Reproduction, Income, and the Future
by Mike Kimel
Reproduction, Income, and the Future
A comment on a post at EconLog, a very libertarian website…
I can say that in my lifetime, I have not earned enough money for me to have kids. I’m 36. I know some have had kids on my income or less but it certainly is not enough money for me. I can’t imagine how it would have been if I had kids.
And this comment on a post by Paul Krugman, on the liberal side of the spectrum:
I personally have never had the stability in my life where I thought it was okay for me to go off and spawn a family the way my parents did beginning in 1953. My father worked hard, and loved to work, had good employment and good pay, without a college degree.
Where as, he sent me to private schools, I got honor roll grades, bachelors degree, doctorate degree, I re-engineered manufacturing systems at some of America’s largest companies, but still I never felt secure in my employment, nor was I.
I am unemployed now, as I was in 2010, as I was in 2006, as I was in 1991, as I was for a time in 1984, 1983 and 1982 – when I graduated.
The current generation is facing a geometrically greater challenge than I did. So I can see why traditional family life is in decline.
Interesting how the problem is the framed the same way at different ends of the political spectrum. I note that this framing also fits my life – my wife and I got married late and had one child (one and done) very late. Economic worries were a big part of the decision making process. On paper, my wife and I are doing relatively well financially, but we are extremely aware that a job loss – something that has become extremely common in recent years – or one financial mis-step could mean the difference between whether our son will have far greater opportunity in life than either my wife or I did growing up, or far less opportunity. There doesn’t seem to be much in-between. In talking with my parents, they also seem to believe outcomes are more stark for families today. Many of my friends tell me the same thing. And when I talk to people ten or twenty years younger than I, in general, their costs seem to be higher than those I faced, and the potential opportunities fewer.
The result is that most people I know within ten years of my age have between zero and two kids. While there are exceptions, in general, people I can name with three or more kids either are in the top 2% or so, income-wise (and most of them are in finance or have inherited wealth or both), or are well below the median. (Note – I went looking for data on number of children by income level in the US but couldn’t find any.) I wonder if that’s a portent of things to come, and what it implies for the stability of society going forward.
Even without seeing the data, we can surmise that the future belongs to “the under-class,” who will be providing the majority of voters since they are the most prolific.
Being poor, fear of poverty is not the attitudinal obstacle it is for the middle class. Nor do they expect their children to have it better. So they are not concerned about having many children.
Therefore, it looks like the middle is opting itself out by barely replacing itself.
This reference shows family size by income level. While not exactly number of children by income level, it shows that family size increases as income level increases.
3 and almost 4 kids and not in the upper 2 or even 5%. We gambled on working and I hit the streets each recession or every ten years. My wife stayed home and we did not own a boat, new cars (except every 10 years), a McMansion expensive clothes, etc. Thank god for credit and being able to work with my hands chipping wood, gaffing up trees, weed whipping, cutting grass, etc. for cash.
I do not recommend it for anyone. I also have 4 degrees with the highest being a Masters. If anything I was a survivor and I taught my three the same. I feel bad for the next generation as the jobs are not coming forth as they did when I was young. it is extremely important for more job creation to occur otherwise we are dooming the next generation after my own.
However I will say this, the fastest growing minority are Hispanics who will be ~50% of the population by 2050. The richer 5% of the population will not own the vote, Hispanics will. I am also not so sure, the aging population will be as bad as long as we reproduce at 2.1 and allow xenophobia-free immigration. It is with those two occurences will we have a future.
A few of my peers (males) just started familes in their late 40’s. Of course their wives are younger. Will they be working into their 70’s to fund their kids’ grad education? Look around you. Older couples with young kids that are theirs, not their grandkids. Freaky.
Its the opting out of the middle class that concerns me too.
I suspect the table is showing not the number of kids by income group, but rather the increased probability that the household has two adults in it. (i.e., the lowest income households might typically look like a single person with, on average, one child – the higher income households would typically look like a married couple with one point x kids)
We too don’t buy new cars, nor do we have a boat. We live well below our means and plow what we can into my wife’s small business which is our way of saving as thus far we’ve never had to touch the income from that business. And we have only one kid.
But we worry about potential job loss. We worry about making economic decisions. We sweat the details in a way neither my wife’s parents nor mine ever did.
Our fears for the future are not good for the economy. Knowing that one bad move or one prolonged bout of unemployment can make for a severely restricted retirement and impact our ability to provide for our son’s education makes us very cautious. With so much at stake, we don’t take the sort of risks necessary to grow my wife’s business at more than a snail’s pace. Multiply that by however many middle class Americans who are feeling insecure and you have a lot of ventures that never got launched.
We had ours in our early 40s. But our kid doesn’t have an “off” button. We’re definitely too old for this nonsense…
Move to Europe — problem solved.
It reminds me of the relationship between owners and workers. Businesses need customers, and all of them would benefit if they all paid their workers eough to be good customers, but each individual will try to maximize profits by paying workers less. We would be in big trouble if everyone decided not to have kids, but a lot of us are insecure about being the ones to be responsible for bringing new workers into the world.
My father keeps saying we should learn a Scandinavian language. Somehow Portuguese and Spanish just don’t cut it…
I think the difference is that the number one concern of the folks not having kids is that they don’t feel like they’re in a position to bring up the children properly. Put another way – the children’s interests come first. Depending on the business and who is running it, workers are at best another stakeholder and at worst a cost center.
In Canada, and the US too, I think, the rate of “natural increase” (native born children) is well below replacement and has been for quite some time now. Yet the population in both countries is increasing — up here at about 1% a year.
What’s up with that? Why, the manufacturing of new North Americans has been outsourced to other countries.
My parents could not afford children. Fortunately they didn’t worry about the economics.
Mike has a valid point. Anxiety is not good for us, nor is it good for the economy.
Our economy has been hijacked by the “high earners” and probably won’t get better before it gets much much worse.
But humans will still reproduce.
None of this is “universal.” Some will feel like Mike. Some will do like Bill H. I was more like Bill… but that was an earlier time when i did not have as much anxiety about decent jobs as i have today.
as for the growing population among the poor and among the hispanic… don’t count on that helping. vast populations of dirt poor will be just fine with our current rulers. It has been the normal state of human affairs with the brief exception of post world war two america and parts of europe.
find a way not to be “too old.” it will be the best thing you ever did.
it was pretty hard for me when i was twenty. and though it’s not the same thing, i now have an old dog who needs much the same kind of care as a baby. i am finding i can deal with it pretty well.
Years ago I volunteered for a literacy program and, it being in Phoenix, most of our clients were ESL learners. I was in my early 30s at the time and was tutoring a pair of cousins from Mexico, one of whom was 19 and the other 21. Both were mothers. I’ll never forget the shock on their faces when they asked me if I had kids and I said no and that I didn’t want any. The very concept of refusing parenthood was inconceivable to them, which I found to be shocking and sad.
sad for them or for you?
What is the optimal population of the world and what is the government’s role in achieving it?
This is a totally fun question to think about and one that provokes a lot of unique answers.
Note that the only rich nations with above-replacement birthrates are Israel and Saudi Arabia. No nation has found a way to maintain a stable population when confronted with secularism and birth-control.
i think we passed the optimal population a century ago or more.
but i don’t want to see a world where the government has a role in achieving it.
not that it won’t happen.
Tom HIckey is right.
the poor do not have an “attitudinal obstacle” to having children. having many children has always been the (darwinian) response to poverty.
just like “having more” has always been the (darwinian) response to being rich.
The US still repoduces at 2.1 children per. The Median age is ~35 years and we are a younger nation than European nations. Much of both is the result of immigration both legal and illegal. The entire US population lives on 5% of the US land mass and not ideally located (300 Million and Counting Joel Garreau).
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