Healthy Living

Low Birth Rate Trends Suggest Americans Could Be Happier With Fewer Children

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Can smaller families make for a happier country? Photo courtesy of Shutterstock

Many countries in Europe and Asia are experiencing zero, or even a negative, population growth. Although the birth rate in America isn’t going down, it’s also not increasing either. While at first this decline in population growth may seem unsettling, a recent study from the University of California, Berkeley suggests that a slight decline in population growth may actually lead to an increase in the overall standard of living.

Fundamentally, humans are meant to do only three things: breathe, eat, and reproduce. However, in modern times, man’s list of possibilities are nearly endless, and somehow reproduction has become increasingly less important. In order to maintain the current population, every person must leave one offspring behind in their place, putting the human “replacement rate” at 2.1 offspring per mother. However, researchers from Berkeley have suggested the key to happiness may be national birth figures slightly under the replacement rate.

While having far under the replacement rate is associated with a decline in a country’s living standard, why would women having slightly under the replacement rate actually lead to an overall increased standard of living? “Higher fertility imposes large costs on families because it is they, rather than governments, that bear most of the costs of raising children. Also, a growing labor force has to be provided with costly capital such as factories, office buildings, transportation, and housing," explained lead researcher Ronald Lee in a press release.

According to the Population Reference Bureau, the U.S. population growth is slowly declining, and Time reported that last year’s birth record hit an all-time low. It’s believed that this decline is largely due to declines in immigration, more women in the workforce, and more millennials putting off childbirth until later in life. But based on this study, a falling birth rate is not something Americans need to be afraid of. It may, in fact, lead to greater happiness in the long run.

Even though lower fertility rates result in overall more happiness, many governments throughout the world are urging citizens to have more children. This is because population growth actually benefits governments in the long run. The report pointed out that high birth rates give governments a constant workforce, maintain the tax base needed to fund pensions, health care, and elderly benefits.

Unfortunately, all the expense that comes from raising these extra children falls largely on the parents without much assistance from the government, the study found. The researchers suggest that rather than urge citizens to have more children, governments should instead “adjust their polices to accommodate inevitable population.”

While the study does suggest that most countries would benefit from couples giving birth to fewer children, this does not exactly mean that families cannot grow through adoption. “An additional child, whether adopted or biological, would reduce the family 'standard of living' in a narrow economic sense, but could well make the family better off in the broader sense of including their pleasure from the additional child,” explained Lee to Medical Daily in an email. According to AdoptUSKids, more than half a million children enter U.S. foster care every year, and currently around 104,000 of these children are waiting to be adopted.

Source: Lee R, Mason A members of the NTA Network. Is low fertility really a problem? Population aging, dependency and consumption. Science. 2014.

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