The average U.S. woman birthed 2.12 Children in the early ’70s but only 1.73 by 2018. And whereas car Safety Seats were first required only for tots under three, that has gradually risen in most places to age eight. Are these two things related?
Yes, says a scientific study reported in The Economist. Though finding no correlation regarding the births of first and second children, families did less often choose to have a third while the first two still needed safety seats. Notably, the birth rate reduction was seen only in two-parent families.
Visualize this. A single parent can easily drive with three child seats. But two adults and three safety seats in a car don’t go. Of course, you can get a bigger vehicle, like a minivan. But that’s costly, and even people who can afford such monsters may dislike them. The answer: as long as two children still need safety seats, postpone the third. Maybe forever.
This car seat effect on family size is marginal, to be sure, but it seems it’s not zero. The study’s authors reckoned that in 2017 it reduced U.S. births by 8,000. But what about children’s lives saved by requiring safety seats up to age eight? Only 57 they calculated.
But this, The Economist comments, “to put it politely,” is “a strange moral calculation.” It cites other evidence suggesting greater safety benefits for car seats even for older children. But anyhow I see no equivalence between a living child killed in a crash and one never born, whose existence is merely hypothetical. (Then again, I don’t have the refined moral sense of an anti-abortion zealot.)
And I take the whole thing with a grain of salt. It’s axiomatic that correlation needn’t imply causation. There may obviously have been other sociological and cultural reasons for the observed effects, unrelated to car seats.
Nevertheless, The Economist concludes that this story illustrates the law of unintended consequences. We think of the back seats of cars as places where children are conceived; here they may be preventing children being conceived.
This post first appeared on The Rational Optimist | Frank S. Robinson's Blog On Life, Society, Politics, And Philosophy, please read the originial post: here