centre and comfort them without driving all the way across town on their lunch break.
    Unless The Illiterate Ones are being excessively asinine and self-denunciatory, yet again.
    =the Illiterate Ones=-

  15. kyan gadac
    May 22nd, 2004 at 23:34 | #15

    the Illiterate Ones are describing the scene in a 1960′s communist state run factory ‘back in the USSR’…it’ll never catch on

    Tax breaks for families etc. sound somewhat similar to the post war 1950′s approach. But the question is whether the tide’s going in or going out and whether taxes are going to be like Canute or not. In the 1950′s, for instance, there was plenty of incentive(post-war/depression) to have kids even if it turned out to be only 3 instead of 7(say).

    Just to be provocative, we could always just go with the flow and compensate by having a managed immigration program that would pick up the slack. Extra entry points for people prepared to work in nursing homes! Uh sorry I forgot that will change the fabric of Australian Society or some such nonsense.

    But seriously there are two issues hear – one is how do we manage for a static australian population (and remember that this is the aim of sustainability advocates) and what is the best/most likely age distribution of a static population? Corollary question, is a static population sustainable, or is it more likely to decline rather than level out?

    NB I’m not offering any opinon about what australia’s sustainable population ought to be.

  16. May 23rd, 2004 at 02:15 | #16

    “The reason why low socio economic men will struggle to find permanent partners will have something to do with issues like personal hygiene, violent behaviour, willingness to perform household chores and preparedness to babysit and even be nice to the in-laws.”

    All those issues apply equally to women, along with the trend that low socio-economic women are more likely to be unfaithful, resulting in increased cuckholdry.

    What, exactly, are the benefits of marriage to men nowadays? You no longer need to be married to get laid anymore. No fault divorce frequently results in loss of half your personal wealth.

    Kids are the only thing marriage has going for it, and kids aren’t high on the agenda of most Australians, even the poor ones.

  17. May 23rd, 2004 at 10:43 | #17

    By the same token, what exactly are the benefits for women? Neither marriage, nor childbearing is a ticket out of the labor force anymore–as one of my students said, “I wouldn’t put up with a wife that was just a drone.” You have a 50-50 chance of being divorced– and alimony is a thing of the past, child support is negligible and only a few of the few women who are awarded child support collect in full.

    Even if you are one of the lucky few who gets to take off of work for a few years before your husband either dumps you or sends you back to work, when you go back into the labor market with rusty skills and no recent work experience your options will be lousy.

    What’s the point of getting married if you have to work anyway–and then do a second shift at home?

  18. zoot
    May 23rd, 2004 at 18:32 | #18

    So we’re agreed, marriage offers no benefits for either men or women. We might as well allow same sex couples to marry if they’re foolish enough to want to.

  19. Tom N.
    May 24th, 2004 at 13:12 | #19

    THE COST OF KIDS and THE REAL POPULATION-RELATED ‘GAINS FROM TRADE’
    Tom N.

    Harry Clarke claims that there are pecuniary externalities – presumably positive ones – from having children, noting that “…households make decisions on the basis of their own utilities ignoring the social ‘gains from trade’ in having more children. Kids are good! Having lots of them is equivalent to a trade liberalisation and is socially-beneficial provided good policies deal with congestion or pollution externalities.”

    In fact, kids are an 18 (or more) year long drain on the public purse. Publicly subsidised health, education, childcare etc, not to mention direct handouts and tax breaks for parents, all represent subsidies for domestic reproduction.

    To get us back in the black, the positive pecuniary externalities Harry mentions must be pretty big. What are they? Presumably Harry is thinking mainly of the taxes that today’s children will pay later in life.

    However, 25 year old immigrants who are allowed to enter Australia in 25 years from now will earn similar incomes, and pay similar taxes, as domestically reproduced people – but without all the costs to the Australian taxpayer in the meantime.

    Perhaps Harry has a “cultural preference” for domestically reproduced citizens over immigrants. I certainly agree that imported citizens are not perfect substitutes for locals – the research I’ve seen suggests that migrants tend to work harder, for a start. :) But even if Harry or others do have racial, cultural or other preferences for locally-bred citizens, it remains for advocates for further parental support to demonstrate that these preferences are sufficient in size to over-ride the significantly higher costs to the taxpayer of generating additions to the future population from this source.

  20. Harry Clarke
    May 24th, 2004 at 13:54 | #20

    Tom, I am a supporter of reasonably liberal immigration policies though its true I think immigrants are not substitutes for the home grown. I don’t know of evidence suggesting that migrants work harder than local born but the notion that we should forego local reproduction and add to (or replace) our population with migrants alone (even if they are harder working) is something I think very few would endorse. I strongly oppose it and find it offensive.

    Most costs of raising kids are met by families. So called education and health subsidies are ways of funding provision of these services rather than subsidies per se. They have inefficiencies associated with them because they are excludable publicly-provided private goods. But I think they are a reasonably good idea overall. And you answer your own question — these costs in the long-run are met by the taxes generated by well-educated survivors. Yes there is a cross subsidy from people who choose not to have kids but I can live with this.

    The focus is really not on increasing population but in preventing it from falling as a result of less than replacement fertility.

    The positive pecuniary externalities are in a narrow sense the economic gains we all enjoy from having the possibility to trade with more people. Just as the recent US FTA increased the possible trades with pre-existing Australians so too does having more locals to do deals with.

    In a broader sense there are a richer ranger of cultural and other options when population is bigger — so-called ‘agglomeration’ economies. The preference of most of us for living in large cities illustrates this. The catch of course is that environmental policies must be sound for this to work.

  21. Harry Clarke
    May 24th, 2004 at 13:57 | #21

    Tom, I am a supporter of reasonably liberal immigration policies though its true I think immigrants are not perfect substitutes for the home grown. I don’t know of evidence suggesting that migrants work harder than local born (is this a type of inverse racism?) but the notion that we should forego local reproduction and add to (or replace) our population with migrants alone (even if they are harder working) is something I think very few would endorse. I strongly oppose it and find it almost offensive.

    Most costs of raising kids are met by families. So called education and health subsidies are ways of funding provision of these services rather than subsidies per se. They have inefficiencies associated with them because they are excludable publicly-provided private goods. But I think they are a reasonably good idea overall. And you answer your own question — these costs in the long-run are met by the taxes generated by well-educated survivors. Yes there is a cross subsidy from people who choose not to have kids but I can live with this.

    The focus is really not on increasing population but in preventing it from falling as a result of less than replacement fertility.

    The positive pecuniary externalities are in a narrow sense the economic gains we all enjoy from having the possibility to trade with more people. Just as the recent US FTA increased the possible trades with pre-existing Australians so too does having more locals to do deals with.

    In a broader sense there are a richer ranger of cultural and other options when population is bigger, so-called ‘agglomeration’ economies and greater choices. The preference of most of us for living in large cities illustrates this. The catch of course is that environmental policies must be sound for these gains to exceed pollution and congestion costs.

  22. Tom N.
    May 24th, 2004 at 14:58 | #22

    FURTHER REPRODUCTION SUBSIDIES ILL-CONCEIVED:
    A RESPONSE TO HARRY CLARKE by Tom N.

    Harry,

    I did not argue that we should cease reproducing and replace population only through immigration – after all, Australians will continue to satisfy their parental preferences in the absence of subsidies, although one would expect some reduction in domestic reproduction at the margin.

    What I did argue was that advocates of further parental support – such as yourself – need to make the case as to why this would be a sensible policy, given (inter alia) that there is a far cheaper source of future labour, and taxes, available.

    None of the arguments you present about the benefits of a larger population go to the question of the appropriate source of additional population members. Further, some of the benefits you list – such as “a richer range of cultural options” – are likely to be enhanced when a greater proportion of the population is sourced from abroad.

    You also said that “So called education and health subsidies [used by children] are ways of funding provision of these services rather than subsidies per se.” In fact, they are both, as it is clear that in the absence of public financing of these services, parents would have to pay for them.

    You also say that “Yes there is a cross subsidy from people who choose not to have kids but I can live with this.” I’m sure that you can, but isn’t the real question whether you can justify to childfree people why they should have to subsidise the lifestyle choices of parents?

    Finally, you asked about the source of evidence that migrants work harder that domestically reproduced citizens. There is a stream of research on this, dating back at least as far as the 1988 Fitzgerald review, that shows that first generation immigrants have a stronger work ethic, although by the second generation most immigrants have taken on the lazier^ habits of the locals. The evidence was recently summarised by Max Corden in the 2003 Snape Lecture.*

    Tom

    ________

    ^ This is not necessarily a criticism of the work ethic of Australians. Indeed, I personally quite enjoy the leisure component of the work-leisure trade-off and think that, due to “positional externalities” (ie Keeping Up With The Jones Effects), most people still work too hard. Thus, I reject the ‘inverse racism’ label.

    * http://www.pc.gov.au/lectures/snape/corden/index.html

  23. John Quiggin
    May 24th, 2004 at 15:15 | #23

    “You also say that “Yes there is a cross subsidy from people who choose not to have kids but I can live with this.” I’m sure that you can, but isn’t the real question whether you can justify to childfree people why they should have to subsidise the lifestyle choices of parents?”

    On the contrary, all that is necessary in a democracy is that the majority should support the policy. There is no fundamental human right not to be taxed for the support of other people’s children, or, for that matter, for the support of other people’s parents.

    To those “childfree” people who don’t share the preferences of the majority, I give the same answer as Locke (modified for our island status). There’s an airport near you, and Australia has no restrictions on emigration. If you don’t like the cross-subsidies here, feel free to find another country with laws you like better.

  24. Harry Clarke
    May 24th, 2004 at 15:37 | #24

    One proposal to increase fertility that operates through reducing the opportunity cost of women’s work would be to legislate for compulsory extended maternity leave funded by firms. This would increase the opportunity cost of employing females and reduce their costs of bearing children.

    This is not a proposal I think I support but it is a proposal by trade unions and many in the women’s movements. Its implications for female employment and fertility are transparent.

  25. Tom N.
    May 24th, 2004 at 16:08 | #25

    THE TYRANNY OF THE MAJORITY

    John Q. is of course technically correct that all that is necessary in a democracy is that the majority should support a policy – which is why democracy alone is arguably an insufficient basis for determining the rights and wrongs of actions. Of course, John also mentions the notion of “fundamental human rights” in his post, thus pre-empting any “what if 51 per cent vote to enslave the other 49?” type objections. In turn, this raises the status of so-called fundamental human rights…

    I don’t care to engage further in this type of debate, other than to register that I would be disappointed if John (or Harry) really did feel no need to at least be able to justify to people whose resources they intend to redistribute the reasons for such a policy.

  26. May 24th, 2004 at 16:52 | #26

    “To those “childfree” people who don’t share the preferences of the majority, I give the same answer as Locke (modified for our island status). There’s an airport near you, and Australia has no restrictions on emigration. If you don’t like the cross-subsidies here, feel free to find another country with laws you like better.”

    John: You say that like it’s an absurdity that nobody would seriously consider, but the fact is that a great number of our professionals and graduates do leave Australia each year to pursue a career in countries with lower taxation and higher wages. (Singapore and Hong Kong especially).

    I assume you have an explanation as to why that’s not important…

  27. John Quiggin
    May 24th, 2004 at 17:15 | #27

    Yobbo, I doubt that differences in tax rates are an important factor in these decisions.

    Of course, if it became clear that people were moving on the basis of a desire to avoiding paying tax subsidies for other people’s children, we’d be entirely justified in recouping the cost of the subsidies they’d received from subsidised education etc. Still, my general view would be – good riddance.

  28. Tom N.
    May 24th, 2004 at 18:59 | #28

    JQ: “Of course, if it became clear that people were moving on the basis of a desire to avoiding paying tax subsidies for other people’s children, we’d be entirely justified in recouping the cost of the subsidies they’d received from subsidised education etc.” (emphasis added)

    I think your frame of reference may be incorrect, John. Most parents would provide education and healthcare etc for their children irrespective of government subsidies for these services. Thus, the main effect of such subsidies is to reduce the cost of parenthood – they do not benefit children significantly.*

    Tom

    * Obviously, with the subsidies, responsible parents will buy some more healthcare and education for their children than they otherwise would. (It might also be argued that the subsidies will leave more money in the family budget for other expenditures on children, but an alternative outcome would be that parents have more kids, thus diminishing the amount available per child.)

    That said, in relation to small number (one would like to believe) of irresponsbile parents, it is true that such parents will reproduce and then not look after their offspring appropriately, so children of these parents will receive larger benefits from the subsidies, in the first instance.

  29. May 24th, 2004 at 21:19 | #29

    “There is no fundamental human right not to be taxed for the support of other people’s children, or, for that matter, for the support of other people’s parents.” Actually, there is, but it would take a long essay. Would you like one? In part it rests on the concept of “we, the people” being ill defined, and it cropped up in discussions around the time of the American War of Independence (better and more consistently handled by pre-war British supporters of the colonists than by the rebels themselves of course – the latter were not solely actuated by principle).

    For JQ to adapt the Locke argument is facile, and may even have been wrong for Locke himself in the circumstances of his time and place. You know perfectly well what happens when people try to set up their own way of life. Ask the Boers or the Mormons if you don’t; they will tell you that what they flee follows them. (Locke would have had the examples of the Cossacks and the Bushniggers/Maroons.) As for finding an off the peg country matching your dreams, there are recent examples of what happens to small countries that don’t match received western views of the good life. Remember, that is the test that is applied in practice.

  30. Jill Rush
    May 24th, 2004 at 22:08 | #30

    The economic analysis of raising children misses many points. Say we did just import people who were grown up – it would no doubt be a poorer society as children add life where there may well be ennui.

    How do you put a monetary value on the positives that children bring now as well as their role in future years as well educated workers?

  31. Harry Clarke
    May 24th, 2004 at 22:41 | #31

    Jill, It is not the economic analysis of children that is at fault but the daft view that local births are an unnecessary expense because we can import adults. This obviously ignores the benefits to families of having children.

    The economic view of children suggests children do add value to a family. Children are generally not traded and bought in markets. They are home-produced because they give benefits (however you calibrate them) to parents.

    As educated (or uneducated) workers these children go on to add value to the society that already exists by providing society with more brains (and brawn). They provide more bright ideas, increased opportunities for social and romantic interactions and less ennui.

    Thus the economic analysis of raising children recognises both benefits to parents and benefits down the line to society. These latter benefits (that may not be internalised by families) give a basis for pro-natalist policies.

    What the theory further says is that parents face costs in raising children and will balance the benefits they get against these costs. The theory isn’t hard-edged or narrow, its realistic and broad.

  32. May 25th, 2004 at 00:49 | #32

    I think the problems of our society producing so many expats (and there are 1 million of them) is something that needs to be looked at in this debate, with perhaps a more measured response then ‘good riddance’.

    If you think this isn’t a problem, another visit to Adelaide might be in order.

  33. Tom N.
    May 25th, 2004 at 02:18 | #33

    DEBUNKING MOTHERHOOD STATEMENTS:
    CORRECTING HARRY’S “DAFT” MISREPRESENTATION OF MY “ANTI-NATAL” ARGUMENT
    by Tom N.

    Harry Clarke wrote, in response to Jill Rush, but about my earlier argument: “It is not the economic analysis of children that is at fault but the daft view that local births are an unnecessary expense because we can import adults. This obviously ignores the benefits to families of having children.”

    As I have already pointed out earlier on this thread, I have not argued that we can do without local births – the question I addressed is the merits of further parental support.

    Further, my argument does not overlook the benefits to families of having children. Indeed, as I wrote in a newspaper article more than 4 years ago: “Parenthood offers many rewards, such as the satisfaction of genetic instinct, personal growth, having someone to love and receive love from, a chance to exercise authority, and greater comfort and security in old age.”*

    I then proceeded to point out that parenthood is a personal lifestyle choice and, as such, not in itself something that merits government support.

    Harry suggests that, as well as the benefits to family members, there may be some external benefits from the existence of kids. This is true.

    However, it does not of itself justify government pro-natal policies either – that depends on an assessment of the size of the (net) external benefits relative to the costs of government intervention, and consideration of whether any alternative policies in the area could generate greater net benefits. In this context, as my childfree friends often point out, screaming sprogs also generate plenty of external costs. And as I have pointed out earlier, the longer term external benefits, such as tax receipts from future adults, can generally be captured at far lower cost through future immigration than through increased subsidies for domestic reproduction now.

    One thing that Harry and I can agree on though – for Jill’s benefit in particular – is that, despite the wickedly calculating language that we “nasty, narrow-minded, New Right, neoclassical economic rationalists” tend to cloak our analyses of assortative mating markets and reproductive behaviour etc in, we’re really quite soft and caring underneath! :)

    ___________

    * “Coughing Up For Mums And Dads”, Opinion, The Australian, 20 June 2000.

  34. May 25th, 2004 at 12:20 | #34

    Squishy rationalists, like some kind of insect? They are neither hot nor cold, and we all know what St. Paul had to say about that.

    No, I prefer the hard head/soft heart combination to dithering, and I hope I live up to it myself. Charity begins where you can see what you are doing, and so on.

    Nassau Senior, thou shouldst be living at this hour. Australia hath need of thee.

  35. Harry Clarke
    May 25th, 2004 at 23:29 | #35

    A good recent study on the economics of fertility is “Women and the Economy” by Hoffman and Averett. It is much clearer than Gary Becker on the core economic models of human fertility choice — Becker is particularly confusing on the relation between income and fertility choice. Never know whether he is saying children are an inferior good or not. Hoffman and Everett a good read on this and particularly clear on the difficult issue of nonlinear connections between choice of numbers and choice of quality per child.

  36. June 1st, 2004 at 15:09 | #36

    In response to Tom N, who remarks that the real question is “whether you can justify to childfree people why they should have to subsidise the lifestyle choices of parents?” and later points out that “parenthood is a personal lifestyle choice and, as such, not in itself something that merits government support.”

    While it does not speak to the question of pro-natalist policies, I would question whether it is only the choices/rights of parents and non-parents that should be relevant. What about the children? While they are not generally tax paying members of society, they are none-the-less members of society (and one day will no doubt contribute their own portion of taxes).

    Is it not our responsibility as a society to support children, if their parents can/will not? Should we not do what we can to ensure that all children have the same access to education, nutritious food, and a safe and healthy environment in which to develop, regardless of the economic status of their parents?

    Finally, may I point out that not all parents will need other forms of social security, but many non-parents will. Many non-parents, for instance, will end up in aged care much sooner than their peers with children. Inevitably, this will be paid for out of the taxes of parents. To suggest that we must justify value of services specifically to those who won’t use them, then, is a pointless and never ending
    exercise.

  37. Harry Clarke
    June 1st, 2004 at 17:11 | #37

    Comment to K. McCulloch. In the economics of population the case for children is stacked against them by supposing they have no intrinsic worth other than their worth to society and to parents. Even then the case for children is strong since, if markets work-well, then both these groups are better-off on average as a result of the children. If markets don’t work well (e.g. because inputs to child-raising are unpriced) then the idea is to correct these distortions rather than to have a set against children.

    Attaching intrinsic utility to children provides arguments for looking after them but not for creating them. The assumption is that when fertility decisions are taken you only account for the welfare of pre-existing people, not potential people. Philosophers argue about this last point but it seems sensible.

  38. June 1st, 2004 at 17:54 | #38

    “Attaching intrinsic utility to children provides arguments for looking after them but not for creating them.”

    This is true, which leaves us with the question Tom N posed about the value of encouraging procreation over immigration (of adults).

    On a purely utilitarian level it might also be interesting to ask what value children might provide to society in themselves – things like more fulfilled and therefore productive healthy adults (those that want to be parents); the benefits of children to their extended families -continued meaning and value to grandparents, and potentially greater family attachment between siblings (including those without children of their own) – all again leading to greater quality of life which means more productivity and less strain on the health system.

    Of course, all of this would be very hard to measure quantatively, and may still leave some members of society claiming that it doesn’t affect them (although surely what affects some affects all).

  39. June 1st, 2004 at 17:56 | #39

    Regarding the discussion of encouraging procreation by reducing the opportunity loss for women –

    If we could increase the expectation of shared childcare responsibility, resulting in more men in part time work, we may find that being part time would stop being a career stopper.

    I am proposing not that men work part time instead of women, but that both do so, reducing childcare costs, increasing men’s ability to be closely involved in their children’s upbringing, increasing the number of mothers able to return to work and decreasing their angst over doing so (because their children are with their father, not in paid childcare).

    Presently working part time dramatically reduces the opportunity for career advancement, and generally also results in marginalisation in the workplace in other ways. Part time workers are not seen as ‘serious’ workers. If this changed, the opportunity loss for women of having children would be greatly reduced.

  40. Harry Clarke
    June 1st, 2004 at 18:12 | #40

    No it doesn’t lead to Tom N’s question. The standard claim is that altruism is local — we get more utility ourselves from our own kids than from other people. But this is utility that accrues to us as parents.

    And yep there are lots of other utilitarian virtues in having kids — more brains, more brawn, more Nicole Kidmans….

  41. Harry Clarke
    June 1st, 2004 at 18:32 | #41

    Been thinking this week of how to reconcile the Birrell et al finding that less low income women are getting up-the-duff while more high income women are doing the same. Seems inconsistent with Becker at first sight.

    But just a mix of price and income effects I think. High income women have a high opportunity cost of having kids but a good chance of snaring a decent splash of unearned income from a high income spouse. Low income women (with as Birrell notes low levels of partnering) have a low opportunity cost of having kids but no unearned income at all apart from unmarried mothers benefits.

    Nearly there but why did low income women partner more and reproduce more in the not so distant past? Why did the mix of income and substitution effects shift?

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