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“If you really want to be blown away by mothers, consider this: A working mom today spends almost as much time with her kids as a stay-at-home mom did in prelapsarian 1965,” writes Jonathan V. Last in his book, What to Expect When No One’s Expecting: America’s Coming Demographic Disaster.
It is no wonder modern parenting is so stressful. From rising college tuition to social pressures that make aspiring parents “feel like second-class citizens,” Americans are finding it increasingly challenging to have kids. And the timing couldn’t be worse: as the Boomers reach Social Security age, our society has more dependents and a shrinking workforce to support them.
This isn’t just an American problem. The Wall Street Journal’s new series Demographic Destiny explains how longer lifespans and decreased fertility threaten to stagnate the global economy.
The US is “comparatively lucky” because of its influx of immigrants that contribute to the labor force, writes Greg Ip in “How Demographics Rule the Global Economy.” But even that won’t be enough: “The biggest suppliers of immigrants to the U.S., such as Mexico and China, are themselves aging, and the cohort that traditionally sought a better life abroad is shrinking.”
What to do? China just got rid of its decades-long one child policy. Other countries are amping up benefits for working moms. But Last warns against the idea that the state can easily bribe people into having babies: “The government cannot get people to have children they do not want. However, it can help people have the children they do want.” From What to Expect When No One’s Expecting:
“…there’s no getting around the fact that if you have carefully ordered your life in such a way as to provide the maximum amount of pleasure for yourself, children won’t just change your life. They will utterly and completely destroy it. A few years ago the writer Jennifer Senior caused a minor sensation with a story about being a parent in New York Magazine. Her essay was titled ‘All Joy and No Fun.’ As another exhausted, downtrodden parent quipped to me after reading it, ‘Well, she has it half right.’ Yet Senior’s argument was more complicated than it looked. Her point was that in a world where pleasure is the highest value, children will never be attractive. But pleasure is a shallow goal and the well-examined life requires more. It demands seriousness of purpose. Nothing is more serious than having children.”
To fix the labor problem, young people need to have more babies. But even if more Americans undertake the serious business of parenting and reverse our demographic course, it will be decades before those children become employees. In the meantime, the world is going to have to deal with an increasingly geriatric workforce. Writes Ip: “Probably the most promising way to cope with an aging population is to encourage today’s workers to work longer. This has already been proven in Japan where 22% of those over 65 work compared with 18% in the U.S.” Here in America, that means type sizes will be enlarged, fashion-forward orthopedic shoe production will skyrocket, and retirements will be deferred.