Sunday, June 29, 2008

In praise of teen mothers

Having viciously mocked Jamie Lynn Spears as trailer trash, today's post by Richard Fernandez on the collapse of European fertility reminds me to be grateful for teenage mothers.

Fernandez links a New York Times article in which Russell Shorto seeks an explanation for Europe's demographic meltdown. Shorto speculates on why the United States, almost alone among industrialized democratic societies, now has replacement level (i.e., average 2.1 children per woman) fertility rates:
Some commentators explain its healthy birthrate in terms of the relatively conservative and religiously oriented nature of American society, which both encourages larger families.
There are glaring problems with that explanation. First of all, 37 percent of U.S. births are to unmarried women, which isn't the sort of data that the "conservative and religiously oriented" theory would require. Secondly, it's hard to explain higher birth rates on the "nature of American society," when the people making the difference are newcomers:
Hispanic women have the highest unmarried birthrate in the country -- over three times that of whites and Asians, and nearly one and a half times that of black women, according to the Centers for Disease Control. . . . Forty-five percent of all Hispanic births occur outside of marriage, compared with 24 percent of white births and 15 percent of Asian births.
Do a demographic breakdown of U.S. births by ethnicity, and it becomes obvious that not every group is contributing equally to that 2.1 TFR:
Total fertility rate (2006)
White: 1.86
Black: 2.11
Asian: 1.91
Hispanic: 2.96
(Source: National Center for Health Statistics, see Table 1; the "white" and "black" categories shown here exclude Hispanics, who may be of any race.)
The Hispanic TFR is 59% higher than that of whites. What does that mean? While non-Hispanic whites accounted for 66.4% of the U.S. population in 2006 (source), they accounted for only 54.1% of U.S. births. Hispanics, who were 14.8% of U.S. population in 2006, accounted for 24.4% of U.S. births.

OK, so why -- beyond the mere fact of having more babies -- is the Hispanic birth rate so much higher? The explanation involves a demographic truism that Ben Wattenberg made famous: "Fertility delayed is fertility denied." Let's look at Table 2 of that NCHS report, shall we?
Birth rate age 15-19 (2006)
White 26.6
Black 63.7
Asian 16.7
Hispanic 83.3
(Birth rate is births per 1,000 females.)
The Hispanic teen birth rate is 213% higher than the birth rate for white teens. The higher birth rate of Hispanic teens is a major reason why the overall fertility rate of Hispanics is 59% higher than the white rate. And the higher Hispanic fertility rate is the only reason the United States is at "replacement" fertility.

In other words, while Russell Shorto of the New York Times suggests that "the relatively conservative and religiously oriented nature of American society" explains why we aren't following Europe's downward spiral toward demographic collapse, what he really should be saying is: "Thank God for 16-year-old Maria Lopez getting knocked up in the barrio of East L.A.!"

Now, let's refocus our attention on Europe's problem, shall we? Because it so happens that our "teen pregnancy crisis" mongers just love to compare America to Europe. Take a gander at this little item on "adolescent sexual health" from Advocates For Youth (AFY), where they report:
Teen birth rates 2001
U.S. 48.7
France 12.5
Germany 10.0
Netherlands 4.5
However, what AFY doesn't do is compare TFRs of those same countries:
Total fertility rates
U.S. 2.10
France 1.98
Germany 1.41
Netherlands 1.66
In other words, by making these invidious comparisons about teen pregnancy, the enlightened progressives at AFY are essentially urging Americans to emulate European nations that are on the path to demographic collapse. Teen mothers account for 10.2% of U.S. births. Subtract teen mothers (61% of whom are non-white) from the equation, and the American fertility rate would be lower than that of France.

Conservatives contemplating demographic trends, like Mark Steyn and Pat Buchanan, usually end up in a mood of Spenglerian gloom, issuing jeremiads about the impending apocalypse. In the optimistic, can-do spirit of Ronald Reagan, I say, "God bless Jamie Lynn Spears -- and God bless America!"
UPDATE 7/23: This has proved a surprisingly popular post, and I've updated with a new post, "Famous teenage mothers," you might also want to read.

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