The link between fertility and housingI've been meaning to pass this story from the NY Times on the relationship between fertility and housing along for quite a while. First the excerpts, then my comments.
For the first time in 35 years, America’s total fertility rate — the estimated number of children a woman will have in her lifetime — reached 2.1, the theoretical level required to maintain the country’s population, according to recent data from the National Center for Health Statistics.I've posted on this topic before, and summed it up with rule "rising affluence seeks more private space." As they state above, in the U.S., that means buying a bigger house (typically in suburban "sprawl") to accommodate the same size family. Or, if forced to stay in denser or smaller housing for affordability, mobility, or regulatory reasons (like anti-'McMansion' ordinances, urban growth boundaries, etc.), as in Europe, Japan, and in many U.S. urban areas, they will shrink the size of their families to compensate and create more space per person. If you can't grow the house, you have to shrink the household.
But at a time when no cocktail conversation is complete without a discussion of real estate, the boomlet raises a question that has long interested social scientists: What is the relationship between fertility and real estate?
In the wide-open mortgage climate early this decade, creative loan products allowed more people than ever to buy homes, often a precursor to having children. In 2006, the babies arrived — a reminder, perhaps, that if you build it, they will toddle. (cute)
Social scientists have long traced a connection between housing and fertility. When homes are scarce or beyond the means of young couples, as in the 1930s, couples delay marriage or have fewer children. This tendency helps account for the relatively dismal birth rates of many developed nations... “One reason there are so few children in Italy is that housing is so hard to come by,” Mr. Engelman said. “Houses are bigger in the U.S. and generally more available. That may help explain why Americans have more babies.”
For decades, Americans have built increasingly bigger houses, even as family size declined. Bigger houses mean incentives to stay home and fructify, Mr. Kahn said.
With their low birth rates, Europe, Japan, China and parts of the Middle East face the burden of shrinking productive work forces and aging populations (a vicious cycle: gloomy economic prospects lead to low birth rates, which lead to gloomy economic prospects). For the United States, then, the boomlet is a healthy sign
This doesn't mean density is bad - it's a fine choice for those who want to live that way. But it's bad public policy to try to force it.
This also doesn't mean people are sitting around saying "Hmmm... we have a big house. Might as well fill it with kids." Instead, there are a lot of couples and families in cramped housing trying to decide if they can afford to upgrade to more space and increase their family size, or if they're stuck where they are at their current household size. If they can get the space they feel they need, the kids will come.
Thanks to Adam for the link.