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Ze Germans Aren’t Coming

23 percent of German men say “zero” is the ideal family size.

11:44 AM, Aug 20, 2013 • By JONATHAN V. LAST
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Which leaves France. France has a legitimately great fertility rate: 2.08—which is within spitting distance of the replacement rate. But is French fertility driven by its daycare centers? Not so much. Separate out the fertility rates of native-born Frenchwomen from the foreign-born population and you see a tremendous divide. Native-born French women have a TFR around 1.7. Foreign-born French women are much higher, probably north of 2.8. (Finding hard numbers here is difficult because it is taboo in France to make such demographic distinctions. Which means that in order for French demographers to get the same numbers our Census Bureau puts out every year, they have to hand-count (and sort) birth records. For a good discussion of all of this, see Christopher Caldwell’s definitive Reflections on the Revolution in Europe.)

What the gulf between native- and foreign-born French fertility suggests is that daycare centers and gender equality have only helped France so much—about as much, actually, as they’ve helped Scandinavia. What really gives France its demographic boost has been immigration which, in the French experience, has also been a source of many problems.

There’s actually been a fair amount of academic study on the efficacy of pro-natalist measures—everything from baby bribes to state-run daycare—and the evidence suggests that none of these efforts bring about much more than marginal returns. (This econometric analysis by Gauthier and Hatzius is a good place to start, if you’re interested.)

This isn’t to say that nationalized daycare is a bad idea. If people on the left (or elsewhere) want to make a principled case that such a system is an important expression of societal values and would work as a building block in showing national seriousness about pro-natalism, then that’s a perfectly good argument and we should absolutely have that discussion.

But anyone who looks at demographic decline and says, “Hey, just give us nationalized daycare and the problem takes care of itself” is either uninformed, or trying to sell you something.

I’m not selling anything myself. (Except a book—pick up your copy of What to Expect When No One’s Expecting today!) But I’d suggest that when it comes to demographics and falling fertility rates there are no easy answers. If you want to understand how truly deep Germany’s problems run, consider this: In 2005, Europe did a Population Policy Acceptance Study which looked at a broad range of demographic indicators. One of these indicators was “ideal fertility”—that is, how many kids an individual thought was the ideal number.

Twenty-three percent of German men—that’s not a typo, 23 percent—said that “zero” was the ideal family size. There probably aren’t public policy solutions to a cultural worldview like that.

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