Friday, August 09, 2019

Baby on the Shelf

Writing for NPR's Planet Money, journalist Greg Rosalsky brings to mind -- perhaps inadvertently -- the annoying Elf on the Shelf craze in his discussion of recent research in demographic economics. He begins his explanation of the current Baby-Less Recovery in the United States, by citing the tendency of some economists to put babies in the "durable goods" category, alongside cars and refrigerators.
This reporting draws on research that shows significant correlations between declines in birth rates and subsequent economic recessions. In other words, people anticipating economic put off baby-making early in economic slowdowns. They put, as it were, the baby on the shelf.

The research further finds that the sensitivity of potential parents to economic stress is far from uniform across demographic groups. For the first time, in fact, married women aged 30-34 are now the most likely to have children because they are less susceptible to economic woes than their younger sisters. For the first time, student loans are cited as a significant demographic factor. The pernicious ramifications of Grover Norquist's politics of austerity, in other words, are showing up in population figures.

The article is a good illustration of details that sometimes arise in discussions of the later phases of the demographic transition model. Broad patterns in population change result from fundamental shifts in the economy, from rural to urban, agricultural to manufacturing. Smaller but still significant shifts then occur as a result of important but less profound economic cycles or social changes.

I found this article via another story I had heard on air -- Less Sex, Fewer Babies: Blame The Internet And Career Priorities. In this lighthearted but very important segment, journalist Sam Sanders explores several reasons that the United States -- along with other economically prosperous countries -- faces a growing need for immigration. That's right: while politicians exploit xenophobic fears of migration in the short run, our current reliance on millions of immigrant workers (regardless of legal status) will only increase in coming decades.

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