Kyle Nelson is not your average student. With a workweek consisting of 60 hours, some could say Nelson is busy. Throw in finishing his dissertation on chemical templating, hours on end in BYU’s chemical engineering lab and weekly church service as the ward mission leader and busy may not seem a strong enough word to describe his current stage in life. But when Nelson goes home for dinner each day, time seems to slow down. He forgets about atomic force microscopes and nanometer scale chemical modifications and for an hour plays with his 2-year-old daughter.
“When you’re working so much, it becomes harder and harder to spend time together,” Nelson said. “I would rather play with Samantha than do other things, but work is essential.”
Although Nelson knew his life would change when his daughter was born, he didn’t completely understand the financial challenges a baby would create. Now expecting his second child, Nelson is among many Americans who wish the United States would implement more family-promoting incentives.
“I think that most people in our country have serious concerns with having children in the current economic climate,” Nelson said. “I don’t think it’s the government’s responsibility to solve this population problem, but I think that providing finical incentives would help people feel more comfortable to have children.”
Many European family-promoting policies offer more than just tax breaks for families to have children. They offer almost a year’s worth of salary and subsidized holidays.
“The French government gives people subsidies for having kids,” said Lydia Nelson, a dual US-French citizen. “It’s nice to have your birthing paid for.”
France’s family policies seem to be working.
“European birth rates have been declining for some time, but France seems to have the highest birth rate among the major European countries,” said Stan Benfell, European studies coordinator for the BYU Kennedy Center. “Their policies of providing maternity leaves and subsidizing larger families does seem to be one reason why.”
However, Benfell said he was unsure if the US should implement policies similar to France to promote families.
In most developed countries, the decline in fertility and the increase in longevity have raised concerns about the decrease in the supply of labor, the socioeconomic implications of aging populations and the long-term prospect of population decline and demise.
“Some countries feel like they need to pay people to have children,” said Alex Bess, a Utah Valley University student studying foreign business. “In a way, it looks like the US could use some more family-promoting policies, because our birth rate is dropping as well.”
The US birth rate is declining because couples are waiting longer to have children. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the U.S. birth rate has been gradually declining for about 15 years.
“It’s just good sense to have children younger,” said Lisa Gravelle, an ob-gyn in Salt Lake City. “People worry they can’t afford having children, which is why so many couples are putting it off.”
Although there was a record high for births in 2007, a recent study conducted by the Pew Research Center found the birth rate has dropped significantly over the past four years.
“This is because of finances,” Gravelle said. “Couples just don’t have the confidence they can afford a baby.”
In 2007 in the US, there were 4,316,266 births, which means 69.6 babies born for every 1,000 childbearing-age women. In 2010, there were 4,007,000 births, 64.7 births per 1,000 women.
Although it is unlikely the US will suffer a shortage of children comparable to the shortage in China, some people feel it is important to make sure this never happens.
“The options are more tax breaks or subsidies,” said Joe Faux, an Orem father of three. “I’m not sure which would work best, but in order to up the birth rate, people need to feel financially stable.”
As far as Nelson is concerned, he would be thrilled to have some more support so he could take better care of his family.
“If we could have received more tax exemptions of something, that would have helped significantly,” he said. “I think the tax credits and the personal exemptions need to be raised. We don’t need free money given to us like France seems to be doing. We just need better exemptions.”