A recent story in Utah had a lot to say about lower fertility rates in the state, and the need for better policies “[i]f we’re really serious about being pro-natal and wanting people to have children . . . . “ The article used an example of one young woman as an example, citing women seeking higher levels of education and entering the workforce, of the underlying problem.
This study is exemplified in 28-year-old, Lauren Steadman. She has her master’s degree in information science and a well-paying job. Although she wants to be a mother someday, she’s forgone that life goal in order to be more financially secure. “My husband and I made a deliberate decision to wait until we have kids later specifically after school, after we were established in our careers,” said Steadman. Steadman also plans to have two to three children, a few less than her mother had. “(I have) no plans as of now to quit my job and stay at home,” said Steadman. Steadman says although she may change her mind when she has children, as of now, she plans to continue to work. She plans to either put her children in daycare or hire a nanny.
Higher Housing Costs
One of the reasons for lower fertility rates notes by the article is the price of housing, but that’s a result of increasing population and demand. Larger families won’t help reduce housing prices – though the housing industry is all for pronatal policies and the higher prices it brings. Will it otherwise help women like Lauren?
Waiting To Have Kids
One of the reasons fertility rates have fallen drastically around the world involves gender equality. Women with one child can experience motherhood as well as other things in life, rather than the more monochrome life of constant motherhood. Parents waiting to have kids in order to attain high education also benefits their future children. Short term pronatal incentives designed to override longer term thinking might not be the best way to help women like Lauren.
How Kids Are Affected
Will kids benefit from policies meant to increase family size? Utah ranks well in the nation for overall child welfare, but is one of the worst states in the U.S. for child abuse and neglect (especially sexual abuse). How do policies that simply to try to arbitrarily push for higher fertility rates prevent more creating abuse and neglect? Would investing in improving child welfare, rather than investing in creating more kids, be a better approach? More broadly, Utah’s kids are concerned about climate change – recently urging state legislators recently to do something about it, and the fact is that large families are the worst way to exacerbate climate change, and worsen other environmental impacts that have disparate impacts on children, like air pollution. Environmental threats like climate change are not just about protecting the environment – they determine social outcomes, and now present a threat to U.S. national security
Who’s Behind The Fertility Push?
As the article notes, Utah continues to have the highest fertility rate in the U.S., youngest population, earliest age at first marriage, and largest household size in the nation. If women and kids don’t necessarily benefit from such policies, who will? Big business loves Utah. The state consistently ranks highest in the nation for catering to business, in part because its population growth rate ensures a good supply of cheap labor, weak unions, and tax and regulatory policies that disfavor workers. Beyond Utah, big businesses like Toys “R” Us, which blamed women’s lower birth rate for falling sales and their eventual closure. Businesses push women to have kids because they benefit from population growth while always pushing the costs forward, in what U.N. chief likened to a Ponzi scheme robbing future generations.
A Better Solution
What would be the best policy for Lauren and women like her? One alternative to the growth model, and the parent-centered policies that promote it, is the child-first Fair Start model. It treats the trend to lower fertility rates for what it is: the evolution of our species towards more sustainable families that can invest more in, and better develop and protect, each child. The Fair Start model is simple: Child-first family planning means parents working with their communities to get the resources they need to give their child a fair start in life, with equal opportunities relative to the child’s peers. It also means planning a smaller family so that parents and others can invest more in each child. Whether the average woman in the world chooses larger families or the Fair Start model will change world population by billions in the decades to come, as well as determine who future generations become. Will we be workers and consumers in massive, unequal and unsustainable economies, or educated and empowered citizens in functional and sustainable democracies? The fight for the future is on, though few would ever recognize it. Planning smaller and more sustainable families liberates parents, kids and the community. More time for parents, more resources for kids, and a better us going forward.
Giving up growth will not be easy. We feed off of ignoring minimum standards of child welfare, fair starts in life, protecting our kids future environment because doing so brings us easy wealth.
But if we love our kids we will change our ways. Take action here to start.