The Science of Guessing

Economists assume human behavior while Sociologists actually study human behavior. A recent report that says the U.S. Population is growing at the lowest since the Great Depression, and a Brooking’s Institute Economics response is the perfect example of the difference between Sociology and Economics. Many economists assume that people are having less babies because of the economy. There is scant evidence of that as a singularity.

In Sociology, we have the General Social Survey, administered every two years to a sample size of around 50,000 people. It measures people’s attitudes on a myriad of things ranging from the economy to child rearing, to anomie, to alienation. It’s important to realize that it’s not about “numbers,” it’s about people’s perceptions.

A Situation is real when it’s real in its consequences (W.I. Thomas).

So how do people feel about having children? Well, according to the GSS, since 1972, most people surveyed believe that the ideal number of kids to have is between 2 and 3, without much deviation over time:

chldidel

And most people believe that their standard of living is still better than their parents (even if it’s not numerically true):

parsol

And most people seem to accept their financial situation, even if it is really bad:

satfin

So what else could possibly cause such a decline in population (not factoring lowered immigration)? One thing that comes to mind is the fact that according to the OECD, the United States has the 3rd LARGEST Infant Mortality rate in the free world:

infantmort

So there can be a myriad of reasons. Some may be economic concerns, some may be public health policies, and some may be social safety nets. What the cause of decreasing growth in population is not, is a singularity.

Decreasing population is a social phenomenon that needs to be studied and investigated, simply because it can create a huge paradigm shift across disciplines. What no one should do is guess at the science.

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