Government Policy: Save Money, Don't Have Kids

Kids are an expensive drain on society?

For lo these many decades, pro-life activists have argued that the pro-abortionists actually hate children and humanity in general and that their arguments for sexual "freedom" are a mere smokescreen.  Whether by accident or by design, Jean Sebelius, Mr. Obama's Secretary of Health and Human Services, has resolved this dispute once and for all.

As part of the ongoing furore over Mr. Obama's demand that Catholic organizations pay for insurance coverage of contraception and abortions which they believe to be serious sins, Sec. Sebelius told Congress why this imposition was necessary and, in fact, a great idea in these times of budget cuts.

“The reduction in the number of pregnancies compensates for the cost of contraception,” Sebelius said. She went on to say the estimated cost is “down not up.”

Sec. Sebelius on a cost-saving drive.

In other words: Pregnancies are expensive, The Pill and condoms are cheap.  By paying for contraception, insurance companies will avoid having to shell out at the maternity ward.

Put another way: Kids are expensive, we can't afford 'em, and everybody needs to stop having them.  This view has been around since the days of the Yuppies, but it's still startling to see a high government official put it so bluntly.  Even the Congressman interrogating Sebelius was at a loss for words:

“Not having babies born is a critical benefit. This is absolutely amazing to me. I yield back.”

Perhaps the only stronger statement would be Mr. Obama's saying that he didn't want either of his daughters to be "punished with a baby" should she become pregnant.

The Changing Job Description of Marriage

Traditional marriage vows didn't mention children even though having babies was the most universal part of any marriage arrangement.  This was because children came automatically and nearly universally.  Once a man and woman started hanging around each other, children followed as night follows day.  There was no reason to include children in the vows because they'd happen pretty much regardless of the wishes of either party.

With the coming of the pill, however, families have shrunk all over the world.  Americans are having fewer babies than needed to maintain a population; our population would be shrinking if it weren't for immigration.  Many European nations will more or less disappear by the end of the century since there aren't any baby Italians or Russians to replace the oldsters as they croak.

Brazilian fertility has dropped even faster than in America.  In 1960, each Brazilian woman had 6.3 children on average.  By 2009, the rate had dropped to 1.9, well below the replacement rate of 2.1.

Although other countries are experiencing lower fertility than Brazil - Japanese women are having .9 babies each - no nation on earth has changed this rapidly.  The change spread over a vast area, a population of 191 million, and despite strong Catholic influence which has made abortion illegal.

What's more, it covers all classes of Brazilian society.  Unlike the situation in America where welfare mothers have more children than taxpaying mothers, Brazilian poor are limiting their families in the same way as the rich.

Where are the Grandchildren?

Brazil had such a rapid drop in fertility that demographers have been trying to figure out why women changed their expectations so universally.  There will probably never be agreement, but a number of causes have been proposed:

  • In all countries, better educated women have fewer children.  Nobody is sure why; it could be that women who know other ways to spend their lives prefer to do something else.  This may be behind the Taliban's efforts to keep girls from going to school.
  • Soap operas.  As electricity and TV spread across Brazil in the 1960's, soap operas became immensely popular.  Soap opera families had two children or at most three because fewer actors were required and it was simpler to construct plots.  Nobody knows how much TV influences behavior, but advertisers believe it does.
  • Brazil started an intense program of industrialization in 1964 when the military took over.  When people moved from farms to crowded city slums, children were no longer assets and became expensive liabilities instead.
  • Health care improved so that fewer children died; parents felt less pressure to have spares.
  • Almost all drugs were sold over the counter.  Women could buy The Pill or the morning-after pill without involving doctors or their husbands.
  • A quirk of the health system made it more profitable for doctors to perform C-sections on a regular schedule than wait around for unpredictable normal deliveries.  For a small extra payment, women could get their tubes tied.  So many young women chose to be cheaply sterilized while giving birth that the phrase A fabrica esta fechada, "the factory is closed," became popular.
  • A national pension program convinced parents that they didn't need children to take care of them in old age.

Economic Effects

Children impose high costs on their parents and on society at large.  Smaller families contributed to Brazil's economic boom in two ways - fewer children require fewer resources for education, clothes, etc., and fewer children mean that more women are able to work.  Women's participation in the work force went from 39% in 1980 when the average woman had 4.4 children to 54% in 2000 when the average woman had 2.4.  When fertility drops, extra women working combined with fewer dependent children means that the ratio of working to nonworking people is unusually favorable for a generation or so.

This "demographic dividend" has been seen in other countries.  If a country has economic policies to encourage its large numbers of working people to create new businesses and new jobs, high economic growth rates can be observed.

As the first generation that had smaller families hits retirement age, however, two generations of smaller families mean that there are too few workers to support  the promised pensions.  Just as Greece, Italy, and other western countries are discovering, Brazilians will find that government's promises of old-age pensions aren't worth much because there won't be enough taxpayers.  They will discover, too late, that children are the only retirement plan they can count on.

Goodwife Bundchen's Children

We wrote earlier about Patriots quarterback Tom Brady being vehemently defended by his wife Gisele Bundchen at a low point in his career.  In publicly defending her husband, a fairly rare event at that level of celebrity, Ms. Bundchen showed that she was entitled to be addressed by the archaic title of "Goodwife" and that Mr. Brady was even more blessed than he had appeared to be.

Assuming that they don't spend all their money on divorce lawyers, Gisele and Tom shouldn't have any financial worries in their old age.  They have enough money to educate however many children they have regardless of the government.  Given modern chemistry, they can decide whether or not to add more children to the one they have, based simply on whether they want them.  They needn't care whether Jean Sebelius thinks they ought to reproduce!

The ancient title "goodwife" didn't include having children because just about all wives had children.  Does the modern role of a goodwife include having children?  Modern women don't seem to think so.  While spacing out children is certainly beneficial for women's health, having too few to sustain economic growth will lead to gigantic problems.  Our entire economic system is based on the idea of growth - more markets, more products, and more people buying and making products.

Nobody knows what will happen when the population stops growing, but it won't be pleasant when people find out that their promised retirement is but a mirage - and of course, if there aren't any children then before long there won't be a society or much of anything else either.

Lee Tydings is a guest writer for  Read other articles by Lee Tydings or other articles on Society.
Reader Comments

Well I find this odd. After all I've heard frequent arguments that the government shouldn't pay for people to have children. If you can't afford children don't have them. These arguments generally come for the right, not the left. Now when the left makes the argument that unwanted pregnancies are expensive and the right turns against the idea that it had just espoused.
"I have friends who have lots of kids. Some of these families are made up of 8-12 people and counting. Since the tax man gives a credit for each kid, these families have very little tax burden.

This is said to be a good thing, but my friends can't explain to me why it is a good thing. Children are a net loss on society because they contribute nothing. So those families with few (or no) children are paying for children that are not their own.

Even worse, these large families are getting cash back from the government at the end of the year in the form of tax credits from smaller families who are already paying more than their fair share. It has been suggested that child credits are good because the government is encouraging procreation, but why is that the government's job? In short - it isn't."

You can't change the answer based upon who asks the question. Either paying for children is good for society or it isn't.

March 9, 2012 11:21 AM

Read the article you cite again. The answer isn't changing; it's the same. Society should not have to pay for YOUR children. That's the same in the tax article as it is here with the contraception issue. You shouldn't get tax credits for having children. You shouldn't have your contraception paid for.

The issue here isn't about whether children are expensive or not. It's about who pays. It doesn't matter, in the abstract, whether children are expensive because the market will take of that on it's own. If everyone is forced to pay for their own children, parents will take action to stop having them. Parents will realize that contraception is cheaper than food and diapers, and start popping pills or wearing rubbers.

The only reason you (and the media) are debating contraception at all is because you've bought the idea that, for whatever reason, children have to be paid for by people other than their parents.

Don't swallow liberal spin.

March 9, 2012 11:29 AM

Lost in all of these observations on why women want less children is the only and most obvious fact, government intervention in our lives. Life, liberty, property and the pursuit of happiness is the duty of the state according to the Constitution. We have obviously veered horribly from these ideals. The result is the chaos that we see in DC today. Let's just look at a few examples of how our 535 rock stars have done with a few problems that they tried to solve with a central government:

Babies: Too few produced to be the worker bees needed to fund the social security ponzi scheme that they created.

Energy: Too little produced because of government intervention in the private economy. The government tells the companies what kind of gas to produce, where they can drill and when oil is found they won't allow it to be transported, see pipe lines, or drilled, see Gulf, West, East Coasts, Alaska or Rocky Mountain Shale.

Tobacco: They fund projects with tobacco revenue and then raise the taxes to keep people from smoking curtailing revenue.

Rent control: In order to keep lower income people in private housing they freeze rent on private property. Result: Run down housing because there is no money to fix the housing. Politicians denigrate the owners by calling them slum lords.

Deficits: This one is too easy. The politicians blame anyone with money for the deficits while it is they who voted for the excessive spending. I will be so happy when some president has the guts to look into the camera and talk to the American people and tell them exactly why we have such huge deficits on a weekly schedule. This needs to be brought out as to why we are in such trouble.

These are but a few of the more obvious reasons for a return to life, liberty, property and the pursuit of happiness as the only things that government needs to provide us. When we stoops to the levels of Sebelius we are indeed on the fast track to the dump bin of history.

March 9, 2012 12:10 PM

There are people having children. The Muslims and the Mexicans. Check out the CIA World Fact Book for numbers.

March 9, 2012 2:39 PM

Good point, CG. Society does have a vested interest in its members having children, because if not, the resulting society will be a profoundly different and alien one. Societies follow Darwinian rules too - don't reproduce and you go extinct.

March 9, 2012 3:12 PM

There are two separate issues here, each of which are clouding the other.

Yes, children are in the best interest of society. It's self-obvious, and if one doesn't believe that there's probably no reasoning with them to the contrary. Pregnancy is not a "medical condition", it's a choice. My first child came as a big shock and was unwanted in every sense, but my wife and I understood that it was human life and thus to be respected and accepted.

The second issue is about Who Pays. Just because a thing is in the best interest of society does not mean that society should steal money from Person A to pay for Person B's thing.

We (conservatives) have allowed ourselves to get swept away in the narrative of the left where Good And Right things should be paid for with other people's money. This is one of the (rare) issues I disagree with Santorum on. Society can promote what is in its best interest without stealing money from people based on what cause or which groups of people intellectuals and elitists like the most. This is the case with per-child tax credits, mortgage deductions and incentives for manufacturing just like it is for Volt rebates and payments to Solyndra.

We used to promote what was in society's best interest through churches, local schools and sound parenting. That was too hard so we started copying the left.

Stop fighting liberals by copying their beliefs. It's hard for us to promote conservative values when liberal friends through Big Government conservatism in our face.

March 9, 2012 4:17 PM

OK, here's a question for you: Do you think that government should discourage bad, but legal, things by taxing them? Or do you feel that "if it's harmful enough for government to be involved, it ought to be banned outright"?

March 9, 2012 4:24 PM

jonyfries, "You can't change the answer based upon who asks the question. Either paying for children is good for society or it isn't."

Government has no place in this discussion. It is an individual matter, neither left nor right. Unfortunately big government types on both sides of the aisle think they should mandate how people live their lives from DC. Wrong, plain and simple.

March 9, 2012 9:09 PM

Patience, In regard to your question about the government either banning or taxing an item,neither is the answer. It is no business of the government to tell you what to do by coercing you with taxes or laws. As long as you do not infringe on someone else's natural rights then they should be allowed to do what they want to.

March 9, 2012 11:40 PM

It is clear that someone must indeed pay for people to have children. Whether it is the people themselves or someone else. Someone must pay or the children must starve. There is not an alternative.

If you are willing to tell me that you will let children starve if their parents are either unwilling or unable to pay to take care of them then I will concede your point that it is the responsibility of people to take responsibility for their own actions.

If you are not willing to let them starve to death then we must as a society pay for the mistakes of others. It is all well and good to say that people must take responsibility for their own actions. However, we do not live in theory, we live in a world where people do not do so. Some times because they are unable but very frequently because they do not want to.

In addition the cost is not purely the cost of child birth and keeping them fed. It also includes the cost of education, the cost of incarceration, the cost of failed families. Society always pays for people's actions. I don't care what people -should- do. I care what people -will- do.

I therefore restate the question: Are you willing to let children die if their parents are unable or unwilling to pay for them?

March 11, 2012 12:03 AM

Jony, my simple answer to your simple question:

YES, I would be willing to "let them starve".

And the reason is equally simple: because they won't.

Go back and look at America before the Great Society took over. There were no children dying in the streets. Old people didn't starve even though there was no Social Security.

As you pointed out, we live in the real world, not in theories. And in the real world, people have compassion for each other. Churches and ministries offer programs for the poor in virtually every town nationwide.

Think about your argument if taken to it's logical conclusion. It justifies national healthcare and virtually every other social program imaginable.

March 11, 2012 9:44 AM

Patience, I not only oppose sin taxes, I abhor them. If something is wrong, it should be illegal. If something is not wrong, it should be legal in *every* way.

The word I take issue with is "discourage". That's where we go wrong. It's not the government's job to "discourage" or "encourage" certain behaviors. If you want to encourager your neighbors to be moral, invite them to church where the pastor will heap on the encouragement. If you think a particular action is too immoral to be allowed at all, get your neighbors together and vote to make it illegal.

It's important to point out that I'm not making a libertarian argument here. I think we can and should legislature morality, at least at the level. What I dislike are opaque word games that punish people through taxation even though we say that what they're doing is legal.

March 11, 2012 5:49 PM


You are trying to make children being fed as a problem that can only be solved by a government program. This is the worst thing that could happen to a child, being taken care of by the government. The government cannot dispense love or a caring attitude. It treats everyone as a number. If there are children that are hungary churches will feed them with dignity and compassion. This was never a problem before the welfare state and it never would be if the welfare state were to disappear. Religion is a part of our fabric that the left is scared of and is trying desperately to get rid of. I believe that that tactic is about to be turned around and we will look to the churches for answers instead of the government. After all, can you honestly say that government programs deliver on what they promise? None are worth the paper they are written on.

March 11, 2012 8:13 PM

I didn't say anything about the government taking care of the children. I said that society either must take care of children or they must starve if the parents are not willing or able to take care of them.

I completely agree that the United States government is terrible at taking care of children. The United States government is not the entirety of society it is simply part of it. So someone must pay for the children. Either it is right for society to pay for children or it is not.

It is expensive for people to have children that they can not afford for society. Therefore as a society we must choose when to pay the cost. When if, but when. For all people will most assuredly not pay for their own children.

March 12, 2012 5:35 PM

The problem, Jony, is that we not only pay for unmarried kids, we pay the mother's costs too. So they have an incentive to get pregnant at our expense. Beats having to find a job.

March 12, 2012 6:29 PM

I am not arguing what is right nor what is wrong. In theory I do not disagree in any way that people should pay their own way in life. However that never occurs in all cases. I do not believe in the government paying for people to not work. I do believe in charities helping each other out.

The question was not who should pay but if society should pay. Sebelius' argument was as follows: If society pays for birth control for women then society would reduce its overall payment to ensure basic care for the children that are born. I would estimate that to be a true statement, implications to her underlying beliefs aside.

Scragged has made the argument that society should not pay for other people to have children. Sebelius is arguing that the policy she advocates would reduce the number of people that the government pays to have children. To thereby conclude that Sebelius is anti-children is to conclude that Scragged is anti-children as well.

I am in no way arguing for or against any particular outcome to the contraception debate at this time. I am simply pointing out what I believe to be a flaw in the argument which concludes that Sebelius is anti-children. Which is why I posed the question: would you let the children starve to death. As that is the only way to see the Scragged argument and Sebelius' argument as being significantly different.

Attacks against a person may win bonus points with those that dislike the person but they do not provide any actual benefit to an argument. I would love to hear an argument against contraception that acknowledged the benefits of providing contraception to society. But instead there is an argument based upon disliking the opposition and then goes on to illustrate that birth rates are going down in the western world.

The argument seems to be something along the lines of:

A: Birth control reduces unwanted pregnancies.
B: Unwanted pregnancies increase the total birth rate.
C: The birth rate in western world is too low.
Therefore: Birth control should not be provided to people.

The argument ignores instead of addresses the very issue that it attempted to lambaste Sebelius brought attention to. It attempts to hide avoiding the argument by simply attacking the person who brought it forward. Such tactics I find unconvincing and I believe Scragged to be capable of backing up its arguments and am simply hoping that Scragged will do so instead of simply pilling up more attacks based on emotion instead of reason.

March 12, 2012 7:03 PM

"...I do not disagree in any way that people should pay their own way in life. However that never occurs in all cases"

Because we DON'T LET IT occur, not because it can't.

Children don't starve in the United States. Just because you insist that they do (or will) doesn't make it true.

Step back and look at your premise. It's wrong. You can't see the point being made - mine at least - unless you correct your premise.

March 12, 2012 8:10 PM


it really is simple if you get the government out of your bedroom and purse. Without government interference there will be fewer children born to people who cannot afford them. People have always done what is in their best interest. The ones that do have children that they cannot afford will be taken care of by religious organizations. That is not a hypothetical, that is a fact. If you think that this is not based on facts and the real world then you are too emotional.

March 12, 2012 11:32 PM
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