It is a mantra of our times, that if we want population to stay stable, or even grow, then we need to have ever more childcare. For women won’t take time out from their busy lives to actually have children unless someone else does a lot of the caring for the children once had. There’s a certain problem with this line of thought.
This past 50 or 60 years has seen a massive expansion of outside the family childcare. This past 50 or 60 years has also seen the collapse of fertility rates. It’s not, therefore, entirely obvious that more childcare means more children.
We can even posit why. Most people desire to have children. It is, after all, the driving force of being alive in the first place. If having the one or two children means that the rest of life carries on near as normal – because that someone else is doing much of the childcare – then most will indeed have that one or two children. However, what if having a child becomes a strict dividing line? Having the one means that career, even that interesting job, simply cannot be done because of those demands upon time? That could – would would be too strong but it’s possible so could – lead to the decision to have the one meaning why not have the 4? Because once one has stepped over the line why not carry on?
This is not advanced as a particular point though. Just as a posit to show that this subject is a little more difficult than more childcare raises fertility levels. Which is something we need to know when considering this claim from Philip Collins (no, not Phil Collins, who increased his own fertility by carrying on with the au pair of the first set):
And here it is worth looking at the developed countries whose fertility rates are relatively high and asking why this is so. Sweden has a fertility rate of 1.9 but it is at least going up. France’s fertility rate is slightly higher, albeit still too low. The relative success of France and the Scandinavian nations is probably due to their more generous social policies, to their maternity and paternity leave, their childcare provision, their child benefit and their extra employment rights. France has had a Ministry of Families for decades. In Sweden, parents are entitled to 480 days of paid parental leave to share, childcare is subsidised and working hours are among the lowest in Europe.
Well, no, not necessarily. Making having a child easier probably does increase the number of women who have a child. But it might – could above – lead to each woman who does have children having fewer.
And here’s the thing about those Swedish and French fertility rates. They’re not actually driven by the indigenes. It’s a standard point that immigrants bring with them the fertility rates of their source. It’s the second generation whose rates converge with the host population. So:
As of 2017, the percentage inhabitants with a foreign background in Sweden had risen to 24.1%. The official definition of foreign background comprises individuals either born abroad or having both parents born abroad.
France also has a large immigrant population with higher than host population fertility levels. And yes, those areas of the UK with high immigrant populations have higher fertility levels.
The point here is not to rage about foreigners and their kids. Rather, that the issue complicates considering the effect of child care policies on fertility. It isn’t possible to look at a place and assume that higher fertility is being driven by that childcare, not until we have pulled out and examined the effects of the immigration.
That is, more childcare might not be the solution to fertility declines. And given the experience of this past 60 years it might actually work the other way.