Whether they are concerned about population growth or about population decline, many writers and social scientists have warned about looming demographic disaster. Often that concern is focused on either society raising too few children, or the abundance of the wrong kind of people: the elderly, the poor, immigrants, and so forth. Lyman Stone, by contrast, defines demographic decline—a problem he believes to be very real—as “demographic outcomes that are explicitly and emphatically undesired by the people most immediately affected,” and considers its possible remedies:
For example, people don’t generally desire premature death. Yet death at young ages is rising rapidly in America. That is demographic decline. People generally desire children, often very deeply, and we know empirically that fertility does actually rise when economic and policy support for childbearing increases, indicating not just a stated but a revealed preference. And yet, fertility is falling far below what people say they want. . . . Most people want to get married, and most at a reasonably youthful age (not twenty perhaps, but not thirty-seven either): and yet fewer people are getting married, and more of them are marrying later than they would have liked.
In fact, Stone points out, American women across the socioeconomic spectrum desire marriage and children, at rates that have not changed very much over the past few decades. But women, especially those with lower incomes and levels of education, are less likely to achieve those goals:
What, then, is to be done? . . . First, any coherent demographic agenda has got to think about more than just fertility. Confronting demographic decline means dealing with drug and alcohol abuse, because drug and alcohol abuse contributes to criminality, to unemployment, to non-marriageability, to lost years of health, and ultimately to premature death.
Policies should be designed to keep marriage penalties to a minimum: getting married should not lead a couple to pay extra taxes, or lose benefits on which they depend.
And finally, there is fertility. Supporting marriage and tackling serious health threats would already help to boost fertility, but some additional support is likely necessary. Child allowances and family leave are the standard recipe for pronatalism, and they do tend to boost fertility. But they are limited in total effect and come at a considerable cost. Other policy approaches are needed too: housing costs can be mitigated through liberalized zoning policies, for example, which would have a considerable impact on fertility, since housing costs are a key element of the cost of raising children. School-voucher programs may also help some families.