Saturday, November 03, 2012

On birthrates

A deeply troubling report was released by the CDC.  CNS News summarizes:

More than 40 percent of all babies born in the country last year, the report said, were born to unmarried women.

This is very bad news.  Although this rate didn't change substantially from the previous year, we'll need to see a significant drop before optimism is warranted.  Anecdotally, there are no doubt plenty of good single parents, but they face almost insurmountable obstacles in trying to raise children without help.  The evidence is clear: single parenthood is disastrous for children.

So naturally we're going to spend much of our time arguing over whether or not the 1-2% of the population that is homosexual should be allowed to get married.  It's almost as America is a ridiculous nation.

The report continues:

However, among women 35-39 years old, [the birthrate] increased from 45.9 per 100,000 to 47.2. Among women 40-44, it increased from 10.2 to 10.3. And among women from 45-54, it held steady at 0.7 per 100,000.

These gains aren't substantial.  I could run the numbers to prove it, but that would require me to remember something from statistics, a class which I attended infrequently.  But if there is a story here, it's that Americans continue to have children later in life.  There are some very obvious reasons why this is a bad idea: younger people have more energy and are more durable, etc., but there's also a demographic angle that merits investigation.

Birthrate is useful metric, but it conflates dissimilar goods through the crudeness of its model.  A child born to a teenager is not the same as a child born to a forty year-old.  We can make this clear if we take two extreme sample populations: A, in which the women have, on average, 2 children, at an average age of 20; and B, in which the women also have, on average, 2 children, but at an average age of 40.

For the sake of simplicity, we'll assume that the children arrive precisely at the average date--so there is no variation in our sample, and everyone is, evidently, having twins.  This assumption is absurd, but it helps the model, and it doesn't detract from the point I wish to convey.  We'll also assume that people die precisely at the age of 80, and for the same reasons.

If we start each population with 100 people, and if I did my math right, the populations look like this over a century's time:

Year A B
0 100 100
20 200 100
40 400 200
60 800 200
80 1500 200
100 2800 200

Even though the birthrates are the same, population A is growing, while population B will remain stable at 200.  Now, the average progressive would look at this model and be amazed at the responsibility of population B--and be horrified at the rabbit-like behavior of population A. If it prevents them from having children, so much the better.

But the salient point is that not all births are created equal.  This is as heretical as it is logically sound.  A society thrives when its citizens are married before they have children, but it also thrives when these married people have children at a younger age.  Or, anyway, the population increases, which means that there are more younger works to pay into the bankrupt Social Security fund, and to pay taxes to fund Medicare and so forth.  And to maybe even help the economy grow.

It's important to pay attention to the birthrate, but the crude statistic can be misleading as well.  Just as GDP reflects the economic state of the country in question, so the birthrate gives some idea as to the nation's long term sustainability.  But only some idea.

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