Why Isn't Anybody Having Kids?

For the first time ever, worldwide birth rates are below the level needed to maintain a steady population. Economists estimate the “birth replacement rate” at 2.2 live births per woman. As recently as 2021, the replacement rate stood at 2.32, but today, one leading economist estimates it at 2.1-2.2, which would eventually lead to a population decline for the first time since the Black Death bubonic plague in the mid-1300s. This begs the question: Why isn’t anybody having kids?

Some reasons are positive: more economic opportunities for women, and greater equality and self-empowerment; higher incomes, education levels and standards of living. But some potential reasons are decidedly negative: higher student loan debt. Fewer jobs for young adults, and more dead-end careers paying low wages. Young adults “failing to thrive,” and living longer with parents. More time spent in isolation on the phone, and less time socializing IRL. More adults caring for elderly relatives. And states and nations with family-unfriendly policies, including lack of paid family leave, health benefits, child care and universal pre-K.



However, another economist tells The Wall Street Journal she disagrees with these explanations. She and two colleagues published research in 2021 looking into reasons behind the declining U.S. birth rate, and they concluded that “state-level differences in parental abortion notification laws, unemployment, Medicaid availability, housing costs, contraceptive usage, religiosity, child-care costs and student debt could explain almost none of the decline.” Instead, they suspect that the shift reflects broader societal trends which are difficult to measure or quantify.

 Another expert theorizes that when a low fertility cycle kicks in, it essentially becomes a “vicious circle” that resets societal norms, and it can’t be overcome even with pro-natalist policies adopted by nations like Hungary. People see friends and peers having fewer children, so they decide to also have fewer children, and this influences others to do the same. Today, many young adults simply prioritize their leisure and “me” time, career, and myriad media and entertainment options over the time-, labor- and capital-intensive practice of raising children.

Even those who decide to become parents often choose to have fewer kids, while “doubling down” on those they do have. Experts note that parenting is now quantifiably a more labor-intensive practice than in prior generations, so parents choose to allocate their time and money toward fewer children, and then become much more active and invested in those kids’ lives.

How can kid- and family-focused brands adapt to a world with fewer babies?

*Seek out seniors. As the under-18 population atrophies, the number of seniors is exploding, as people live longer, and more middle-aged people become involved in elder care. Many products needed to care for kids (e.g., diapers) are ones needed by seniors, so these brands should pivot toward the faster-growing, deeper-pocketed A65+ market.

*Hover over helicopter parents. If parents are having just one or two kids and “doubling down” on them, offer premium products, services and experiences to these “helicopter parents,” to enrich their kids’ psychological, athletic and cultural development. These parents have the means and desire to provide their kids “nothing but the best,” so sell “fewer Bentleys rather than more Chevys,” at a much higher margin.

*Present the positives. If cultural values around parenthood are changing, show the positives of childrearing in ads, to emphasize that parenting is “the hardest but most rewarding job you’ll ever have.” Show parents delighted to see their kid’s first words, steps, bike ride, school dance and graduation, to make the emotional case for parenthood that facts and figures alone cannot.

By taking these first steps, brands can successfully survive the baby bust.

2 comments about "Why Isn't Anybody Having Kids?".
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  1. R. M. from self, May 18, 2024 at 6:39 p.m.

    So you are saying it's the wealthiest adults that are having the kids?
    "These parents have the means and desire to provide their kids “nothing but the best,”

    And NOT? the most frequent Target and Walmart shoppers (that are heving the volume of kids)?

    I'm not convinced that the luxury outlay for kids and the thought (want good stuff for my kids) equate to high volume for LUX brands.  The over simplification seems far to easy. If that easy, there would be no marketing issue at all.

  2. R. M. from self, May 18, 2024 at 6:48 p.m.

    ps- Hoping this is a time in history where adults are making the choice to be Child-free as they are ditching the gulit of patriarchy and in-laws.
    No child should be brought into the world out of guilt... either for a government, or for an elder generation to gloat/show photos.  
    If government and "brands" so worried that 8 billion people is not enough, maybe they should campaign for single men to adopt children, creating a new family subset.

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