Are childrens' car seats driving down the fertility rate in America?
Jonathan V. Last sees car seats as part of a "huge constellation of factors in modern life" that "nudge" people toward having fewer children, he said during an interview about his book, What to Expect When No One’s Expecting: America’s Coming Demographic Disaster.
Last said car seats effectively create a small "tax on people who want to have more than two kids" by making it harder to fit three kids into a normal sedan, which encourages parents to buy a larger car. This penalty may not dissuade people who already want more children from having them but it makes it "slightly harder to have big families."
Last also noted there are other factors that have a measurable impact on fertility. Social Security and Medicare have dropped America’s fertility by about 0.5 births per woman, Last said. The safety net for the elderly has set up a "competing system" with the traditional role of families, where children take care of their elderly parents. Women’s education level measurably affects their fertility rates as well, he said.
"I am so not trying to tell people to have kids, it’s not even funny," said Last, who has three children under 5 (and who drives a minivan). He also said he is not scapegoating women for the drop in fertility rate.
However, "you have to honestly talk about what the consequences are" of modern life, Last argued.
He said a major effect of the decline in America’s fertility rate will be an inversion of what he called the "age pyramid": The elderly will outnumber the young. This inversion will cause economic stagnation, a loss of innovation, and a reduced defense budget to pay for entitlements.
Last cited an example from Japan, which he said is 30 years ahead of us demographically, in which the finance minister said the elderly should "hurry up and die" to relieve pressure on the country’s entitlement programs.
The finance minister, Last noted, did not lose his job.
Last said America’s debt is "tied up" in entitlements and pointed to problems in the assumptions governing the projections of the entitlements’ future.
The government is projecting fertility will stay at 2.0 births per woman, Last said—slightly higher than America’s current rate. The high variant in the government’s projections is 2.3, while the low is 1.7, Last said.
"It seems strange for demographers to assume that we can’t go below 1.7, because that’s a real possibility," he said. Japan’s fertility rate is about 1.4.
When asked what society can do to combat the declining fertility rate and the consequent demographic shift, Last’s initial reaction was simple.
"Put on some Barry White, get really drunk, and make some really bad decisions," he quipped.
He then gave a more sober response. "It is very, very difficult for government to achieve much change in the fertility rate at all except on the margins," Last said.
He said for every 25 percent the government increases its spending on pro-natalist programs, the fertility rate increases by 0.05. He also noted that while he opposes abortion, eliminating it through government fiat likely would not increase the fertility rate by very much.
He instead advocated for policies that remove "impediments so the culture can rejuvenate itself."
Last’s book, released on Tuesday, has already garnered attention. National Review posted a review of his book while the Wall Street Journal ran an essay by Last adapted from his book. Slate ran a feminist critique of the essay, which Last responded to on his blog.
Last is also giving a Bradley Lecture at the American Enterprise Institute on Feb. 11.
Last said he hopes the books sells well—"a bazillion copies" in his words—but he also said the potential attention did not drive him to write it.
"I didn’t write the book because I wanted it to have a big impact. I wrote it because I think it’s really interesting," he said.