The emergence of a growing global middle class is a positive indicator of expanding global economic prosperity. According to a recent report by Ernst & Young, the global middle class is projected to grow by an additional 3 billion people over the next two decades. Not surprisingly, much of this growth is expected to come from India, China and other Asian countries.
Certain common trends are emerging in many of the higher average-income nations across the globe. One of these trends is the declining birthrate. Along with this declining birthrate, fewer and fewer families are being formed. Between 1970 and 2005, the U.S. Census Bureau reported that U.S. children living in a family with two parents decreased from 85 percent to 68 percent.
A measure commonly used to quantify the average number of kids a woman would have during her life is the total fertility rate, or TFR. According to the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency, countries with the highest TFR in 2013 will be Niger and Mali, with rates of 7.03 and 6.25, respectively. At the other end of the spectrum are countries such as Hong Kong and Singapore, with TFR estimates of 1.11 and 0.79, respectively, for 2013. A TFR of 2.0 is needed for births to replace deaths and for the population to remain essentially stable.
The U.S. TFR is 121st on this global list with an estimate of 2.06 for 2013. The United Kingdom’s estimated TFR is 1.90 and Germany’s is 1.42. With fewer and fewer workers supporting a growing retired population, significant economic challenges are on the horizon for countries with a declining population base.
Social policies play an important role in motivating younger couples to get married and have children. In various urban U.S. settings, some policies being considered would serve to limit the size of new single-family residences. Generally, this is not a family-friendly outcome.
Singapore is an interesting example of some the benefits and selected detriments of improving overall economic prosperity. Not long ago, Singapore’s per capita gross domestic product was similar to many other third-world countries. In recent rankings by the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund, however, Singapore now ranks as high as third in the world. In these same per capita GDP surveys, the U.S. ranks No. 8 and No. 6. As mentioned above, Singapore’s total fertility rate has fallen well below the population replacement level of 2.0.
Surveys of younger working professionals in Singapore indicate concerns over high housing prices, extended work schedules and a desire to achieve incremental economic success beyond that of their parents as some of the motivators for deciding against forming a family and having children.
Social and economic policy implementation in the U.S. that affects family formation and the total fertility rate must consider the more expansive and lasting implications. When viewed in the context of overall value to society, the family unit plays a critical role. Like most objects of lasting value, hard work, planning, satisfaction deferral and sacrifice are required to build and maintain a successful family.
Kirby Brown is the CEO of Beneficial Financial Group in Salt Lake City.
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