Birth rates in the United States are at an all-time low. The reasons for the decline include women who choose not to have children at all, and women who wait, sometimes too long, to have children. The birth rate needs to be sustained to match the population level as elderly people die. While the United States is not in as much trouble in regard to birth rates as are countries like China, there is concern that the continual decline can lead to problems later on. What responsibility do women have to sustain the birth rate?
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I would argue that sustaining the population/birth rate ranks very near the bottom of someone's motivations to have children. With a world population of 7 billion plus, and an American population of more than 310 million, it would be quite some time before the actual survival of the species is a problem.
We are also finding ourselves with increasingly limited resources of energy, land, food and water, so maintaining population growth rates seems self defeating to a nation state. The US is not in the position of China, or Hungary or Russia, and while the economies of those countries may contract over time until the demographics shift toward growth again, I don't think that is necessarily a bad thing. We cannot sustain growth forever, either economically or in terms of population.
I agree with Brett's point that keeping our birth rate high is the least of our worries. There is not really that much danger of our country becoming underpopulated.
I would also point out that any one individual woman can have only the most limited impact on the population of the entire country. Since each individual does not really matter that much in this way, there is no reason to infringe on one of the most personal decisions a woman can make. The harm to women's rights would very much outweigh the benefits to the country as a whole.
True story: When I was an undergrad taking an honors sociology course, my professor at the time coolly surveyed all the young women in the classroom and informed us that we all needed to have between five to seven children each to maintain the birthrate in the United States and because we were highly educated women, increase the IQ of the populace. Years later, when I now have two children and people sometimes ask if I ever consider having another, I sometimes think back to that awkward moment in the sociology classroom. With only two children, I am not meeting the professor's quota, but he will just have to learn to live with his disappointment.
The declining birthrate is just one of those facts that must be taken in context of the big picture. While it is true that the birth rate in the U.S. has declined, people are also living much longer due to superior health care. The United States birth rate is 13.7%, as compared to other nations like China (11.9%) or Great Britain (12.1%). The birth rate has dropped, but the babies being born are surviving at a much higher rate past infancy. With the earth's population being at a staggering seven billion people, a decline in birth rates seems more of a positive than anything else. My sociology professor really wanted to convince the girls in his class to procreate profusely, but young women should not have to feel any responsibility to maintaining the birth rate. With increasingly limited resources and a struggling economy, the birth rate should be the least of our concerns.
It doesn't seem to me that you can say the women have a responsibility to sustain the birth rate any more than men do. And we certainly aren't going to be able to tell women or men that they have to go out and start having children.
I don't think "responsibility" is the right word for the situation. Perhaps "incentive" is the word. We would have to look at why this is happening--why do more people not want to have children, relative to the past? It's an interesting problem.
Perhaps it's related to the difficulty that the middle class is having keeping up. Maybe families are delaying having children so that they can simply make a living.
Women have only a responsibility for their own unique path. Some women desire children and others do not. Some cannot afford to have children or perhaps haven't found a partner to have a child with. Sometimes, women have children for the wrong reasons. Sometimes, religion dictates whether or not someone is using birth control and this can affect birth rates. Other times, women have a strong desire to have a child who is really wanted. Although a country may have a zero population growth and children would be needed to sustain the population, it is still an individual decision.
I do not think women should be responsible for sustaining the birth rate. If we say that women of a certain race should have more kids, that is taking away their rights. If there is any right a woman should have, it is whether or not she should have a child.
Ironic, isn't it, to talk about US women having a responsibility to sustain the US population birthrate when the rest of the world is metaphorically (sometimes literally) crying out for us to curb our ballooning population growth stemming from our overly enthusiastic birthrate.
Does woman have the responsibility to submit to the physiological changes and physical burden (miracle of childbearing and childbirth aside for the moment) of pregnancy and child rearing to sustain the birthrate?
Well, on one hand, let's project ourselves into an era when the US birthrate really needed or will need (past or future, your choice) to be maintained. The population may lose valuable traits, atributes and characteristics if she does not, which is a loss not to be taken lightly. In view of this, woman may have a responsibility to bear children and maintain the birthrate (and last I checked, women are still the only sex who can bear children and actually contribute to the birthrate).
On the other hand, if there is a robust society, not one threatened with extinction, woman has the responsibility to act within reason and ability and capability, which is a responsibility that takes precedence over considerations of birthrate maintenance.
It seems my conclusion is that woman's responsibility to sustain a birthrate is conditional.
-  If society is in a condition such that it is threatened with dire consequences if children are not born, then a childbearing responsibility may reasonably attach to womanhood.
-  If society is in a robust condition such that no great compelling social need has immediate precedence, then woman has no responsibility to bear children (unless she accepts a cultural responsibility that a subset of culture may impose, agree to, and advocate).
Since the responsibility to sustain the national birthrate is conditional, then it cannot be said to be a given responsibility of womanhood.
-  The third condition is when there is a ballooning population. Then there certainly is no responsibility to sustain the national birthrate.
I'd like to make a point here regarding a potential species-based/evolutionary explanation for birth rates.
It seems that, as a species and as an organism, humans have many unconscious motivations to find solutions to survival problems and to correct consumption issues before they become critical. Because we want to survive, genetically, our unconscious motivations to reproduce might be influenced by our species-wide understanding of what is most conducive to survival. This may mean that birth rate is not a problem at all, however low it is, but is instead a symptom of a biological response to prevailing conditions.
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