Bizarrely and damagingly, concern about falling fertility rates is dismissed as a conservative ‘thing’. The issue should, of course, be of concern to everyone. A rapidly ageing population is going to mean enormous health and pension costs for a diminishing younger population combined with growing labour shortages, even allowing for immigration.
Liberals seem to suspect that conservative worries about below replacement level fertility rates are really a disguise for the ‘real’ conservative wish, which is to push women out of the workplace and back into the home. Therefore, rather than confront the gigantic and worsening problem of falling fertility, they ignore, or even celebrate it.
But a new paper tries to show that on at least two of the grounds which liberals usually care most about, namely choice and fairness, falling fertility ought to concern them.
The paper is by Colin Brazier and it’s published by the Alliance for Responsible Citizenship. (He addresses the specific question of liberal attitudes to fertility in the second half of his paper).
Brazier writes that for years, the pro-choice concerns of liberals meant they did everything they could to facilitate the wish of women (and men) not to have children, or to have fewer children. But today, many women (and men) are having less children than they want. He calls this the ‘baby gap’.
He points out that in America, adults want 2.73 children on average, but in practice are having 1.73. (The replacement level fertility rate is 2.1 children per couple).
Brazier argues that as a result, “the truly unrealised choice is the choice to have, not to avoid having, a child”.
In Britain, the Social Market Foundation has argued that helping people to have the number of children they want can easily be put in impeccably liberal, pro-choice terms. Liberals can then put more of their energies into devising policies that enable couples to realise their goals. Family planning is traditionally associated with having fewer children, but a truly liberal family planning policy aims to help people have the number of children they desire, which is more than they are having in practice.
Brazier also says that low fertility rates violate the principle of fairness. An unfair, and maybe even impossible burden is placed on a shrinking number of young people to look after an ever-growing number of older people. This, he says, is against social justice.
Those young people will also find themselves outvoted at election time with no democratic means of remedying their situation.
This is why, he argues, liberals need to become far more concerned about low fertility rates, because they mean people are not achieving their family planning goals, and in the medium-to-long term the result will be growing societal unfairness, especially for the young.
Falling fertility rates should be a concern across the ideological divide.