Library of Congress
The whole world is officially turning into your bubbe.
From Iran to Russia to Japan and Romania, governments around the world are making your womb their business. Everyone is terrified because of the ongoing decline in the birth rate, which has dropped below replacement level and, if it continues as such, will lead to population shrinkage on a global scale.
The U.S. government has yet to launch any official campaign or policies to reverse the dropping birth rate here, but this doesn’t mean our 10% drop in recent years hasn’t incited a lot of hand-wringing among political conservatives. Fears include an economy stagnated by a disappearing workforce and an inability to sustain social security programs because there are not enough young folks paying for the older retirees.
But the new book “The Global Spread of Fertility Decline: Population, Fear, and Uncertainty,” by Michael S. Teitelbaum, a senior research associate at Harvard Law School, and Jay M. Winter, a professor of history at Yale, suggests we have nothing to worry about.
They argue that fertility decline has a number of benefits including more educational resources for children, less of an impact on our warming planet, and even more political and social stability as there are more opportunities for young adults. They also point out that low fertility can be slowed down or reversed through the creation of more support systems for families with children.
The success France and Sweden have had with slowing down their decline through programs like subsidized day care suggests that the reason parents are having less babies is because they simply don’t have the resources, time or money, to do so. The fact that the birthrate is declining faster in communities where women are more likely to work, including among liberals, and, by extension, non-Orthodox Jews, further proves this point.
One thing that surprises me about these discussions about birth rates, from either side, is how absent women’s voices are. The fact is, domestic work and child-rearing still largely fall into the hands of the woman of the house. I suspect that this means that women are more likely to be callingl the shots on the number of kids they will have.
Personally, I am not convinced that declining fertility rates are a problem we should be terribly occupied with right now. It seems way less urgent than global warming or sex trafficking, to name two. But if we are going to put this much effort into debating it and/or trying to reverse it, why not incorporate more data from and voices of the many women who decide to stop at two, or not have any at all.
As a woman who plans to stop at two, here’s my two cents: While more services for parents will no doubt help increase fertility rates, we also have to accept the massive psychological shift that women have undergone over the last hundred years. Us women know now, with certainty, that we are capable of doing much more than minding the house and kids after centuries upon centuries of being told otherwise. And now we want to do those things. The genie is out of the bottle, folks. It is going to take a whole lot of re-imagining the structure of our society before that genie can be compatible with a large brood.
Elissa Strauss has written for the Forward over a number of years. She is a regular contributor to CNN, whose work has been published in a number of publications including The New York Times, Glamour, ELLE, and Longreads.
The Whole World Is Your Bubbe