As a bit of a demographic loser – I’m not the only one in these parts – I tend to be drawn to articles that attempt to explain why humans appear to be the first species in history purposely choosing extinction. The WSJ Online had an article brushing on this topic from the perspective of an American living in Germany. However, before I could get to the author’s explanation on why our family trees are turning into inverted pyramids, I was taken aback a bit by the opening paragraph….
BERLIN—My three-year-old daughter has just returned from a five-day trip with her Kita, or preschool, to the countryside. This would be unheard of back home, where helicopter-parenting is de rigeur. But I appreciate the less-fearful attitude of German parents who shun constant supervision of their children
As the father of a four-year-old girl, I am a little shocked by the notion of sending a child at such a young age off on some state-run, week-long field trip. I probably tend to spoil my kids a bit – I view the trips to Toys R Us as a better bet on securing me retirement lodging than my IRA – but I don’t see myself as a “helicopter parent” and don’t think it is a sign of a helicopter parent to think that toddlers are better off spending their nights with family than with their public school out in the countryside. Not to harp on what occurred 80 years ago, but I would have thought Germany would have learned that sending young kids on government-organized trips away from home was not the best of ideas.
Anyway, once I got past the first couple sentences, I was less surprised and simply unimpressed with the article’s conclusions and prescriptions around child policies. The author, Michele Faguet, references the grim reality of current German demographic trends….
Their anxiety has become more acute in recent years because of Germany’s low birth rate: At about 1.4 children per woman, it guarantees a shrinking workforce. One economist has even forecast the potential disappearance of the German people within 300 years.
And later suggests the U.S., which sports significantly higher fertility rates – though falling – than Germany, should emulate German policy, if not all the social norms, regarding families….
I happen to believe the U.S. could learn a lot from the German model of state support for childcare and healthcare as well as its more relaxed style of parenting. Given the number of American families I see living in Berlin, there are a lot of parents who probably agree. At the same time, it would be nice to experience the joys and challenges of parenthood in a more tolerant and friendly social environment where a helping hand or a kind word from a stranger is the rule rather than the exception.
Other than how to reach extinction incrementally faster, based on the numbers, I’m not clear exactly what the U.S. could learn from the German model. On the other hand, I don’t think the U.S. – or any other industrialized country – has the answer as to how to achieve at least a replacement birthrate level.
One may think “Who cares if birthrates continue to collapse? I’m tired of going to the museum and fighting through all the school kids to get a look at the bones of the previous critters that ran the planet!” But, I think the issue becomes…. How to you get from point A to point B without complete disaster? Meaning, how does a society where the majority of federal expenditures are based on transfer payments from workers to retirees gracefully reduce its working population?
In a world of billions there are – of course – innumerable reasons why fertility rates are decreasing and I don’t think there are any simple policy gimmicks that would turn this trend around. As a first step, I think prioritizing discussion of birthrates and their impact on the future of the country ahead of the latest on the Kardashians would make sense. But, I dream.