Thursday, July 19, 2012

My role in Canada's impending demographic mess

$100,000. It is the amount of money the government offers (tax-free) to recent university graduates in long-term committed relationships to help bear the financial burden of having a child. The money is designed to account for the opportunity cost borne by recent graduates who put off entering the workforce (or pursuing further education) when they decide to have children shortly after graduation. And if you do decide to return to school right after having the child, the program will cover and guarantee a child care spot at the university you attend. They might even forgive your student loans.

Obviously, no such program exists. Rather it is the brainchild of my friend KH, who uses it to help demonstrate demographic issues in the high school classes he teaches. The program is full of holes, as any thought experiment designed to promote critical and engaging thinking should. But it will certainly not be the only radical solution proposed to Canada's impending demographic storm. The baby-boomers are hitting retirement age. Health care costs are expected to skyrocket and pension funds are likely to be emptied before my generation can touch it. And the tax base that pays for this stuff is shrinking. Canadians are having less kids and less often. Immigration policies have created a multicultural Canada, but immigration is expensive and sometimes borderline unethical -- see "brain drain".

There are all sorts of reasons young Canadians are not having kids in the same way their parents did. But it is difficult for me to really think about it without first figuring out my own role in all of it. After all, I'm part of that critical demographic wandering through my procreation years trying to balance that desire with other career and life ambitions.

For all intents and purposes, I could have a kid and get along relatively well. I'm 24 years old. I'm healthy. I'm in a serious relationship. I have a supportive family. I'm educated and figure that even in this market I could find a job. My financial situation is comfortable. I like kids and I think I might very well like to have some kids in the future. But why do I not want to have kids right now?

First, kids are expensive. Raising a child in a major Canadian city from birth to 18 costs hundreds of thousands of dollars. Personal finance has been a serious interest of mine for many years and given what I'd like to do with my money right now, the numbers just don't add up. A $100,000 subsidy would be helpful, but would it be enough?

Second, I think I can still be cool when I'm older. Relying on the wildly uncertain assumption that I am or have ever been cool, for many years I figured that in order to be a cool dad I would need to be relatively young in order to relate to my kids. This is a foolish notion. Age is not necessarily a determinant of relatability. Moreover, many of my friends are in their 30s and 40s with children, and they still manage to have a pretty good time.   

Third, I'm still learning. I'm convinced, albeit possibly mistakenly -- see Freakonomics: Do Parents Matter? -- that my knowledge and behaviour can in some way be transferred to my offspring. I'm always learning new things, and will continue to do so for the rest of my life, but I'd rather wait until I know some more. I won't ever stop doing stupid things, but one hopes that I will a little more aware of those things when I'm older.  

Fourth, I would like my kids to grow up with similar opportunities I had growing up. Many of these things take money and time to get.  

Fifth, I'm not ready to commit. I still have no idea what I want to be when I grow up (perhaps I never will). After all, I went to law school largely because I have no clue what to do with my life. I'm in no rush to figure it out, but until I have a better idea of what I want to do with my life, I don't feel comfortable committing to a kid. A three-year commitment to law school was a considerable decision in itself. On the same token, there are a lot of things I'd like to do in the next while that having a kid might prohibit or at least change significantly - i.e. travel, different jobs, sleeping, etc.

I have no idea how to solve this demographic challenge. But I do know that, at least for me, incentives to have kids earlier will have to address far more than cost.        

1 comment:

  1. Great post! For me, though, I feel like the issue isn't so much as incentives to have kids as it is support for parenting. Honestly, the biggest policy changes that could convince me to have kids/have kids earlier would be extended parental leave (regardless of gender) and subsidized early childhood day care. Given the amount of time and effort I'm putting into learning the law, I don't want to have to put my career on hold to have a kid, and I don't want my hypothetical partner to have to make that sacrifice either. I don't think handing out money will solve our demographic problems, but new policies that lower the burden on parents (particularly mothers, since sexism is still a thing) might.