The NYT Magazine has an interesting article about how just about all of Europe but also other countries are seeing birthrates below the replacement rate, and in some cases, breathtakingly so. Not all of the information in the article is new or particularly informative, tho some of it is, especially the part about how the northern European countries have a negative birthrate but the southern ones have a disastrously low one, and why this might be. The thesis: in the north they encourage integration of women into the workplace and encourage men to participate in the work of raising a family, while in the south they encourage the women to work but not the men to contribute at home.
When the article reaches the most significant exception by far, the USA, which still has more births than deaths and totally flies in the face of the international trend, the explanation is that while the US doesn't do much to encourage families to have kids, its flexible work market allows women to drop out and later drop back in.
Israel, probably the most unusual of all, doesn't even get mentioned, but that's OK.
So far so good. What puzzles me most about the article is not what it tells, but what it doesn't. The whole thing is an exercise in (rather hidden) Marxism: the world is run by economic considerations, period. There is no mention whatsoever of the single most important issue, namely what people want. If they feel that having children is important, all the rest will work itself out. If they feel their personal lifestyle is more important, they won't have children. This moves from anecdote to demography when the entire society changes its mind on the matter. Such a decision has to be influenced by many considerations, but ultimately, so it has always seemed to me, the over riding one is how we relate as individuals to the future. Is our world something we inherited in ordered to manage as best as possible so as to transfer it in the best possible condition to our descendants? Or is it the place we spend our allocated years as best as possible, and the future will worry about itself? That rather simple sentence can then be elaborated endlessly, but the essence won't change.
Anecdotal evidence: the segment of society I live in is as modern and as educated as any group, anywhere. Most the people in it have more than the three children we have. I don't remember any of us, ever, not even once, putting financial considerations before the decision to have children. Everybody in my world agrees that having and raising our children is the single most important thing we do in life.
PS. And note that the Germans and the Austrians don't fit into the pattern: tho they're northern in their structures, they're southern n the outcome of not having children. Hint: might this not perhaps indicate the existence of some other consideration, more powerful than anything the Marxists can measure? Now think about it: Germans and Austrians. Austrians and Germans. Hmmm. What might they have about them that makes them different from Norwegians, French, English, etc?
PPS. Also unmentioned, alongside the Israelis, are the Australians. As you know, I just got back from there, and can report that they, also, are still having children. I can explain that, but the NYT couldn't.