You really never know where a conversation on demographic trends will sprout up.
I recall a conversation I had nearly a decade ago in a London pub with some Italian classmates from my graduate program at the London School of Economics. After, perhaps, one pint too many, I decided to rile my new friends by suggesting that Italy’s low birthrate—one of the lowest in the world—was somehow due to a deficiency in Italian masculinity. Could it be that the heirs of Casanova had simply lost their mojo?
After a volley of curses and obscene gestures thrown my direction, one of the Italians informed the table that it was the fault of “my people” and their <expletive> Yankee birth control.
So yes, in addition to its uses as a research and forecasting tool, demographics can be used by immature male grad students to haze one another while drinking.
I remembered this story as I read a recent issue of The Economist. In “Virility Symbols”, The Economist notes that the American birthrate—long the pride of red-meat-eating Americans—had fallen below the level of France. France!
There are several ways to calculate birth rates, but the most common and easiest to conceptualize is the total fertility rate (TPR), or the number of children the average woman can expect to have over her lifetime. The replacement rate is 2.1 children; one child for each parent with a small allowance for mortality. The United States has held steady at this level for years, even while most of Europe and East Asia was well below it.
The Economist writes, “it comes as something of a shock to discover that in 2011 America’s fertility rate was below replacement level and below that of some large European countries. The American rate is now 1.9 and falling. France’s is 2.0 and stable. The rate in England is 2.0 and rising slightly.”
America’s birth dearth coincided with the 2008 crisis and the economic dislocations that followed. As The Economist continues,
Recession seems to have reduced fertility through at least two channels. First, migrants often cannot find work and go back home. Since they tend to have slightly larger families than native-born citizens, this reduces fertility…
Second, loss of income, compounded by the housing crisis, is causing young people to postpone marriage, the setting up of new homes, and having children. In 2011 the Pew Research Centre asked 18-to-34-year-old Americans about their reaction to recession: 22% said they had postponed having a baby and 20% said they had postponed marriage as a result.
Young Americans will start procreating again. It is inevitable. The record births of 2007 were primarily to Generation X mothers, and we should remember that Generation X is significantly smaller than the Baby Boomers that preceded them and the Echo Boomers that came after them. As a generation, the front end of the Echo Boomers is just now turning 30 and the bulk of them are still in college. We have another baby boom coming, and the implications for everything from starter houses to shopping malls are enormous.
Still, in the meantime, Americans might have a few bruises on their collective national ego. As The Economist concludes, there is no “profound transatlantic difference between virile Americans and flaccid Europeans.”
This article is an excerpt of Part II of the August 2012 issue of the HS Dent Forecast.
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