Americans are having less sex — reproductive, baby-making sex — than they ever have before.
Last week, TIME Magazine had a cover story entitled, “The Childfree Life.” The gist of the article was that increasingly, in our modern era, “having it all means not having children.” The choice to not have children represents a shift in our culture and a new emphasis on “selfishness” that seems to be driving the attraction and growth of childlessness in the U.S.
As a result, the U.S. birthrate is at its lowest point. Ever. From 2007 to 2011, the fertility rate went down by nine percent. In the 1970s, 10 percent of women remained childless their entire lives. Today, that number is 20 percent. And childlessness is on the rise across all races and ethnicities.
Full disclosure: My wife and I have four children and we have absolutely no regrets. Having children, and how many children to have, is ultimately a personal and private decision for each of us. I won’t pass judgment on those who choose childlessness for themselves. But I will say that, in my opinion, they don’t know what they’re missing. And I can personally attest that whatever sacrifices come with parenthood — personal, professional or otherwise — they are worth it.
Childlessness is a new luxury. It means having more for yourself — more money to travel, to buy expensive homes and cars. And the freedom to do whatever, whenever you want.
Luxury and freedom have a price, though.
A person’s personal choice to not have children is not without consequence for all of us. It is not just an individual decision. Sixty-five percent of those who responded unscientifically to my poll on the RickSanchezShow.com said American couples today are "too selfish" to have children. This selfish decision impacts the entire country. How? Why?
Well, it comes back to sex. Our country’s future — any country’s future — is tied to having babies.
Babies, you see, grow up to be workers, taxpayers and soldiers. They power an economy, protect the country and are thus essential to our continued growth and survival. As my friend Charlie Garcia has written, “A rich powerful country needs lots of babies to project geopolitical power and increase its productivity. If you won't multiply, who will fight your wars? Who will pay Social Security to support grandpa? Who do you think will start the next Facebook, Amazon or Google?”
Economists therefore focus on what is called a country’s fertility rate. The fertility rate is the number of children the average woman will have over the course of her life.
Some simple math: A fertility rate of two is required to maintain a country’s population. This means that when a mother and father die, they need to be replaced by two children for the country’s population to remain constant. Two die, two are born and we’re even. A fertility rate of less than two means a country’s population declines. A fertility rate greater than two means that a country’s population is growing.
After World War II, the U.S. fertility rate peaked at about 3.8 in the 1950s but by 1999, had dropped to two children per woman. Today, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the national fertility rate now is just 1.93. That means we’re no longer replacing our population. The declining fertility rate is driving us toward an economic cliff because without enough babies, things begin to unravel. Quickly.
As a recent article in the Wall Street Journal detailed, “Once a country's fertility rate falls consistently below replacement, its age profile begins to shift. You get more old people than young people… Low-fertility societies don't innovate because their incentives for consumption tilt overwhelmingly toward health care. They don't invest aggressively because, with the average age skewing higher, capital shifts to preserving and extending life and then begins drawing down. They cannot sustain social-security programs because they don't have enough workers to pay for the retirees. They cannot project power because they lack the money to pay for defense and the military-age manpower to serve in their armed forces.”
Break down America’s 1.93 fertility rate further, and you’ll see something even more startling: The fertility rate for white, college-educated American women (which is pretty much the middle class) is 1.6. That is shockingly low. To give you some perspective on how low it is, consider that the fertility rate in China is 1.54 — and that is a country where the government only allows each couple to have one child.
The only thing that has kept America from going off this demographic cliff, the only thing that has allowed us to grow in the face of this declining fertility rate, is immigration. Immigrants, and immigrants having babies, has helped the U.S. survive. The only thing keeping us at the too-low fertility rate of 1.93 is that Hispanics have a fertility rate of 2.35, off-setting the non-Hispanic fertility rate of 1.6.
Without immigrants, and without our Latino population, the U.S. can’t continue growing and certainly can’t continue being an economic superpower.
If we want to continue having the luxury to be childless, if people want the right to be selfish, if they want that choice, then they can have it — but only if we continue allowing immigrants to this country. Without those baby-making immigrants, there won’t be a growing economy, culture and society for the childless to enjoy.