Why This Topic? U.S. Under or Over populated?https://youtu.be/XA0X6J3yDrY
When I started this project, I thought I was going to explore overpopulation and human impact on the environment. Human impact changes our world greatly, and not always for the better. Our species has advanced to where we can detect and predict weather patterns, which is pretty amazing, but our advanced technology also damages our planet’s ecosystems, biodiversity, and climate. When narrowing my focus to a single country, I found that the U.S. has more than tripled its population size over the course of the 20th century. America’s industrialization has created technological advancements such as burning fossil fuels for energy, contributing to severe air pollution, and ultimately causing global warming. The U.S. population compounded with a detrimental demand volume makes overpopulation increasingly catastrophic.
Although the vision of this topic seems legit, a surprising thing happened: I discovered that the birth rate in the U.S is decreasing even though the total population is going up, but this is due to immigration balancing with birth rates. While still interested in U.S population, but in need of supporting evidence, I decided to change my topic to decreasing birth rates in the U.S.
Decreasing birth rates is a problem because lower birth rates results in a larger gap between the old and young population, leading to economic struggle. Not including immigration, population in the U.S. is quite a political outcast. However, in recent years U.S. birth rates have become a problem that needs to be discussed. From 2000 to 2014, the average age of first time mothers has increased with the age of first birth mothers increasing from 24.9 years in 2000 to 26.3 years in 2014(CDC). In the past there has been rises in births rates, for example, the baby boomers spike post World War II; The U.S. birth rate has been on an inconsistent, but overall decline for generations(world bank). The U.S. birth rate is calculated using data from the documented women in the country, and this includes teen pregnancies. For mothers under 35, 20-23 years, dropped 4% in 2016, but these changes don’t end there. In 2016, mothers 35-44 increased by 1%(CDC). Although the increase in percentage might seem confusing given that the topic is decreasing birth rates, but the mothers are at older ages, which means that women are waiting longer to have children, and consequently decreasing the rate of birth.
These statistics provoke a challenging overarching question; What is causing this decrease in birth rates?, also leading me to my following essential questions. What future problems will formulate if no initiative is taken? What have other countries done about this sort of problem? How does one/the government make people have more children without being forceful? Through my research I wish to quench my curiosity about the United States’ population situation, and if not find, come up with viable solutions that are both reasonable and effective, especially for a problem that requires not just the initiative of others, but the life time commitment and immense sacrifice of couples.
Hopes for a Populated future: Diving into solutions for the falling birthrate
America’s total fertility rates, the “statistical measure of how many children each woman is likely to have over her lifetime”(Shah), is currently at an approximate 1.9 children, under the replacement level of 2.1 children needed to keep the population stable through natural increase, not including immigration. This fertility rate translates to a birth rate of 12.5 per 1000 population(CDC). Since 1960 the U.S birth rate has consistently decreased and never been the same despite occasional upturns, and after 2007 there has been a more consistent fall(Index Mundi).
The decrease in birth rate since 2007 was caused by a mixture of events that has and will cause various problems for America. Stewart Friedman, a professor of management at Wharton School, University of Pennsylvania, conducted a study in 1992 and found that 78% of graduating students said that they planned on having kids(Alcorn). In 2012, Friedman continued that study with the students of the new generation and found that only 42%, about half of the previous students planned on having children. Many young adults in America are choosing to have fewer children. Millennials have more anxiety about their future because many started college during the Great Recession of 2008/7 and graduated with an enormous of student debt. While birth rates are falling, life expectancy is increasing, enlarging the gap between young and old. This gap increase is perceived to decrease the working age population with a corresponding increase in dependency of the elderly(Sharing Demographic Risk—Who Is Afraid of the Baby Bust?). Lower fertility/birth rates lead to many problems especially for regions with less dense populations. Cuyahoga County in Northeast Ohio, Cleveland, is seeing the impact. The number of births in the county was approximately 13,800 in 2013, down from nearly 19,000 in 2000(Shah). “[This] Cleveland suburb has roughly half the students it did in the 1970s — resulting in the closing of several elementary schools over the past few years”(Shah). Lower fertility/birth rates is predicted to cause other economic failures because fewer children leads to a smaller workforce to support the economy, lower tax paying base, less purchasing of diapers, food, school, school supplies, and homes to acclimate to larger/growing families(Shah).
While researching, I found reporters from well-known news sources like the New York Times, BBC, CDC that have identified the problem of falling birth rates, and the New York Time’s Katrina Alcorn, provided a solution. Alcorn made the point that Americans “need to reshape some basic policies and cultural attitudes to allow millennials (and other generations to come) who want to be parents to see a way to make that part of their life plan.” During Alcorn’s interview with Stewart Friedman, Friedman explained that Americans “need top executives to be role models and show young people that it’s possible to have a life outside of work. Americans need to break the “culture of overwork,” remove the stigma that says a flexible schedule equals low ambition, and create alternative career paths that allow people to “ramp down” during caregiving years, and ramp up again when they’re ready”(Alcorn). Unfortunately, there has been no action solving this issue, and Friedman’s solution relies on the choices of others which they are entitled to with no legal obligation to change. The U.S. recognizes that although childbearing is important and “will continue to partner with governments, the private sector, international and non-governmental organizations to improve health outcomes”(U.S department of state diplomacy), “The U.S. does not endorse population “stabilization” or “control.” The “ideal” family size should be determined by the desires of couples, not governments. The U.S. strongly opposes coercive population programs” either to increase or decrease overall population(U.S. Department of state diplomacy).
For The U.S “Achieving a healthy and educated world population is an important U.S. strategic objective”(Bureau of public affairs). Although the U.S. is globally active in supporting education, the health of individuals and families, America needs more reformation for our own natal norms and policies. Currently the U.S. family leave policy does not have national standards on paid family leave, which means that employers do not have to offer paid maternity/paternity leave. For young adults suffering from student debt, this policy prevents them from being able to have children until they are more financially stable later in life.
New York Times’ Katrina Alcorn has provided a quite intriguing solution; Alcorn pointed out that Americans “need to reshape some basic policies and cultural attitudes.” Alcorn later provided more detail describing that Americans “need top executives to be role models and show young people that it’s possible to have a life outside of work. We need to break the “culture of overwork,” remove the stigma that says a flexible schedule equals low ambition, and create alternative career paths that allow people to “ramp down” during caregiving years, and ramp up again when they’re ready.” Alcorn pointed out a viable solution, however, her solution relies the initiative of top executives who project the norm that wealth is the goal of life instead of healthy families and communities. A movement that would be beneficial in counteracting the existing norm is the slow food movement. The slow food movement is a movement that promotes traditional cooking which forces people to their own food, and have more sit down meals, deterring the norm of a fast pace working society. Another major solution is government mandated vacation. Government mandated vacation days is also another way of forcing adults to slow down their lives, giving them more time for children. Additional governmental reforms that would give young adults more incentive to have children is paid family leave along with job protection when taking said leave. The most significant solution that government implemented is help paying education loan because that is leading cause to young adults financial insecurity, which makes it impossible to support children. Implementing better child care policies to lower child care expenses, and initiating more day care services would greatly contribute to overall incentive to have children. To be sure I am not suggesting that Americans start aiming for 10 kids, what I am talking about is keeping replacement rate levels and communities healthy to stabilize the size of each generation.