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Behind the falling US birthrate: too much student debt to afford kids?

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For instance, America's Social Security program depends on having enough younger people in the workforce to cover benefits for retirees; a shortage of working-age people makes the program unsustainable at existing tax rates. Concern about low birthrates has led some nations to give their citizens financial incentives to have more children. Singapore, for one, now has a "Parenthood Package" that includes paternity leave, subsidies for fertility treatments, and special savings accounts for each child.

Of course, many factors are at work when it comes to a lower birthrate: delayed marriage, the advent of contraception, education and career options for women, economic stability, and so forth. It's not yet clear how much of a deterrent exorbitant and widespread student debt poses to family formation, because the phenomenon is relatively new.

"There are not a lot of hard numbers yet," says Tamika Butler, director of the California office of the Young Invincibles, a youth advocacy group that has focused on the student debt issue since 2009, conducting studies and making policy recommendations to Washington. A 2012 Rutgers University study, "Chasing the American Dream: Recent College Graduates and the Great Recession," shows that 4 in 10 graduates from a four-year college program said debt has delayed major decisions such as buying a house or starting a family. And there is plenty of anecdotal evidence that student debt is delaying childbearing.

'We would like to think about children, but ...'

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