As Australia's population ages, an increasing number of non-productive retirees are going to be dependent on products and services provided by a decreasing work force. The inflationary result could well leave some retirees feeling that their superannuation savings are not going quite as far as expected. One solution is to achieve an increased birth rate.
Although the politically correct brigade do not like it, and whatever the underlying reason, there is a clear correlation between the economic productivity of parents and the later economic productivity of their children. Increasing the birth rate among productive parents is a better outcome for retirees than is a corresponding increase among the non-productive segment. Considered in that light, the existing policies relating to the financial aspects of parenting look very strange.
For all the political rhetoric about the need to increase the birth rate, one will look in vain for anything significant in the Budget to act as an encouragement. The change in the family tax benefit income test threshold from July 2006 gives only about $1,000 extra a year, and some of that would have been received anyway because the threshold is increased in line with the CPI. While existing parents will no doubt welcome the extra money, it is difficult to imagine it having any real influence of the decision to have children. So the population as a whole will contribute comparatively little towards the expenses incurred by economically productive parents, while being happy in the future to benefit from the existence of the children.
Young people who are already embarked on a financially rewarding career path face very real disincentives to getting married and having children. Even with the ideal of a successful long lasting marriage, the financial impact of child bearing and rearing can look daunting. The mother will certainly have to take some time out of work losing income in the process, and when she returns to work there will be child care costs. If she has spent a significant time out of the work force, then her salary will not have kept up with her non-child bearing colleagues.
As if that were not bad enough, the potential couple will no doubt ponder the consequences of some future breakdown of the relationship. If part of the motivation for marriage is to have children, then the mother can at least be reasonably confident that she will retain custody of them. By contrast, the father is probably going to find himself in a position where he is at most getting some access to the children, but is paying a substantial part of his income by way of child support.
If the father finds another partner, and has two children with her, he will still be paying child support for the children of his first marriage. The numbers are stark. A father earning 125 per cent of average weekly earnings (AWE) with two children by his ex-partner and two children by a new partner can see himself put into the same position as someone on 95 per cent of AWE with no child support to pay. Having to pay child support will substantially impact on his ability to support a second family.
The implication is clear. Whereas a woman desiring to have children around her has a very good chance of succeeding, even if the relationship turns sour, the reverse is true for the would-be family man, and he really has only one bite of this cherry. The young man has no ticking biological clock, so it makes good sense for him to be cautious. Now, once he starts thinking in these terms, it does not take much to cause him to wonder at the motivations of a potential mother. If she seems overly eager to start a family right away, then it may be that that is her main motivation for marrying, even if she herself is unaware of it. The man could reasonably wonder whether his prime function is to be a provider of sperm now and money later. Best for him to wait a few years to see whether the relationship is enduring, even though his temporary unwillingness to commit can itself be divisive. If the couple split up, then the whole process starts again - for both of them. It is easy to see how the end result of this process is that children do not get born.
In the past, there seemed to be a problem with excessive population growth. In that context, the decision to have children could be seen as a lifestyle choice, and one which should not be indulged in by those unable, or unwilling, to pay the financial consequence. The welfare system reflected a need to ensure that the children of failed marriages, who never had a choice in the matter, were provided with an adequate standard of living, and the opportunity to maximise their potential. It was appropriate for non-custodial parents to be forced to make a significant contribution to the upkeep of their children, because otherwise the state would have to.
The population problem has reversed. If we want today's young men to become fathers, we need to reduce the risk they are taking. The issue here is not the amount of financial support that the children require but who should pay it. We now desperately need children who will economically productive in the future. Society should be willing to bear a lot more of the financial risk.
Discuss in our Forums
See what other readers are saying about this article!
Click here to read & post comments.
118 posts so far.