Fewer kids is the new normal
“Which country will be the first to strike a medal for women who produce large families?” asked Janice Turner. Given the frantic efforts of many nations to reverse their plunging birth rates, it’s a plausible idea. In Hungary, where fertility is now under 1.5 live births per female—2.1 births are needed to sustain population levels—IVF is free and mothers of four are awarded lifelong exemptions from income tax. Russia (1.8) hands out “cash for kids” bonuses. But money won’t persuade “pesky” modern women to have more than one kid, if that. They find motherhood boring, expensive, and limiting, and “regardless of culture, religion, or race,” when women get the chance to have fewer kids, “they seize it.” Scandinavian countries, where families enjoy free preschool and generous parental leave, are experiencing the same phenomenon: Birth rates in Sweden (1.85), Denmark (1.76), and Iceland (1.75) are all in decline. Even Catholic countries like Italy (1.32) and Ireland (1.8), once fertility powerhouses, have lapsed, perhaps because the women there remember their grandmothers as “worn-out husks at 60.” Only poor countries with extreme gender inequality—such as Somalia (6) or Niger (6.9)—still have booming populations. The rest of us must just accept the fact that ours are shrinking, feel glad that it’s good for the environment, and find a way to manage the decline.