Governments tend to propagate the notion that parenthood is a noble affair and that — within reason, of course — an adequate number of children per family is to be encouraged. A fertility rate of 2.1 children, or a little more, per woman is desirable because the population is then able to replenish its numbers very year and government can then rely on a steady income tax. All the better if governments can induce steady inflation. As incomes therefore rise they automatically spill over into higher taxation brackets and governments can reduce their debts effortlessly.
Mistaking power for truth, as governments are inclined to do, means that the real decision-makers are ignored. The parents, of course. However, having being manipulated into enthusiastically fighting for one’s country twice in the past century on behalf of the elite with significant assets to lose, ordinary parents have become more sceptical about ideal family size. For 50 years now, with a growing welfare state at their side, parents have gradually brought down the desired family size from three or four children to less than two.
Instead of the status of having a large family, parents would rather now have a small family and spend their discretionary incomes on other status goods for their more immediate benefit. It may be an unfortunate choice leading to a lonely old age for many, but it’s the choice that is now being made in the modern advanced countries.
And, as for governments’ discretionary incomes, instead of upgrading the quality of education in its schools to compensate for jobs being steadily lost to automation, it has been spent on almost anything else that lends grandeur and more centralised power to governments.
Cultural trends always overshoot and all the above will change. How long it will take for turnaround to take place very much depends on the nature of the new post-industrial jobs in the advanced countries. It is very much a race between how quickly the rate of innovation brings about comprehensive automation and the rate of decline of the non-elite part of the population to zero. It may be surprisingly untraumatic so long as the advanced countries make sure that their populations are not diluted too much by low-skill mass immigration, thus postponing the new structural balance in jobs and abilities.