The Empty Cradle: How Falling Birthrates Threaten World Prosperity and What to Do About It

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The Empty Cradle: How Falling Birthrates Threaten World Prosperity and What to Do About It

By Phillip Longman
Basic Books, 2004
256 pp. $26.00

We still hear about the dangers of rising world population, from the current six billion to ten billion or more. Longman sees things differently: he is concerned about the sharp decline in birthrates, below that required to sustain the population, in most rich countries, increasingly in middle-income countries, and even in some poor countries, such as China. The book explores the reasons for declining natality, which are to be found in significant and continuing increases both in the direct costs of having children in rich countries, including post-secondary education, and in the forgone income of at least one parent. (Moreover, parents these days are unable to appropriate the value of educating and training their children, as they once could through the family farm or business, and through assured help in old age.) It also addresses the negative implications of the sharp decline in birthrates for fiscal sustainability, economic growth, and social cohesion. Longman argues, on practical rather than religious grounds, in favor of efforts to raise birthrates. He urges that policies in the United States and other rich countries encourage more children: for example, relieving parents from Social Security taxes, on the grounds that they, unlike their childless contemporaries, are making investments in the future viability of the Social Security system by rearing and educating children. The book also provides Web addresses where the many facts and analyses cited can be pursued.

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