Tuesday, April 04, 2006

Yglesias gets it.

Checking out Matt Ygelsias' blog, I see he has a fertility related post in which he makes the following observation:

Instead, French economic policy can't be family friendly, according to Jonah [Goldberg], because French fertility rates are low. I'm not totally sure what that has to do with anything, and would be inclined to observe that they're back on the upswing anyway. Jonah, however, has a rebuttal to this:

Also, just to head off a rebuttal, it is true that France's fertility rate has ticked up slightly in the last few years, but it's worth noting that these changes coincided with the -- albeit slight -- liberalization of France's economy. The wonderful framily friendly policies Krugman endorses were implemented decades ago and were followed by by an enormous plunge in babymaking.

Now we're being silly. Here's the France chart and here's the America chart. Both show a giant decline in fertility between 1960 and 1980 that was part of a systemic, West-wide cultural shift and has nothing to do with the contrasting economic policies of the two countries. America's fertility rate is higher in 2005 (2.11 versus 1.89) but America's was higher in 1955 as well (3.45 versus 2.73). So, to sum up, the two countries post-1960 economic policies diverge, but both countries see a decline in fertility and Americans always had more babies than French people, so these things are probably unrelated. The long run trend is toward converging fertility rates, not diverging ones and insofar as Hispanic women in America assimilate to white American norms they will further converge.
Yglesias points out the same thing I've been pointing out: differences in fertility rates between America and Europe aren't that significant, they're both very low by historical standards, and over the last several decades, they've been converging and will most likely continue to converge. That makes drawing grand pronouncements over these differences, either as a matter of judging current policy or for making future predictions, downright silly.

One thing that gets me though: What is it with the Right's obsession over birth rates anyway? It's as if they find making babies to be the great measure of a nation, the idea that a country's virility and moral righteousness can be gauged by how often the men impregnate the women. (In which case it's strange that they don't worship Africa for its "family-friendly" birth rates.) Perhaps the Right is so caught up with the idea that ethnic identity dominates one's being, they're convinced that the future character of humanity will be determined solely by who out-breeds whom. Perhaps it's a throw-back to Social Darwinism (the only kind of Darwinism right-wingers like) whereby those who breed fastest and out-last their enemies are considered superior by definition. Hence, it's a matter of biological bragging rigthts: We're superior than those socialist Europeans because we meet the Darwinian definition of greater fitness. Whatever the cause of this obsession, it's disturbing.

One cool thing though, I now know of a great new source, Globalis, that could have saved me some effort had I known about it before.

My past demographics posts:

One Baby, Two Baby, Red Baby, Blue Baby

Abortion, Smortion.

More on Welfare and Fertility