Optimism and national birth rates

by Ryan Streeter on May 24, 2012. Follow Ryan on Twitter.

Here’s an interesting observation in Ben Wattenberg’s WSJ column today on America’s demographic edge:

Every other major modern nation and every developing country has low or falling birth rates. Japan and Poland see 1.3 children per woman, Brazil and China 1.9, Pakistan 3.6 (down from 6.6 three decades ago). American fertility rates are relatively high, at nearly 2.1.

Having children is an affirmative act, so it’s little surprise that surveys—Gallup, Harris and others—show Americans to be the most optimistic nation in the world. (Israel, too, is an optimistic nation with a sense of mission and high birth rates.)

I’d like to see more on this. From the work I did on the Prosperity Index, I saw all kinds of relationships between high levels of life satisfaction and other public goods in education, economic growth, and health, for instance. Birth rates, though, would be an interesting study. If hope and a strong sense of the future also produce more children (as it seems they would, per Wattenberg’s claim), having the empirical data would be helpful. If anyone has seen studies on this, let me know.