Work, Marriage, Babies: Is this the Second Demographic Transition?

Multiple pieces came out over the past week, and they paint a fascinating, if not worrisome, picture.

I’m not an expert in much of the below, but even if you ignore my reflections, the data is worth pondering.

Trends in Work 

Timothy Taylor provides the below graphs.

Prime age male labor rate in the U.S. is down ~6 percentage points. France is crushing us.

Prime age female labor rate in the U.S. is plateauing. Woman in Japan, known for its patriarchal society, are now working as much as woman in the U.S.

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Trends in Marriage, Babies 

Nicholas Eberstadt reports: As of 2013, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, just over 40% of babies in the U.S. were born outside marriage.

He also points to Europe:

Now consider Europe, where the revolution in the family has gained still more ground. European demographers even have an elegant name for the phenomenon: They call it the Second Demographic Transition (the First being the shift from high birth rates and death rates to low ones that began in Europe in the early industrial era and by now encompasses almost every society).

He provides other data:

In Belgium the likelihood of a first marriage for a woman of reproductive age is now down to 40%, and the likelihood of divorce is over 50%. This means that in Belgium the odds of getting married and staying married are under one in five.

In Western Europe, nearly one home in three is already a one-person unit, while in autonomy-prizing Denmark the number exceeds 45%.

Nearly 32% of Libyan women in their late 30s were unmarried in 2006—20 times the percentage two decades earlier.

Non-expert Reflections

1. Wage subsidies, rather than increasing non-monetary welfare benefits, could increase labor participation in the United States. We could make it more lucrative to work and more painful to not work.

2. Perhaps government benefits (paid maternity and paternity leave, free daycare, etc.) could increase reproduction rates.

3. It’s unclear to me what will raise marriage rates. The fact that the well off in Europe have falling marriage rates, as do the poor in the United States, seems to indicate that marriage is as much a function of culture as it is of economics (or there are two very different economic conditions that lead to low marriage rates). Mike Petrilli thinks schools can help. Perhaps.

4. An interesting question is what a government’s role should be in influencing marriage and birthrates. My starting point is: not much. These are highly personal choices best left up to individuals. That being said, low birth rates, if not self-correcting, could potentially destroy a country’s economy – and potentially lead to much worse outcomes, such as civil unrest, war, and the toppling to the government. So perhaps governments should pay attention to birth rates.

5. Note: if the AI comes, the cost of reproduction could go to near zero, which could lead to sustenance level wages, which could lead to high labor participation rates.

6. I don’t know if the robots will marry or not. Given the nature of their reproduction, it seems unlikely.

7. Lastly, as my mother sometimes points out, I’m 35 years old and have no children. I’m clearly not doing my part to keep our nation’s reproduction rates up. Interestingly enough, I sometimes feel a little guilty about this. I generally enjoy life, and I feel like it would be a good thing to create more humans who also get the opportunity to enjoy life. In time, perhaps.

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