Fertility and wealth:
I wish I could have an intelligent conversation for every time somebody has said, “Farmers had big families because they needed the children to do the work.” 

I point out that children by and large are learning and growing.  That means if you want some task accomplished it’s cheaper to hire an adult.  Suppose you have a farm and there is a peach orchard that needs to be picked.  You make arrangements with an adult, and at the end of the day there are baskets of peaches on your porch.  Children need more supervision.  To begin with you need to tell them to look around for baskets.  And they need to eat more for the work they do in order to nourish that growing frame.

Somebody once told me that you cannot hire men to do farm work because there are none to be found out in the country.  That was a novel attitude.  It is notorious that young people move to the city to find work.  So the city is sort of a vampire.  The rural population generates the children and makes the investment in bringing them up to be productive adults.  Then they move to town where their productivity pays off for a system that did not invest in them. 

Sometimes I get, “But think about all those children working in the mills in the industrial revolution and in sweat shops more recently.”  I’m sorry, when it comes to money children just don’t pull their own weight.  That’s fine.  They are doing plenty.  There is a very close relationship between wealth and fertility.  Richer countries lack babies.  If the birth rate falls, the country can be expected to make more per capita.  If they start to get rich, the birth rate falls.  In South Korea the birth rate fell and then the economy bloomed.  In Japan they got rich and then the fertility crashed.  But the two go together.

Whether it is subsistence farming or an industrial setting, children are not a source of truly cheap labor however badly they have been exploited.  They are expensive.

But they mean more than money.  They are the future. 

There have been 7,947 visitors so far.

Home page.