Friday, December 21, 2012

Older parents are also part of the "demographic winter" issue


I’m putting this on the International blog first, a reference to an article in The New Republic by Judith Shulevitz, “The Grayest Generation: Older parenthood won’t just redefine the American family; it will upend society, too”, on p. 9 of the December 20, 2012 issue, link.  Yes, this is a good one to buy hard-copy and read on the Metro.

The crux of the article is that all over the developed world, people are having children much later, often to wait until both parents have finished education and are individually competitive in the job market.  The risks when women have children later in life are well known, but there are also issues with older fathers with “older sperm”.  There is a greater likelihood that children born of much older parents will have genetic and “epigenetic” issues, particularly various forms of autism, particularly in boys.  (I hope she doesn’t see homosexuality as an epigenetic handicap, but there is increasing evidence that sons after first one are more likely to be gay, and this may be found to relate to parent age.) 

The reason that this is “international” is that over time, programs in Europe that encourage having children do work, with a 25 percent increase in fertility in ten years for every ten percent increase in benefits. She criticizes Sweden’s program as less successful because it ties benefits to what a parent had been making before.

People have fewer children or have children later because, as she says, having kids represents an “opportunity cost”.  I would disagree with her to a point and say that the opportunity cost can be incurred by men as well.   And there is a problem of logic: you can’t provide benefits to people having children without asking the childless to help pay for them or even sacrifice for them (as in Elionor Burkett’s 2000 book, “The Baby Boon”, discussed on the Books blog March 28, 2006).  That also links up to questions about same-sex marriage and parenting, and the extent to which gay couples should be encourage to adopt.  The proposed ban in Russia on allowing American adoptions suddenly seems relevant potentially to gay couples.  

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