The Atlantic

Liberal Societies Have Dangerously Low Birth Rates

It’s not entirely clear why fertility rates rise and fall.
Source: Reuters

I have four kids. I don’t strike people as the type to have so many, nor does my wife. We’re professors. Neither of us is conventionally religious. We spent our 20s in Brooklyn as vegetable-blending free spirits. I drive a Prius on principle, even though I’m 6 foot 8 and my head hits the ceiling.

It’s hard to say how we ended up with such a large family. When people ask, I say (1) my wife likes babies, (2) I tend to assume I won’t regret having another child, and (3) we love the kids we have. But there’s an element of mystery, even to me. Any answer feels incomplete. Maybe that’s because the fuller explanation is buried too deep, in layers of instinct and social expectation. I think it’s hard for people to say exactly why they have kids or not—and if they do, how many.

Even trickier is the question of why birth rates rise and fall across huge groups. Until recently, demographers worried mostly about overpopulation. Now roughly half the world’s people live in countries with “below replacement” fertility rates, and that proportion is growing. The environmental benefits of this trend are obvious. But low birth rates also threaten welfare states with bankruptcy, and nations with the

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