Saturday, June 04, 2011

USA Today discusses Census reports on lower birthrates; suburbia showing declines

On Friday June 3, USA Today ran a major story on the Census Bureau’s 2010 analysis of birthrates, titled in print “In many neighborhoods, kids are only a memory; declining birthrates are reshaping suburbia”, link here. The story is by Haya El Nasser and Paul Overberg.

The story focuses on Levittown, PA (near Philadelphia), but the theme of the story applies to most suburban upper middle class (formerly white) neighborhoods in the country.

The findings are attributed to both economic hard times, and cultural influences. People wait longer to have children so that both partners finish educations and get careers going, running out the biological clock, even for men, to its “two minute warning”. But the legal system places enormous responsibilities solely on parents based on the concept that having children is an individual choice that incurs full individual responsibility. That seems true, but it can be deceptive. In past generations, there was considerable cultural pressure on most adults to marry and have children, and that is likely to return as a result of sustainability concerns. Some economists point out that a higher birth rate could help economic recovery, especially in communities losing population, and could lead to more innovation. Even in a legal system predicated on freedom to contract and responsibility for contract (and bringing parenting into this concept), more pressure could be put by the market or various social factors on others to participate in family formation and role modeling than has been evident in the past two or three decades. For example, it may be easier for the insurance industry to work with larger family units than with individuals in the future. (To some extent that has been true already; singles often pay higher auto insurance rates than married.)

Here's a PBS video report on the Census findings a few months ago (published data).

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