One of the aspects I have noticed as of late is that there doesn’t seem to be as many small children as their used to be. Now, when some people get these notions in their head, they don’t think much of it. Well, I decided to spend a few minutes to research the subject and try to make sense of what is happening to the apparent declining state of our youngest children.
According to the United States Census Bureau, the number of children age 5 and younger are becoming a smaller and smaller part of our community. In 2010, there were 1,829 of these youngsters in our community, by 2016 that number has estimated to drop to 1,361. That is a precipitous drop of nearly 26 percent. Basically in the period of six years, we have lost one of every four pre-kindergartners. To reinforce the point, in 2010, 20.3 percent of households in Troy had four or more people; that number has dropped to 16.9 percent by 2016. It’s pretty clear that those of child-rearing age are either: 1) not having children; or 2) not having as many children as previous generations.
And this societal problem isn’t just facing places like Troy, it’s facing communities all across the country. Across the country, the percentage of the population that is under age 5 fell from 6.9 percent to 6.2 percent from 2009 to 2016. The percentage of households with four or more people dropped from 25.1 percent to 23.8 percent.
So, what’s happening here?
Well, for a recent article, the New York Times commissioned a survey of nearly 1,900 men and women aged 25 to 40 to figure out why these individuals aren’t having kids, or not having more kids.
The results pretty much told us something we already knew: having children is expensive. The largest reason cited for individuals not having more children was that “child care is too expensive.” Other top reasons were that these individuals were “worried about the economy” and that they “can’t afford more children.” Issues of not enough or no paid family leave also were high on the list of individuals not having more children.
It’s been recently argued in many places that our nation’s young adults are facing an economically perilous world where the old methods of earning a good living don’t seem to work in the new economy.
Even though we are at near full employment, low wage jobs are still dominated by those young adults trying to make their way in the world. Add to this the pressure of high costs of housing and student loans, it’s no real surprise that young people aren’t in a hurry to settle down just to have another hungry mouth to feed.
But, the survey also found that there are more than just economic factors at play as well. The top reason that individuals gave for not wanting any children, were more social in nature. The largest reason this group gave nor having children was, “I want leisure time.” Other top reasons included “my career is a greater priority” and “no desire for children.”
The New York Times article quotes one of the participants, a 26-year old nurse from Michigan, who gave a very prescient response for not wanting children: “I would have the responsibility to raise this person into a functional and productive citizen, and some days I am not even responsible.”
Our society’s well-being largely depends on our young people’s ability and desire to have children. As silly (and maybe even as crass) as that might sound, it’s very true. With fewer people, there are fewer contributors to our economy, fewer taxpayers.
What does a “childless society” look like? Look no further than Japan. Rising life expectancy, urban overcrowding lead to a difficult economic time. The period of 1995 to 2010 was a black hole for Japan’s economy, when they struggled with zero (and even negative) interest rates and the country’s GDP fell by nearly 19 percent and real wages fell by 5 percent. Granted, not all of Japan’s problems can be blamed on not having children, but it certainly didn’t help.
William “Bill” Lutz is executive director of The New Path Inc. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.