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Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Growing, growing, gone

I read this article about how Canadians aren't having as many kids as they used to. The article attributes this to the fact that it's more expensive to have kids now than it used to be thirty years ago:

"You can't blame young couples for their decision to have fewer children than their own parents. Over the past three decades, total family incomes in real terms -- that is, adjusted for inflation -- have actually gone down. Statistics Canada says the median family income in 1980 was $58,000. Twenty-seven years later, it's $57,700. (Both figures are expressed in 2005 dollars to remove the effects of inflation.) But stagnant incomes are not the worst problem. A generation ago, it took just one working parent to generate that median household income. These days it takes two."

I've had conversations with coworkers about the super-issue here, the near-extinction of the stay-at-home parent. (Notice I said 'parent' here and not 'mom'. As far as I'm concerned, aside from the requirements for breastfeeding, it doesn't matter which parent stays home with the kids -- so long as someone's there until all the kids have made it past grade nine.) Nearly all agree that it makes sense that having a parent stay home to raise the kids is the best thing for the kids. This is in spite of that fact that every single one of them could cite examples of kids that turned out great despite being in daycare from the age of one, or being latch-keys starting in grade five. I think it's generally accepted wisdom, these days, that a stay-at-home parent is good for the kids. Yet it's also accepted that, these days, that it's very difficult to have half of the money-earners in the family be out of the workforce for so long -- not to mention the sacrifice that the homemaker makes in terms of his or her career progress.

The article, while informative in this regard, also raises what the author feels is another important point: the coming cash crunch of the social programs for seniors, such as Old Age Security and Medicare. Specifically, the opinion is given that "to get all of those nice government payouts... you better hope that people have lots of kids."

This idea concerns me greatly. To think seriously about encouraging population growth (where the average number of children in a typical family is greater than 2, compared to the current Canadian rate of 1.5 kids per family) seems to me to be a recipe for long-term disaster.

Since people are living longer in Canada, an increase in the procreation rate will have a far greater effect than has been historically observed. In the past, the overall population growth rate was slowed by the death rate, especially as modified by the average life span. Nowadays, with people living longer, we'll have more kids and more adults. Project this over even a single generation, and we'll see a bigger impact than even the Baby Boom produced.

My concern, of course, is the so-called "carrying capacity" of the planet. Surely and not-so-slowly, we (humans as a species) are using up the resources of the Earth at faster and faster rates. If this trend continues, we are guaranteed to overtake the Earth's capacity for replenishing those resources (and I'm not talking about non-renewables like oil and gas, but the basic stuff like food).

So, as a thinking, responsible and empathetic human who is concerned about the looming crisis, I see this desire to support our elderly simply by having more kids as being a perfect example of what my elders would have called "sheer stupidity". How could this possibly be considered a solution? Isn't it really just robbing Peter to pay Paul? (Or, really, robbing Peter, Mary, and the rest of their family?)

Anyway, I have no problems with trying to maintain a balance. If we, as a prominent country in the world, provide an example of moderation by keeping our growth rate level, wouldn't that be a good thing to do?

Maybe none of the other countries would follow our example. Maybe the rest of the governments on this planet would remain with their heads in the sand, thinking that the trickles of grains past their eardrums were whispers of success.

Still, shouldn't we at least try?



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