The quantity and quality of children in low fertility countries

Anne H. Gauthier, University of Calgary

The reach of very low levels of fertility in industrialized countries in recent decades has raised much concern; especially in terms of future trends in labor force supply and possible labor force shortages. The future quantity of workers is however only part of the problem. Equally, if not more important, for economic growth are also the productivity and skills of the labor force. Inequalities in the training and education of the labor force continue however to be very large despite overall increases in human capital. For example, recent data reveal that a relatively large percentage of adults in industrialized countries appear to possess only minimal levels of literacy skills. In the context of the new knowledge economy, such inequalities are worrying. But perhaps even more worrying is the fact that similar inequalities are also observed in children suggesting that a non-negligible proportion of children may be ill-prepared to make the transition from school to work and to become productive workers. In this paper, I focus on the ‘quality’ of children as indicator of the quality of the next generation of workers. The objective is to draw attention, document, and discuss the overall trends in the quality of children in the context of low fertility, but especially in their underlying inequalities. This is not only an important topic from an economic and labor force perspective: the topic of the quality of children also raises the whole issue of social justice and private vs. public responsibility. Following the recent work of economists and political scientists (Heckman and Masterov 2007; Esping Andersen 2007), I argue that larger societal investments in children are needed today in order to increase the overall ‘quality’ of the future labor force as well as decreasing its inequalities.

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Presented in Session 37: Demographic Determinants of Child Welfare