Monday, November 15, 2010

On the poor sense of blaming the young for below-replacement fertility

I want to begin this post by stating that this brief piece from the Baltic Course seems excessively compressed to me, and suspect it doesn't do Mezs' arguments about the tenuous nature of Latvia's demographic patterns justice.

In a hundred years, the population of Latvia will have dropped to around 10 percent of its current level; if current demographic trends continue, there will be only 300,000 Latvians in the world in 2100, the newspaper "Latvijas Avize" was told by Ilmars Mezs, director of the Latvian office of the UN's International Organization for Migration.

"The only way to stop immigrants overwhelming your country is to create more of your own children," believes Mezs, adding that if the demographic situation is not improved, the preservation of culture - the Song Festival, choirs, the Latvian language - are meaningless. "If we do not make sure that we have our own descendents, then there is no point in worrying about what to preserve or what songs to sing."

Mezs notes that despite difficult historical conditions such as wars, plagues and famines, the country's forebears always managed to create a new generation and sustain the nation, adding that if they had made calculations based on their financial situation the way their descendents now do, many of the country's current inhabitants would never have been born.

The UN expert notes that with each year, Latvia loses the equivalent of the population of a medium-sized town, such as Kuldiga or Talsi, due to deaths exceeding births. Meanwhile, "the Estonians have achieved the growth of their nation by a small county every year, while in Latvia every year we lose a whole town," said Mezs.

According to Mezs, the problem in Latvia is the cult of possessions and careers. "We cannot afford children, because we have to finish our university course and start a successful career. After that we need to buy a big flat, pay off the loan for our new car, travel... but children come much lower in our list of priorities."

Additionally, I would like to note that I agree quite entirely with Eliana Marino's guest blog this July past, exploring the particulars of the Latvian situation (below-replacement fertility, high mortality, very high emigration) and the ways in which this is already harming Latvia's future. Being concerned about population dynamics in Latvia is an entirely legitimate concern.

But. I really have to say that, as a member of the younger generation that's often blamed for not producing enough children to keep working-age populations large and young, the strategy of blaming the young for not making massive compromises that previous generations chose not to make themselves, all with the goal of supporting previous generations in the expected style, is difficult. Why shouldn't I judge if I can afford to be a parent right now? Should I have stayed out of university? Is wanting something other than a studio apartment a sin? Maybe I should opt out of urban civilization entirely and become a peasant, tilling the fields to support a family of antedelivian proportions.

Please. If young people can't afford the sacrifices needed to be parents at an early age, governments--elected, it should be noted, disproportionately by people from older age groups than the young being denounced--should perhaps try to change the economic and other structures which might keep us from being parents at a young date. Damning us for things not under our control and for not having done things others haven't done ourselves could be very counterproductive.


Sid said...

The coming retracement of population gains is not only natural, coming from drastic changes in lifestyle - it is also quite welcome. Without it, humanity is doomed to suffer from a drastic resource shortage and all the pleasantries that come with it, like genocidal wars, massive poverty, epidemics etc.

That doesn't mean that nothing should be done to slow the contraction, but things will go much easier for everyone if its necessity is understood and accepted on the policymaking level.

Noel Maurer said...

Disagree! I strongly disagree. The fellow you quoted sounds like a grade-A asshole, but in turn your response comes across as whiny, juvenile, self-centered, and ill-considered.

Field-tilling? Huh?

Christ, man, I made the same decisions that he bemoans. And why did I make them? Well, once you got past the age of 22, it was pretty much selfishness. I could have easily done the research I did with a kid in tow; I know couples that pulled off joint Ph.D.'s no problem.

Obviously, situations vary, and you yourself certainly seem to have good reasons to have put off parenthood. But seriously, man, the dude's basic empirical observation is quite simply correct. You just don't think it matters. That's entirely defensible. So why not just say that?

From whence the weird defensiveness?

Randy said...

I've got good reason, my friends have good reasons ... the people I m age group I know regardless of sexual orientation tend to be putting off parenthood to fairly late dates for fairly good reasons.

Randy said...

As for my reaction, well, there's a contradiction, mixed messages. On the one hand my generation is supposed to Achieve, becoming as high-earning and socially active as possible, planning for the future. On the other, when we actually do this--making sure we have the educational credentials necessary, making sure we can support ourselves comfortably, making sure to experience the world as we're supposed to in our individualistic age--we're chastised for doing the things we h
shouldn't be doing, even though we're supposed to be doing them, and even though the people chastising us have themselves done them with few regrets. Mixed messages?

In the end this sort of perfectionism does seem to be significantly depressing fertility. The example I give most frequently is that of the third of West German women who, when told that they have to decide between a life devoted to motherhood and a life without children, pick up the life without children because it gives them the greatest freedom. If people are supposed to choose between being individuals in the ways that others expect and abandoning this individuality for parenthood, then a lot of people are going to pick the second path.

Mikk said...

Interesting point is why Estonia has been able to turn its demographic trend around and is growing sort-of? It is also small, it is also poor, it has same problems as Latvia,it also has the cult of possessions and careers... But demographic trend is different...

Colin Reid said...

One problem that could arise if there is a prolonged negative correlation between income and fertility is a concentration of wealth in the hands of the few who are born to rich parents. Perhaps inheritance tax should depend on how many children the deceased has?