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In the now-famous remarks by Larry Summers at NBER Conference on Diversifying the Science & Engineering Workforce, he asked (plenty of people overlooked) about financial incentives for children and leaves of absence.

Specifically, what is the effect of interruptions on career patterns? In Sweden, do female professionals at the upper end of the pay scale take advantage of paid leaves at the same rate as female professionals towards the middle (where it might be easier to reassimilate after a leave of absence)?


In a way, the American way, in its thrify way, has the most economically friendly arrangement. Assuming that these women in question have a spouse, then its much better for employers that there's a pool of workers who can only come in part-time.

People continue to have children even when economically, it makes no sense. Maybe they're trying to find meaning, maybe they're afraid of death, maybe they do because deep down they're conservative and know that genes matter.

France with all its neutralizing incentives still can't really stimulate its 'native' population to have children. To be burdened by children. It makes no sense when doubt dusts every other attempt to breath.

Dan C

My mother came to this country from rural Ireland. She was one of nine children. Six reached their 21st Birthday. Five came to America.

I asked an aunt why so many of my Irish relatives had large families, her answer was no TV back then. Sounds like an opportunity cost to me.

Today, few of my more distant Irish relatives would have any interest in coming to America to work. Times change. Ireland needs to increase her birth rate to keep up with a growing economy. However, most will agree, that looking for additional labor is a vast improvement over watching poverty force your children to distant shores.

My aunts and uncles, on average, had six children per family in America. My cousins average about two and a half.

Why? Professor Becker has written on this topic many times. I offer a few personal notes.

My cousins have costs that my aunts and uncles did not have. Student Loan debt, higher housing costs, higher opportunity costs for females, more mobility in jobs, less perceived job security, less family social net ( i.e. my aunts frequently helped each other with child care etc.), higher debt burdens in general (my mother's generation lived through the depression, emigrated with nothing, and spent most of their life living below their means i.e. they saved money even while they raised rather large families.)

in addition, attitudes were different. My mother's generation wanted large families and viewed children as people to share a dream. My cousins tend to view children as a burden, an expense that prevents some of their aspirations. My cousins do far more for their children, in a material sense, and their expectations for their children are more extreme. Still, I don't mean to imply that one generation was good and the other bad, just that times change, attitudes change.

I suppose if you wanted professional women to have more children, you could forgive student loans for the period they stay home with children - up to 18 months.

Or you could pay the interest on the mortage for the same period.

Or as a society we could stop going after bigger houses, more expensive electronics, faster lifestyles, etc. that increasingly require two incomes to acquire. ( Not going to happen.)

In any case, while the US has some increase in the fertlity rate, much of the growth is in the underclass - among the poor and new immigrants. I'm not sure if these births are more of a cost then a benefit. In the long run I hope they can achieve the same dreams as other immigrants, but I'm not sure.

But letting the government get very involved in family planning is dangerous. Do we want to encourage welfare mothers to have more children? Do we want to encourage female doctors to have large families? How do we write such rules without creating more problems?


High quality child care can be viewed as having positive externalities and thus is worthy of government subsidization for that reason. Why start at age 5? Why not age 4? Or age 3? Then have an arguement about vouchers vs govt provision. Vouchers are good with me. However, I don't particularly like the outcome of so much parental leave, almost entirely taken by women as you point out, for Swedish women. They take years effectively out of the workforce which is part of the cause of the greater occupational segregation than in the US.

ian creedy

These generous benefits for parents to produce children, as Becker suggests, don't seem to have put birth rate above replacement rate and in the case of France it is very expensive. Why put up with a policy that is costly and yields little benefit?

An economy should ideally focus on increasing the mobility of labor factor markets, allowing any labor shortage to be filled quickly. Immigration is low-cost and high benefit. It may explain why America's population growth is accelerating while Europe's is dropping.

However, studies in Australia also suggest that although immigration has positive effects on the economy it has has little effect on the average age of the population, so encouraging more births would still be important and/or attempting to lower the average age of immigrants.

I Think Alito Rocks!

Instead of vouchers, we should provide facilities with free daycare service to all. But we must mandate that immigrant labor staff these government daycare centers. Immigrant flows will be directed into legal channels if immigrants know that a guaranteed check awaits them as a daycare provider. That way, we can process and track immigration more effectively too.

Instead of subsidizing a 2nd or 3rd child, we should encourage sex and delay the tax benefits of marriage. The FDA should mandate that ecstasy be put into birth control (and all other products commonly used by women, e.g., tampons, shampoo, etc.), and no tax benefits should be given to married couples until they have their second child. We can decrease the birth rate to offset the likely increase by imposing sterilization as a condition of parole. Who wants criminal genes to propagate?

As for the amount of work children are, children should be taken away from parents at age 10 and placed in a state school where new values are imposed. That will enable us to produce super-smart students unburdened by parental corruption and free mothers of their obligation to raise kids. These Brave New World schools will not be federally-run or locally-run, bur regionally-run, with resources pooled from various states in the region (e.g., a 5-state coalition). There should be around 10 or 20 of these schools in the entire country, that house and educate children from age 10 to 18, when they may apply to college or return home to see their parents again, I suppose.

There is also the problem of needing two incomes to live. This often results in both the husband and the wife working long hours, and daycare being needed. A solution to this problem is the legalization of prostitution. Being a whore takes very little time and earns a lot of money. Instead of working long hours, a woman could simply sell her body and make much more money for her time. That way, she would have more time to spend with her children, because the hours would not be as severe, and the amount she made while not at home would more than make up for her absence (if she sought to opt-out of the federally-provided immigrant-run daycare centers and hire a nanny). Or, she could simply have sex with her customers in the house while her children are downstairs watching Teletubbie; they wouldn't know and she wouldn't have to sacrifice her precious caretaker role.

Another way we could tackle this problem is to mandate fewer working hours. One way to do this is to add more federal holidays, another is to mandate more sick days. Instead of sick days, which requires people to be sick, I would suggest drug days, which one can take to imbibe drugs and get high. Drugs would be legal only on those particular days. Chances are that use of sick days would follow drug days, as would police raids, so most children would experience a pleasant two days every month or so when both parents were home, and the drug war would be much more successful, because once drug use is pushed into the open, it becomes easier to catch those violating the laws. It is hard to set up shop for just one day a month, but worth it to set up shop if the drug trade is legal for that one day.

Another thing to do is tax divorced couples with kids and single-parent families at a higher rate as a penalty. Call it the "get married or else" penalty or the "you should have stayed married" penalty. Two parents have more time to spend with kids overall than one parent does, or do parents who live in different states after their split, for example. We might also give the kids of a divorce 50% of the marital property in cash -- that will keep the parents together. If parents buck the incentive and divorce, their kids can pay for their own daycare to replace the parental supervision they are missing (at least until the age of 10, when they are shipped off to the regionally-run super-school).

We can also condition adoption on the presence of a polygamous marriage -- at least three partners. That way, even if two spouses need to work in order to make ends meet, there is another spouse present to give care. Or, we could condition Social Security eligibility on grandparents living with their children, if they have any, and participating in the day-to-day raising of their grandchildren.

I would suggest doing all of these things at once.


One major difficulty is that public does not mean 'equal participation.' Parents already fight for the houses in the best school districts. They pay local taxes to fund fine schools so in a way, 'public' is disguised private.

Rushing towards Marriage is generally not the best idea, in the best of worlds, one would take ones time and explore alternatives. However, if one is in a hurry to escape 'home' then yes, it may make a lot of sense.

Lastly, divorce should happen at times, we're not living in a theocratic state after all. Why be miserable with a person when life is not long?

I Think Alito Rocks!

Michelle: In the best of worlds, one would take ones time and explore alternatives.

That is your personal preference, and is not a public reason upon which to base public policy; it is not even necessarily true; it would not be the best of worlds to take one's time claiming a winning lottery ticket, for instance, to explore the alternative of not-winning the lottery.

Lastly, divorce should happen at times, we're not living in a theocratic state after all.

One has nothing to do with the other. The absence of no-fault divorce does not mean we are living in a theocratic state. Your contention is fallacious. And, "in the best of worlds" divorce would not happen.

Why be miserable with a person when life is not long?

How long life is is irrelevant to whether the harm to children and ill-effect of disturbed children on society is greater than the benefit to married adults getting divorced after they are middle-aged. It is also irrelevant to whether we should incentivize certain family structures over others, which our tax code already does, by the way. Not to mention, Who says they are miserable? Maybe they are judging improperly and need a state-provided incentive to evaluate correctly the costs and benefits.

And you have not pointed out any reason why state-schools are no good. I wish people whould actually think before they publish posts.

I Think Alito Rocks!

And spellcheck. :)


Government subsidies for parental leave and childcare do not increase the overall fertility rate. Let me say that again. Government subsidies for parental leave and childcare do not increase the overall fertility rate.

On the one hand, a family who benefits from such subsidies may decide to have more children than they otherwise would have without such a subsidy.
On the other hand, the additional tax burden required by these subsidies, makes it harder for young people to reach the level of financial independence and stability at which they feel comfortable starting a family. The overall result is people becoming first time parents at later ages, and a decline in the fertility rate.
Pavel Kohout explains this reasoning in more detail at http://www.techcentralstation.com/0630055.html and presents Mussolini's Italy as empirical evidence of the futility of these policies.

Scandanavia and western Europe have and will continue to have a lower birthrate than the United States not in spite of their policies, but because of them.


In my view, the single biggest argument against state-funded child care is that it is yet another disincentive to marry before having children. The traditional economic analysis of the family is that the woman insists on marriage before having children, and the man works to provide while the woman devotes some or all of her time to child-rearing. I do not believe that is a rigid formula, but it is one that works and one that is plainly consonant with our biology and cultural evolution.

When we provide all sorts of generous child welfare benefits, the state supplants the father role, so not getting married before having kids carries a lot less of a penalty now than it did maybe 100 years ago. It is no surprise that we now have a veritable epidemic of out-of-wedlock births in this country. Among African Americans, 2/3 of babies are born out of wedlock; 1/3 nationwide. That is a mess.

In countries with more subsidized child welfare policies such as Sweden, it is the exception to the rule that people get married before having kids. And, it provides a lower incentive to work for a father who actually is married, as well.

The population decline arguments, in my view, are not persuasive. I don't think that a natural population decline is even a bad thing, except if there are massive state entitlement liabilities to retirees. Those entitlements are the problem, not a gradual population decline, which in any event lowers the stress on our environment and natural resources.


To clarify the above about Sweden--the vast majority of parents are unmarried at the time of childbirth, and that is true regardless of class or economic status. So, basically, it's just a worse situation than ours, which is consistent with the fact that we have lower child entitlements--the biggest being the public education entitlement. In the Soviet Union, out-of-wedlock births also greatly increased as a consequence of socialist policies. This is a pretty consistent story in the history of government entitlements.


In the post industrial age, it might not be the quantity of children that determines national income, but the quality. It seems strange to look at these issues as need to subsidize procreation, when we should perhaps maximize the income potential of those who are in existence.


Good point.


Perhaps Oscar Wilde held the key to the lock when he quipped, "Yes, sex seems to be the theater of the poor". There clearly seems to be a "class" distinction when it comes to birth rate and the need for child care.


exellent point


Gracias por tu aporte, me ha sido muy util


Gracias por tu aporte, me ha sido muy util


I am a stay-at-home mother. I also have an MBA from a top school and, now that my children are in middle school, I have time on my hands. I know many other women, well-educated and looking for something to do, who are willing to work. We are not interested in high-intensity careers at this point, and in many cases we would willingly work at lower levels, offering employers skilled workers at a good price.

Why aren't the businesses of America making room for us on a part-time, no-insurance-needed basis?
We have much to offer.

Such work opportunities, if generally available, would reduce the cost to families of a mother's decision to take the major role in child-rearing.

Part-time work opportunities also would allow women to return to full-time careers over time, as their children needed less mothering and later headed off for the work world or to college.

What I suggest would not need government involvement (a plus in my view) and would make it easier for married couples to decide to have children.

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