Baby Nation

While other developed nations offer subsidies to women willing to have babies, the United States apparently needs no such incentive. A new estimate from the National Center for Health Statistics shows that the U.S. fertility rate hit 2.1 last year, "the first time since shortly after the baby boom ended that the nation has reached the rate of births needed for a generation to replace itself."

Just last year, Russian President Vladimir Putin directed his parliament to essentially bribe women to have children, in the form of a 10-year program offering financial incentives and subsidies to women willing to bear offspring.

Estonian women recently told one major American media outlet that they could afford to have and support children only with major financial subsidies from their government, which outpace by a long shot the country's average income.

And after years of subsidized day care and other indirect benefits, Japan recently witnessed a rise in its notoriously low fertility rate.

But here in the good old U.S. of A., the fertility rate hit a new high, without any push from the government. Why is this? On the light side, it could be that more Americans are marrying (and therefore procreating) for money.

More seriously, mass immigration, both legal and illegal, is clearly having a discernible impact, as immigrant women tend to have higher fertility rates than native-born Americans.

A demographer from the Population Reference Bureau told me that the most recent Census Bureau data show that native-born American women 40 to 44 have on average 1.8 children, while immigrant women average 2.2 children, which is a statistically significant difference.

What are the upsides of increased fertility and population? Economic growth, more young Americans to pay for Social Security and Medicare, more young people to care for the elderly, etc.

What are the downsides? Overdevelopment; sprawl; environmental degradation; competition for good jobs, education, and so on.

Are Americans willing to make the trade? It's a conversation we need to have.

By Bonnie Erbe