Monday, March 30, 2009

Georgia's 'Birth Crisis'

Today Tyler Cowen linked to this article about how Georgia is seeing a slight spike in Caucasian fertility rates after "the head of the Georgian Orthodox Church, Patriarch Ilia II" promised to personally baptize the child of two parents, naturally, born in Georgia.

There are all kinds of problems with this scenario. First, it's a little unsettling that they're making a concerted effort to out-birth the non-Caucasian segment of the population in Georgia. I also find it extremely interesting that the head of the church has the outright title of patriarch. It's also extremely typical of socially conservative religions to only "count" the children of married parents, excluding those children born to single mothers.

That aside, it's all well and good for churches to try to encourage their membership, except that they're going about it in completely the wrong way. Georgia might be seeing a slight birth boom now, but demanding that the faithful increase the number of children they produce, with a celebrity reward, isn't sustainable. The notion that women stay at home to take care of children is becoming increasingly the way of the past, even in foreign countries. Expecting women to continue to pop out children while they need to help support their families (and having more children requires more money) isn't a good solution to the fertility problem.

What Michelle Goldberg found in her new book, The Means of Reproduction, is that countries that actually have the best birth rates among those with the great decline, are countries with the most social program support for families: state-sponsored child care, lengthy maternity leave, paternity leave, paid family leave, and state-sponsored medical care. Countries like Sweden and France are actually doing the best to replace their populations of all the those that are suffering from the so-called great birthrate decline.

So while it might seem that a surge in the population of a small, extremely religious group of people are the solution to a perceived birth crisis, what really does the best to encourage birth rates for everyone is a set of social policies that support families, no matter if they have two parents or not.

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