Harry and Meghan are the environmental champions of our era, choosing to stop at two children to heal our poor environment. British charity Population Matters has awarded the couple $695 based on their “enlightened decision.”
It’s unclear whether Population Matters cares that Harry and Meghan’s carbon footprint blows everyone else’s out of the water. A four-hour private jet flight emits more carbon pollution than the average person emits in a year. And it takes a little over four hours to visit Botswana, Jamaica, Seychelles (Google it, I beg you), Morocco, South Africa, Australia, New Zealand, Tonga, Italy, Spain, France, Fiji.… I’ll stop. Nor do Harry and Meghan dwell in a wind-powered hut with an outhouse; their 18,671-square-foot California mansion boasts separate wet and dry saunas, a game room, a home theater, an arcade, and sixteen bathrooms not including the guest house. (“It’s so basic, but it’s really fulfilling,” says Meghan.)
Others have joined on to the idea that the human race should, after eons of battle, let nature win. Population Matters advocates that people have “one, two or even no children” to help the planet. And President Joe Biden’s imperiled nominee for overseeing 12% of the nation’s land has advocated for exactly this. Tracy Stone-Manning, in her University of Montana graduate thesis, urged for Americans to “breed fewer producing humans,” because “the earth can’t afford Americans.” But these elitist proposals are harmful to middle-class Americans and hypocritical to their core.
The same people telling Americans that trees and bears should be prioritized over childbearing are those who favor lockdowns and vaccine mandates, all measures to keep the population alive and prevent nature from winning. Advocates to limit your family size and shrink the population are out-of-touch, and not concerned about the middle class, centuries of experience of what constitutes human flourishing, or even the environment—which surely would be improved if more people died of COVID.
In fact, the population trend highlights a different and very real crisis. Last year, the United States recorded its lowest birth rate in history. This is not cause for celebration. For the non-jet-owning American, her future is dependent on a robust population. Tomorrow’s workers are needed to staff the hospitals and farm the land the elderly need to survive. They’re needed to buy our homes and stocks, which will otherwise plummet in value. And, given reasonable reliance on the status quo, they’re needed to finance the government programs millions of Americans have assumed will provide for them post-retirement.
In a New York Times survey, young people gave a host of reasons for having fewer children, including cost, the desire to spend more time with the children they have, concerns about the economy, a desire for leisure time, and getting married too late (or not at all). Policymakers have proposed a variety of solutions. More childcare, more immigration, more education to make workers more productive, and more Tinder… just kidding.
But these “solutions” discard an important consideration. We’re humans with free will, and we choose to do things all the time despite costs or impact on leisure time. In other words, we think about what we value, and we prioritize. And we’ve made some decisions. The average American spends 6% of her income on eating out, 1% on booze, and 10-15% on vacation. College-educated women have increased their presence in the workplace by 11% since 2000. Marriage rates have declined.
To increase the birth rate, government actors cannot throw money or laws at the problem and assume that decision-making will be flipped. People who really want to get married, really want to raise children, and really want to raise a lot of children do so. Maybe they have to get married young. Maybe they can’t live in San Francisco. Maybe they can’t work 80-hour weeks. Maybe they can’t vacation in Paris. Maybe someone stays home. But you can have kids if you want to.
The issue is this: Americans say they want lots of kids but don’t actually make the sacrifices to align their lifestyles with that desire. And that’s a basic reality of incentives. Our world is laden with incentives to limit child birth, even without Harry & Meghan’s brave lead.
It’s a small start, but maybe it’s time to change who and what we glorify, away from Harry and Meghan, as glamorous (but so basic) a life it must be. Maybe it’s time for Hollywood, universities, the media, Wall Street, Silicon Valley, and the holders of power in our nation to repeat that advice you hear from that crazy aunt: Get married, have lots of babies, and commit yourself to both. Everything else is details.