Microkhan by Brendan I. Koerner

Vermont’s Baby Bust

March 19th, 2009 · 2 Comments

vermontcoinThe most widely discussed aspect of the latest national birth figures is the sheer number of babies that dropped in ’07—more than in any year since the late Eisenhower administration. Well, that and the fact that 40 percent of those births were out-of-wedlock—the result of more and more women getting preggers without getting hitched.

But what struck me about the figures was Vermont’s position in the birth-rate cellar. I figured that, given the egregiously long winters in the Green Mountain State, folks would have nothing better to do than make babies from November ’til the spring thaw. But the average Vermont woman has less than 1.6 kids over the course of her lifetime—well below the replacement rate of 2.1, and seriously bad news for the state’s future economy. Those trees won’t tap themselves for maple syrup, you know.

What’s left unexplained in all the press coverage is why Vermonters are so keen to resist the Siren’s call of parenthood. So let’s dig a little deeper, shall we? The two main factors that adversely affect birth rate are affluence and education. (Age, of course, is another, but we’ll disregard that because of its chicken-or-egg nature.) The richer and more highly educated a population, the lower its birth rate tends to plummet. That’s why Japan and Italy are worrying about their forthcoming demographic dips—prosperity plus lots of degrees equal a dwindling population.

In the case of Vermont, the education factor definitely comes into play; the state is often ranked as the most highly educated in the land. But that education hasn’t necessarily translated into higher income, as Vermont ranks in the middle of the pack, below the likes of Delaware, Virginia, and even Wyoming.

And therein lies an opportunity for Vermont to develop an effective pro-natal policy. Higher education—particularly post-graduate education—is a drag on birth rates because being a student isn’t conducive to being a parent. You’re broke, you’re overwhelmed with time-intensive work, your future job prospects are shaky. But the time you get sheepskin in hand and a job (hopefully) squared away, your already late to the family game.

Rather than conjure up a series of minor tax breaks (the typical pro-natal strategy in state capitals), Vermont should think of some ways to encourage students to start families: Tuition breaks, day-care services at state universities, better wages for TAs, night and summer job placement, etc. Yeah, it’ll be expensive, but it’s a worthwhile investment if it’ll prevent your state from becoming one big retirement home. And as fate would have it, isn’t a whole bunch of that stimulus money supposed to go towards higher ed?

Alternately, perhaps Vermont could experiment with starting a public-access porn channel. Or, if legislators want to keep it clean, figure out a way to lure immigrants from Utah.


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2 Comments so far ↓

  • Jordan

    One of the graduate program applicants I interviewed with about a month ago was Mormon, already married and a father. I think your last point is probably right.

  • Brendan I. Koerner

    So the question then becomes, How does Vermont lure more Mormon residents? Not sure the state’s current residents will abide more stringent liquor laws.