San Diego's non-Hispanic whites not creating enough babies

Is everybody too tired?

Our future began on Wednesday, February 5, 2003, when a UCLA doctor announced that for the first time since the late 1850s, Hispanic births accounted for more than half the births in California.The UCLA Center for the Study of Latino Health and Culture released the news after a landmark study. "Of the 138,892 births from July to September 2001," the AP reported the next day, "69,672 of them -- 50.2 percent -- were Hispanic babies." "The long-anticipated Latino majority has arrived," said the center's director, David Hayes-Bautista. "In 2003, it is learning how to walk and will shortly learn to talk. They will be defining the American dream. It's in their hands." Whew. Just in time. Because the rest of us aren't doing the job.

According to Ed Schafer, senior demographer at SANDAG (the San Diego Association of Governments), the rest of San Diego's inhabitants, especially non-Hispanic whites, are not creating enough babies to keep the county up and running. If trends continue, fertility rates will drop below replacement levels. Against all the cries you hear about population explosion, some demographers say that most non-Hispanics have set their dials on oblivion, nonrecoverability -- let's use the E-word, extinction. Maybe that's a little too apocalyptic. But Schafer says that San Diego's non-Hispanic whites and African Americans have a fertility rate -- that is, a baby-production rate -- of between 1.7 and 1.8 children per female. "That is below replacement level. About 2.0 is replacement, so 1.8 is a pretty low fertility rate."

So what's happening in the bedrooms of non-Hispanic San Diego? Is everybody just too tired? Are Anglo Americans, African Americans, Asians, Native Americans all just California Dreaming? Partying too hard? Have they decided that their priorities are elsewhere, their careers too important, their lives too good, too fun, too challenging, too lonely, too busy, too self-absorbing, or maybe just too desperate, to include children?

You have to ask: with recent immigrants creating the largest families, has the task of making babies become the ultimate outsourcing of America? And as Anglos in San Diego head for minority status, what fears or irrational reactions could this prospect stir up? One-Worlders should be in Seventh Heaven, but the "don't rent to illegals" Escondido crowd must be seeing Armageddon. Or is it like the frog in slowly heating water: nobody notices?

"Between now and 2030 two things are going to happen," says SANDAG's Ed Schafer. "We're going to become much more nonwhite. Right now, non-Hispanic whites (thus named to distinguish them from Hispanic whites) make up 49 percent of the county, and Hispanics are 25 percent. By 2030, non-Hispanic whites will be down to 38 percent of the population, and Hispanics will be up to 38 percent."

And, nota bene, that will be older Anglos, with less power in the workplace but financial clout and political influence, and younger Hispanics, with the numbers on their side but probably not yet enough political heft. "Right now, 12 percent of San Diego County residents are 65 years or older. By 2030 it will be 21 percent," Schafer says. "It'll be like Florida is today. Old people will be predominantly white. The young, whose taxes will sustain retiring Baby Boomers, will be predominantly Hispanic. Politically, more will separate Anglo San Diego and non-Anglo San Diego."

Hispanics are already recognized by political power brokers as a force to be reckoned with. Currently, one in three of the nation's Latinos live in California. In San Diego County, National City hosts the highest concentration with 59 percent. Chula Vista is nearly 50 percent Latino; Imperial Beach, 40 percent; Vista, 39 percent; Escondido, 39 percent; San Marcos, 37 percent; Oceanside, 30 percent; and the city of San Diego, 25 percent. All of these areas showed big Hispanic growth in the 1990s.

In pockets like Lakeside, non-Hispanic whites still make up the majority, with 57,368 (in 2004) of the total 74,262 population. Hispanics number only 10,793. But by 2030, though non-Hispanic whites will remain the majority, their projected numbers, 63,451, will be a smaller percentage of the projected total population of 97,365, an increase of only 11 percent. Meantime, the Hispanic population will have jumped 93 percent to 20,837.

That doubling reflects the countywide trend over the next quarter-century. Non-Hispanic whites will lose about 1 percent. Whereas the non-Hispanic white-to-Hispanic ratio in the county now stands at 2-1, by 2030 it'll be 1-1.

How many kids are Hispanic families producing? Lots, if you look at the migrant community, especially newly arrived immigrants, largely from Mexico and Central America, who are producing 3.1 babies per female.

On the other hand, the overall Hispanic birthrate is also dropping. In 1995 the average was 2.9 births per female. By 2000 it was down to 2.5. And statewide, according to Dr. Hayes-Bautista, established (non-immigrant) Hispanic women are at the barely sustainable fertility level of 2.0. This drop, he says, is happening all over California, and in Mexico. Still, at the moment they are carrying the load for "replacing" the population, more than, say, Anglos.

But so what? Isn't even talking about these trends a form of racial profiling? These are, after all, the borderlands we all live in. Two civilizations meet here. Who could possibly object to a demographic shift or two? Especially when San Diego County's population, 2,824,259 and rising, is feeling no more than the first zephyrs of the winds of change. But read conservative columnist Mark Steyn's doom-laden polemics, including his book America Alone, for an indication of his fellow conservatives' fears -- fears that frame all talk about changing demographics. Steyn sees it as a coming change of ownership of the planet.

"Much of what we call the Western world will not survive the twenty-first century," he writes, "and much of it will effectively disappear within our lifetimes, including many if not most European countries."

Why? Simple. The West, in general, is not having babies. " 'Replacement' fertility rate -- i.e., the number you need to maintain a merely stable population, not getting any bigger, not getting any smaller -- is 2.1 babies per woman. Some countries are well above that: the global fertility leader, Somalia, is 6.91, Niger 6.83, Afghanistan 6.78, Yemen 6.75.... Scroll way down to the bottom of the Hot One Hundred top breeders [that's how he puts it, folks] and you'll eventually find the United States, hovering just over replacement rate with 2.07 births per woman."

(Note: The figure varies according to sources. The CIA [Central Intelligence Agency] Sourcebook puts the U.S. fertility rate at 2.09, right below North Korea's.)

But the U.S. looks good, Steyn says, compared with, for instance, Canada. Canadians are creating 1.5 children per woman, which means two people are only making 1.5 children, well below replacement rate. "Germany and Austria are at 1.3, the brink of the death spiral; Russia and Italy are at 1.2; Spain 1.1, about half replacement rate. That's to say, Spain's population is halving every generation. By 2050, Italy's population will have fallen by 22 percent, Bulgaria's by 36 percent, Estonia's by 52 percent."

By 2050, Steyn predicts, there will be 100 million more Americans, but 100 million fewer Europeans. "In 1970, there were 4.6 million Italians under five years old. By 2004, there were 2.6 million. And the fewer babies you have today, the fewer grown-ups are around to have babies in 20 years."

But the U.S., and especially San Diego, has a growing Hispanic minority to bolster its fertility figures, to make the county look good in the worldly reproduction stakes.

Schafer says that in San Diego the birthrate for both non-Hispanic blacks and whites is pretty low, but for Asians it's a little higher. They're probably at 2.1, 2.2, compared with Hispanics' 2.4 or 2.5. If you want to see where county birthrates are the highest, geographically, you'd look for areas with concentrations of Hispanic and Asian Americans. And you'd find these mainly in the southern part of the county.

"I-8 is the big dividing line, culturally, ethnically," Schafer says. "In the south parts of the county, the population is generating itself by natural increase. North County's population will grow too, but that will largely be the result of net in-migration, particularly domestic U.S. migration. International migrants will [also] tend to settle in the south part of the county, because it's cheaper."

Indeed, Schafer says, America's Finest is ahead of the curve in the Hispanic reconquista ("reconquest"), as some put it -- jokingly, mostly -- of the Southwest. "Nationally the Hispanic population is around 12-13 percent of the [general population]. In San Diego it's 25 percent, heading for 38 percent. The U.S. is at about 2.1 births per female [his figure is lower than Steyn's or the CIA's]. That's about replacement level. Ours are higher than Europe's because of our recent influx of immigrants. If we didn't have a lot of immigrants, we'd probably be down around 1.8 or so."

And yet, as these same Hispanic families settle in and assimilate, they'll follow the same trends, Schafer says. "In a modern society like the United States, generally it takes two incomes [to sustain a family]. And once women enter the labor force, the first thing they do is start lowering their fertility drastically. Remember the average [Hispanic] birthrate was 2.9 births per female in 1995? Now it's down to about 2.4. So in less than ten years, we've cut a whole half a child out of the birthrate, which is a big decline."

It's a breezy Sunday afternoon. I emerge from the Santa Fe Depot into the sunlight and cross over

Kettner to the line of taxis, most of them orange.

I've decided it's time for some unscientific surveying, out in the real world, to address two basic questions: what's causing this general decline in fertility -- the stresses of modern society? exhaust fumes? exhaustion? -- and who's actually doing this county's heavy lifting, reproduction-wise?

The cab drivers stand in a clump arguing and laughing near that glossy giant fiberglass Luis Jiménez sculpture called Border Crossing/Cruzando el Rio Bravo, which depicts an immigrant carrying a woman and child on his shoulders.

Why not start here?

"Somalia," says one of the drivers when I ask where they're from. Aha. Lucky break. Somalia, which Steyn trumpeted as the land of the highest per capita birthrate in the world, 6.91 births per female.

"Are you married?" I ask Herzi, the driver.

He nods. His wife's name is Faduma.

"How many children do you have?"

"I have seven children."

"Would most Somali men here have that number?"

"No. Some of them have 1, some 2, some 10. But my friends in Somalia have two wives, three wives, four wives, maybe 20 children."

He laughs.

"Here it would be more difficult, because of the law, and because it is too expensive to live."

Herzi rents an apartment, with help. "We have affordable housing. They look at your income, and [they charge less because] I have a lot of children."

"Is it difficult for you with seven children?"

"Yes. It's very difficult. I don't drive the taxi much because [my family] needs time with me. I need time with them, for the children, to go to the playground, school, help them with their homework. If one or two are sick, we must go to the doctor or hospital. When I'm driving the taxi I buy food, I buy clothes, I buy shoes. A lot of work. Until they grow, I will be full-time poor."

"Might you have more children?"

"Well, right now my wife is not pregnant. Having lots [of children] in America, it's very tough. We are not making enough money. In Somalia it is easier. In Somalia we don't pay rent. You have your house. The children are useful there. They look after the animals, if you're in the countryside. Here it's just take care of the children, watching them. How can you have the time for everything? Children, school, doctor, supermarket, watching them every day. You are like a servant."

"So which is the better life? Somalia or San Diego?"

"Oh, Somalia. Right now we have some civil war. But it used to be nice. [Relatives] will help you. You have free hospital, free education. You just have to pay for food, what we can eat. Life's easy!"

"Would you have more than one wife if you were in Somalia?"

"Our religion says you can. If I have enough money to look after each wife equally, I can marry up to four. But I can't do it here."

Actually, I came not just to talk but to catch a cab to meet with this couple I know. No kids, and they don't plan on any. So this is a gift, finding guys for whom family is one of life's Great Imperatives.

I jump into the cab of Herzi's friend Ahmed and head off towards Point Loma.

Ahmed's 31. He has three children.

I ask, "How many more would you like to have?"

"Whatever God gives me."

"Does it depend on how rich you are?"

"No. It doesn't depend on how much you earn. It depends on what God wills. Exactly."

"Is contraception allowed?"

"No. That's against the religion. And 100 percent of us are Muslim."

His wife's name is Armina.

"Is she happy to have children?"

"Yes, of course. Yes."

What strikes me, as we bounce along Rosecrans, heading for Lytton, is how most of what Ahmed and Herzi are saying would resonate with Barbara de La Torre, a woman I talked to the other day, an Anglo married to a Latino. A friend had put us in contact. De La Torre is an example of "at least one Anglo who's having a big family." She and her husband Dave live in a 1300-square-foot home in Vista with eight kids, ranging from 19 down to 11 months.

"Why so many kids?" I asked.

"We're Catholic, and our marriage vows included being open to having children," she said. "That's part of our faith, and we thought, as the children came, that the joy and blessings of each child confirmed to us the wisdom and the reasoning the Catholic church had in putting that in the marriage vows."

"Didn't you wish for fewer children and more time for a career, for yourself?"

"Oh, no," Barbara said. "Never. I don't regret any, and I would wish we had even more. I have spoken to many people, and many say, 'I wish I had more children' -- and by the time they're saying this, they're past the age where they could -- but I've never heard anyone say, 'I've had too many.' "

Isn't stretching the dollar always a strain?

"Amazingly, God gives us just enough to get by. My husband's a land surveyor. Depending on the economy, his work goes up and down -- and it seemed like every time work got real slow, and we didn't know when the next paycheck was coming...we would get pregnant. And then, as soon as we got pregnant -- I'm not kidding -- every single time, something broke through. He got a job. I would love to go back and document how many times [this happened]. It was just amazing. I'm an RN. And I worked all the way up to the sixth child. I'd work a 12-hour night shift once a week. I did it either a Friday or a Saturday night so we didn't have to have babysitting. And then with Johnny, the sixth, I stopped. I love being an RN. It's in my blood. But I much prefer being a full-time mom."

How hard is it running a large family?

"When I had two kids, that was a lot harder than having lots of kids. Lots of kids is easier. Because they play with each other, and they keep each other busy, and they learn a lot of things, like working together, sharing, cooperation, these types of things that help build the character. I'm 47. I call [11-month-old] Sara 'my little miracle.' The pregnancies are just a little bit harder now. I had medical problems this time, but everything turned out fine."

Why do you think there's such a drop in births, and family size, today?

"I think a lot of it has to do with today's society. It's very materialistic. In order for people to get all the things that society tells them they need, it requires a lot of money. And that in turn requires couples to think that they have to restrict the number of children in order to have the big huge house and all the amenities and all the expensive things out there. And I think that all the joys and blessings that come from large families are not put out in society, in television, on radio. It shows only families that are small. People think that's normal and that's how it should be. I don't think people are shown how wonderful large families can be."

I mention Cheaper by the Dozen, the 1950 classic with Myrna Loy (taking Barbara's role) and Clifton Webb (being Dave) and the 2003 remake with Bonnie Hunt and Steve Martin. Or 1968's Yours, Mine, and Ours, with Lucille Ball and Henry Fonda, and its 2005 remake. These are big-family movies that give you a -- perhaps temporary -- yearning to do what Barbara's living.

"Have you seen them?" I ask.

"No," she says. "I haven't had time."

If God is a big factor in determining some families' size and outlook, demographers say it is earthly issues, and the idea of "modernity," that impact fertility most. "Modernity [has] had a lot to do with the place of women, right?" Schafer says. "If you look at societies that still have fairly high fertility, the place of women in these societies isn't that great. For example: in Moslem countries there's still a pretty high fertility rate. And the woman's role in those societies is still pretty circumspect. If a society is more egalitarian between genders, then you see a lower fertility rate."

And, it may sound obvious, Schafer says, but people tend to have more children where medicine is less sophisticated, where the children might die. And, he says, you see it also in agrarian societies, where children are actually essential, useful, both when they're growing up, as free labor on the farm, and when they're grown, as a means of support. "It's about the 'intergenerational transfer of wealth,' " Schafer says. "It used to be that you had a lot of kids, and after, say, the age of ten, they could start providing wealth for the family, to the mother and father, so there was a transfer of wealth to the adults. Nowadays, I [know] people who have kids who are well into their 20s and these people are still supporting their children. [Here] you just keep giving kids more and more money, and the length [of time] they stay at home is starting to increase."

Yeah. In our society, that "intergenerational transfer of wealth" seems mostly one-way. Where's the quid pro quo? That warm fuzzy feeling that you, Mom and Dad, are keeping the genes alive? It's a pretty expensive fuzzy feeling. In San Diego society, more children might be fun, but the cost is high. Government estimates put the total cost of raising a child at just under $300K if you're higher income, $200K if you make around $40K, and $135K if you make less than that. Whatever, just do the math: if you make $800K in two decades, a quarter of that -- per kid -- is gone, evaporated. Fuggedaboudit. And for what? The Biological Imperative? An investment driven by some vague survival-of-the-species instinct? A gift of a bit of yourself to "the future"?

Schafer quotes the Nobel Prize-winning Chicago economist Gary Becker, who, back in the late '60s and early '70s, came up with the "economic theory of fertility."

"Becker said that the best way to view children is as a consumer good. That people went out and they 'bought' children. At first he thought that should mean wealthier people would have more kids than not-wealthy people. That [idea] didn't work very well. So he went back and looked at it again. And he said what's happening is that wealthy people aren't 'buying' more children. They're 'buying' better children. So instead of five, they're 'buying' two, and they're putting a whole lot of resources into those two. You 'buy' better children by investing in them. So you invest all these resources into the kids, and the whole idea was that you were increasing the human capital of these children."

Except that, generally, Schafer says, what we're seeing in the United States (and also in Europe) is that instead of producing our own biological next generation, increasing numbers of us are starting to say, "Why bother?" "We're going out and [de facto] inviting people from other countries to come in and do it for us."

Perhaps this is understandable, especially here in California, when, as never before in history, both men and women have such opportunities to go out and Get a Life, a fantastically intellectually and financially stimulating vida loca in this New Rome. Be another Andy Warhol! America's Next Top Model! Arnold! Madeleine Albright II! Barbara Boxer! What's to stop you, as long as someone else can save you the time and trouble of producing and rearing kids? (Of course, birthrates became a problem in the Old Rome, too: That first superpower's patricians took to using lead plumbing, stopped having children, and went mad -- or so one ancient urban myth goes. Does that in some way parallel our post-WWII pesticide-drenched food supply?)

Nobody's actually saying, "Let the immigrants have children for me." But maybe the urgency to procreate has declined because careers and social lives are full to the brim. Besides, the world's getting so crowded that not having kids might be doing Mother Earth a favor. Not having kids, you could argue, is in the end helping with the survival of the species.

Which is why, on that sunny Sunday afternoon, I was riding with Ahmed the Somali taxi driver into the hills of Point Loma, headed for the home of two San Diegans who have taken this route: Double Income, No Kids.

Ahmed dropped me off in a settled, rolling street in one of the town's older and richer neighborhoods. Sunday afternoons, executive dads with shiny white legs trim trees, hose down driveways, get a little dirt under their manicured fingernails. I hear a single mower in the silence.

I'm looking for a green house with two dogs...

Yap yap yap yap!

They see me before I see them. A couple of Yorkies. They're on a veranda enclosed by a foot-high plank. I cross the lawn and climb the steps of this green, clapboard, '50s-looking house. By now the dogs are frothing. They have bared their teeth, upper and lower, daring me to cross the threshold. But their tongues are coming out too. Their tails are wagging. Now they're conflicted: bite or lick?

"Don't worry. They're happy to see you," says this guy. It's Rich McNeely, fit, 50, feisty in a cool way, with a commanding air. He leads me past the dogs' threshing teeth and knee-high leaps into a comfortable living room with white sofas and pale board floors, newly exposed, probably after 50 years under carpets and paint.

I've come to see Rich and his wife Terrie because they're part of Steyn's nightmare: they've decided never to have children. In the hallway, family photos of parents, grandparents, and even earlier generations are carefully displayed on the wall. Black-and-white pictures show Rich's family when they were drilling for...oil? Water? Somewhere in Canada. (Rich says he was brought up in Canada.) Many were taken on wedding days. Everyone stands formally, peering out into a future guaranteed in some way by having kids. And now here's Rich and Terrie in their own colorful wedding picture, at Rose Creek Cottage in Pacific Beach, in 1995. They may have nephews and nieces, but picture-wise, generation-wise, the buck will stop here.

"I've always felt that way about children," says Terrie, a bright-faced lady with rosy apple-cheeks and blue eyes. "I knew when I was four years old that I was going to have a career. I wanted to be a teacher. I wanted everything besides children. Of course, the way we were raised -- and this was in the South, Tennessee, Mississippi -- girls were supposed to get married and have children. So I surprised my parents. I became a teacher of hearing-impaired children. [Terrie was born with 80 percent loss of hearing in both ears. Surgery, at age 4 1/2, restored most of it.] I taught for ten years. Before I lost my father, over a year ago now, he told me how courageous I was -- and this was a surprise to me, because he brought us up in the '50s, in that mindset of 'girls aren't supposed to have careers.' He couldn't believe that I went out on my own, traveled by myself, long distances, and established myself. He told me how very proud he was of me. They were both proud of me."

But why not have children?

"Because Rich and I didn't want the lifetime responsibility of having children. I love children. We both do. Being around children makes us happy. However, because children take up so much of your time, we wanted to put our time into other things, for us. I've had a teaching career, a writing career, and now a real-estate career. I've always been more career-oriented. We love to travel. When you have children you really have to be home, and be committed to them, and doing everything for them."

I wonder aloud if it was something in her childhood that set Terrie against having kids. "Well, it wasn't the best childhood, because my parents weren't very happy. They were different. Of course they were very loving parents, and they did the best they could. My older sister had six children. All of them now are married and having their own children. And my younger sister has three."

Her sisters kept waiting for Terrie to start her own brood. "They saved their baby things for the longest time, until finally, they said, 'Okay, this is it. Do I keep it longer or get rid of this? What are you going to do?' "

They gave her one last call. "They wanted to clear out their garages, because their children were grown. So I said 'No...' " Terrie laughs. "I really didn't have to think about it. I knew."

Rich comes in and sits down. He's been out in the garage, where his souped-up German KTM off-road bike sits beside a friend's low-rider Bourget. That one does 140 mph. Rich is in the last stage of building his dream garage, with cupboards, computers, tool drawers, and a place to hang out with the TV and a brew.

I ask if they had decided straight off, when they got married in 1995, not to have kids.

"Yes," says Rich. "We talked about it. But I never felt that everything was secure enough to raise children. In my profession...I was all over the place, fixing helicopters, running up to the Northwest Territories of Canada and the Arctic islands, and down in the South Pacific to Pago Pago, Samoa...all related to helicopter maintenance and sales."

In the spring of 1989, he landed a steady job as a mechanic with one of the major airlines at Lindbergh Field. But it didn't make him feel financially secure. "My seniority was pretty low, so you're worried about layoffs happening. For the first ten years, you don't know whether you're going to get laid off or not. It's been the same thing as far as buying real estate goes. I never felt settled down enough to buy real estate, or to even think about having a family. Relationships were hard enough when I was single, because I was gone away from home so much. Back and forth, in for six weeks, out for two. If you have a place, you could call home and some [other] guy might answer the phone. 'Who are you?' 'Well, I live here. Who are you?' 'Well, I own it.' "

How many Riches are out there, people who in this insecure, short-contract, just-in-time economy never feel settled enough to start a family? Is this -- on top of stress and lack of time -- the major factor sapping society of its normal population growth?

And then, says Rich, there's the expense factor. "The other thing that bothered me about it, being at the age that we were when we married, was that by the time a child would be ready to go to college, I'd be ready for retirement, and how do you put a child through college on a retirement income?"

Shelby the dog nuzzles up to him. "Children would be great to have. Kids would be useful too, in some ways, once they got old enough. I mean, I'm having to do all my own lawn work and yard work, and I've still got to take the trash out, which I never did like doing even when I was a kid. And one thing that's always bothered me about not having children is the fact that when I pass away, my seed in this world dies. I know that my brother has a male child and a female child, so I guess I can look at that. But that part of it does affect me, and I think that if I was maybe in a different situation than I'm in, I would consider having a child. But with Terrie at her age, we've always been concerned too about the dangers of childbirth."

Has he thought about adopting? "Adopting doesn't...it's not your seed. Other than just the thing of raising a child. My thing is the seed, and the world dies when I die. So adoption is not really something I would consider, although I'm sure that once you have an adopted child, and as long as they're young enough that they accept you as a parent, I think that the natural instinct would probably be pretty strong after that. I mean, these dogs aren't mine but..."

Debra the other dog jumps up for attention. Rich has been careful to point out that the dogs have reserved certain parts of the sofas for themselves, so they can be close to "Mom and Dad." Debra and Shelby, it seems, think of themselves as McNeely kids.

So did his own childhood influence how he feels? "My father and mother grew up in the Depression. They didn't have a pot to piss in or a window to throw it out of. My father grew up on a farm. My mother was the daughter of a schoolteacher. They got divorced when I was so young I don't have any memories of their being together. I lived with my mom until fifth grade. She was on welfare and whatever sustenance the court awarded her from my father. It wasn't easy. Growing up on welfare, we moved around a lot the first five years of my life. And after fifth grade, I moved in with my father and his wife, and she had a child two years older than I am. So there was always a little bit of friction there. My [step] brother had children pretty young. But I was too busy trying to get situated in life to have children. And you know, women can sense that, who's a good provider, and who'll be there. It's awfully tough when the sink's clogged up, or whatever, and hubby-bubby's thousands of miles away working on a helicopter in Pago Pago. So they call up somebody else to come over, and next thing you know, they're camping out in your house, eating your Cheerios."

Does he have any regrets, in the middle of the night, when he's lying there, staring at the ceiling? "Just that there's no one to pass it on to. You don't get to enjoy watching them grow and watching them go to college. I'd like to be able to provide the child with adequate...a step up in life from what I went through as a child."

The McNeelys are by no means alone in their choice. In fact, staying child-free is becoming a movement. People around the country are so sick of being apologetic about not having kids, they've started child-free groups. "No Kidding" and "the Childfree Ring" have blossomed on the Net. Remember the bumper sticker put out by the Zero Population Growth group in the 1970s -- "MAKE LOVE, NOT BABIES"? The idea then, and still, is that the world is crowded enough, so having consequence-free fun and doing the world a favor at the same time, by not increasing population gridlock, is a Good Thing. There are increasingly defiant no-nest bumper stickers out there, like, "If I want to hear the pitter-patter of little feet, I'll put shoes on my cat." There are books. Nicki Defago's Childfree and Loving It! Or Baby Not on Board: A Celebration of Life Without Kids, by Jennifer Shawne. Some have drawn parallels between today and the Great Depression, when many Americans also chose not to have children because they couldn't afford them.

But for all that, are childless couples like the McNeelys having the fun their freedom has bought? A Newsweek cover, "No Sex, Please, We're Married," claims that around a fifth -- say, 23 million of the 113 million married Americans -- don't have sex more than ten times a year. In a 2002 National Opinion Research Center study, married couples said they have sex 68.5 times a year, or a little over once a week. But, hey, ever since Kinsey, "once or twice a week" has been the default answer, hasn't it? And these figures don't separate out childless couples.

I can't bring myself to ask Rich and Terrie the "how often" question. But I do ask if sex is better without having kids to worry about.

Well, sort of.

"I would think that from what I see with other couples, that having children does interfere," Terrie says. "But for us, it's having dogs, allowing our dogs on our bed, to sleep on our bed: that interferes. Because if we start to kiss, Shelby will come in between us. She thinks that she's the dominant female, because I've never interfered with that. I've let her do that. And sometimes I think, as you would with children, 'Oh, if I didn't have them, I'd have more time, for me and my partner.' But then I think, like parents with children, 'I couldn't live without them. They give me so much companionship, and they fulfill that need of nurturing I have.' "

The other consequence Terrie and Rich face is being out of step with other people their age.

"It seems like -- I guess this has been another drawback -- it's been hard for us to find friends to socialize with who are our age," says Terrie, "because people in their 40s and 50s have children, and those couples want to hang around with couples who [also] have children, so their kids have other children to play with. So it interferes with your social life. You have to be the kind of people who don't need a lot of people around to be happy. We are very content to have all the private times that we have, but of course we still need friends. When people come over, we're ecstatic. And I don't mind people bringing their children over, as long as they're well-behaved."

The paradox is that right when birthrates are set to drop over the next two decades, there's never been a better, safer time in human history to have a baby. Or a better place. San Diego has some of the best facilities in the world to help, from doctors to midwives to doulas -- yes, doulas (the word descends from the Greek: "woman's personal helper"): companions, birthing coaches, who since ancient times have helped mothers through the pregnancy, the birth, and the sometimes emotionally rocky recovery. "We will deliver about 5000 babies this year," says Kaiser Permanente's Sylvia Wallace. "Sixty percent Caucasian, 30 percent Latino, and all others in the last 10 percent."

I search in vain for a maternity ward, with a nursery where I can stand in the middle of hundreds of numbered, bawling babies. Forget it, says Wallace. Except for, maybe, Camp Pendleton, maternity wards are gone. Even down at their Medical Center in Mission Valley, where most of Kaiser patients' babies will be born, it all happens in labor and delivery suites. Forget icy operating rooms. Forget Dad pacing up and down the waiting room. Whole families can come right into the birthing suite, armed with video cams and Kleenexes for the big moment. Umbilical cord blood can be frozen and stored against a serious illness later in the child's life. And now the kid remains in the room, bonding with Mom (and vice-versa) and Dad from that first moment. And most likely, Mom'll be home tomorrow.

"We have made amazing advances in the last 30 years," Wallace says. "Back then, a mother's average stay would be ten days. Now it's one to two. Or, if the baby's delivered by C-section, up to four." And age is no longer the predominant factor. "We've had some 45-year-old first-time moms. We had one who went into it healthier than her cousin who was 26." Above all, Wallace says, prenatal education is so much better. More moms-to-be cut smoking, drinking, and recreational drug use, at least during their pregnancies. Premature babies? "We've been able to save babies that 5 years ago would have been considered lost. The difference in the last 30-50 years is astronomical. We are, on a regular basis now, saving babies that are born at a pound."

And age? It seems you can have a kid almost literally at any stage of life. "Women are birthing babies from age 12 to age 70," she says. "Over the last few years there's been a bit of a phenomenon of grandmothers carrying their daughters' fetuses to term. The whole surrogacy thing has just completely changed how we birth babies."

What an irony: the easier it gets, the less interested half the county seems to be. Maybe it's generational. Okay. I've got a tape recorder. Here goes with an arbitrary Unofficial Vox Pops among 18-25-year-olds at Bay Books in Coronado:

Leslie Hughes, sales assistant: "All my friends want to have one, two kids, max, and to compress the [childrearing thing] into a two- to three-year period and then be able to get on with their lives. They have things they want to do, to be, places they want to go."

Keith Dunn, high school senior, drama major: "I think two or three kids. A dozen would be financially hard. Mothers usually have to work. They don't have time to look after a lot of small children. Anyway, I think we're overpopulated."

Kelly Walsh, high school senior, already wearing her future alma mater's blue and yellow sweatshirt, UCLA: "I'm not really sure at this point, because I'm not a very good little-kid person, to my parents' dismay. I have an older sister and younger brother. My mom was one of four, and my dad was one of eight. He's Roman Catholic, Irish. Today's life makes it difficult to have a large family. Just look at the cost of housing."

Linda Galaz, high school senior, about to study to be a nutritionist: "I would have two or three kids. In my family, there's only me and my sister, and I see bigger families: My aunt has six kids, and they have always had a lot of dramas. My sister and I have been really close. Two or three kids is the average family size in America. Look at cars. They're made for four, right? I was born here, but my family is originally from Mexico, rural Sinaloa. They had big families down there. My grandma comes from a family of 12. Today, having kids kind of interrupts your life. It seems like you have kids just to have kids. To reproduce. It sounds very bad, but what use are kids really? The planet is overpopulated, so why should we be encouraging people to reproduce? But I want to have kids, and when I'm young. Because my parents had us when they were young, and now they're in their early 40s. We get along. We're kind of friends. We go traveling together. So I would like that. Today's women are deciding their own future, getting their careers, being strong...I don't want to say [having kids] is the last thing on our mind, but it's not at the top of our 'to do' list."

Bottom line, should San Diego's settled non-Hispanic majority be alarmed that the county's only real growth will soon be coming from the high birthrates of its newest, not always legal Latino immigrants?

Steyn has something to say about this. "If you think that a nation is no more than a 'great hotel' (as Canadian novelist Yann Martel approvingly described his own country), you can always slash rates and fill the empty rooms -- for as long as there are any would-be lodgers left out there to move in. But if you believe a nation is the collective, accumulated wisdom of a shared past, then a dependence on immigration alone for population replenishment will leave you lost and diminished."

"Shared past?" counters David Hayes-Bautista, director of the UCLA Center for the Study of Latino Health and Culture. "Look at the 19th Century. Latinos and Anglos had a shared past." Hayes-Bautista says that our recent Anglo-culture-dominated California is the aberration. "In L.A., for instance, up till about 1870, almost all children, irrespective of their ethnicity, were bilingual. It wasn't until after 1870, when the transcontinental railroad finally went through [and brought an avalanche of Anglos ignorant of California's bicultural history] that you started to see some kids who no longer bothered to learn Spanish."

If we have a shared past, says Hayes-Bautista, we're going back to the future. Anglos and others should embrace a golden-skinned, bilingual future driven by those high-birthrate Latino families. Besides, he says, we will need them.

"My 1988 book, The Burden of Support, was the first to project that by 2030 Latinos would be around about 40 percent of the state's population. But, more importantly, that the older population, the Baby Boomer population, which is around 85 percent non-Hispanic white, would increasingly be dependent on an increasingly Latino labor force for income support, pensions, Medicare, etc. So that there is this intergenerational link -- even though many Baby Boomers don't want to believe it -- that it's in their interest for that Latino labor force to be as productive as possible. Because if they're not, then the pensions and the medical care of the Baby Boomers can't be funded."

Why do non-Hispanic whites have such low rates of birth?

It's not an Anglo-Hispanic macho contest, says Hayes-Bautista. "The birthrate in Mexico has dropped off tremendously too, as it becomes more urbanized, as you get rises in income and education. With every country, you go through what's called the 'epidemiological transition.' That is, in preindustrial societies you have high mortality, so you have to have a lot of babies, just so a few survive to adulthood. But as countries begin to industrialize, they put in some basic measures for water, sewage -- really simple, not-too-expensive infrastructural stuff. You have a period of tremendous growth, because people haven't realized yet that you don't need ten babies to have three achieve adulthood. But after about a generation or two, people understand. 'I only need to have three babies, because all three will arrive at adulthood.' So that's called 'going through the epidemiological transition.' From a high-mortality, high-fertility population to low mortality and low fertility. The U.S. was one of the first countries to go through that. Take out the Latino population, and we would look just like Italy or Great Britain or Germany or Japan. We'd be imploding. We'd be losing population.

"The Latino population [here] is coming from a country that is partially through its epidemiological transition -- though not completely. In Mexico, communicable diseases are still among the top ten causes of death. For instance, very few die of tuberculosis in the U.S. But overall, the fertility rate of Mexico is dropping. It used to be very, very high. It's dropping much more quickly in the urban areas. However, our immigration tends to draw from the rural areas, where it is still a little bit higher. Latino fertility in California has been dropping since 1992. That was the high point.

"Classically, Latinos have had higher birthrates compared to any other population group. You sometimes hear some of these folks complain that 'Latinos are breeding like rabbits,' and I have to remind them that the Latino birthrate today is identical to the non-Hispanic white birthrate during the baby boom of the 1950s and '60s. Identical! It's just that the non-Hispanic white birthrate has fallen tremendously. It's way below replacement. So it's not that Latinos are having babies at unprecedented levels. They're having babies at the level of your parents."

Hayes-Bautista says that one of the things that distinguishes Latino population growth in California from any other group is that there have been eight waves of migration from Mexico to California, starting in 1769. "So unlike, say, the European immigrant experience, where you'd have one wave -- just one -- then you could clearly see their children and their grandchildren, for Latinos in California it's a very different demographic. After every wave, we get a [nativist, Anglo] reaction. It goes on fairly regular 20-year cycles."

Professor Stuart Hurlbert is an unlikely Minuteman. But, like other Minutemen he sometimes patrols with, he doesn't mince words.

"No country can survive if it has an economic system based on the continuous massive importation of cheap low-skilled labor. No country can survive, either as a cultural entity, or environmentally. If you're massively importing large amounts of cheap labor, then whatever country you're importing that labor from is going to take over."

Hurlbert is a biology prof at SDSU.

"Generally speaking, [immigrants] are going to be poor people, they are going to have more kids, and that's going to exacerbate the effect, because they'll be importing individuals who are going to give birth to large families. Importing the same number of immigrants from China and India would be much better, from that point of view. Because they tend to have families about the same size as Anglos do."

Hurlbert backs the city of Escondido's attempt to force landlords to evict illegal immigrants. He turns out at the demonstrations. He lobbies presidential candidates to be tough on immigration. He's fluent in Spanish, has spent years teaching in South America, and teaches and researches biology. But like Zorro, the fictional Californio hero (and is that an irony?), after the day job, he becomes a crusader out to save San Diego and California from overcrowding and "balkanization." For years he has worked through zero-growth organizations like CAPS, Californians for Population Stabilization. "We were idealists back in the '60s, trying to get America to set an example to the world in the fight against the population explosion," he says. "If we couldn't control our own population, how could we lecture to other countries? I'm just carrying on the same fight."

And donning his biology hat, Professor Hurlbert insists that our land can't take any more pressure from population. A reduction would benefit the land, he says. "We can restore our coasts and canyons. We can pull back, give the land some breathing space. We can give our coastal waters a break from human outflow."

And with the graying of California, its coming dependence on a largely Latino workforce? "We just have to downsize. Develop an economic system that works well with a grayer group."

He doesn't like Hayes-Bautista's idea of the bicultural "Latin-Yankee" California. "I think bilingual/

bicultural societies are, first of all, extremely expensive. Everything in Canada has to be produced in two languages. I think there's nothing more foolish. There are countries like Switzerland which have inherited that situation. But to try to become multicultural and multilingual as a matter of policy would be a disaster."

Blanca Bruyere lives in a nice house in Coronado with her businessman husband and three children. She would have had at least four children if she could have, if not a family you'd call "large" down around Mexico City, where she was born. But she firmly believes that the pending birthrate revolution here is inevitable. "You just know that if there are Latino women, they're going to have kids. So there is going to be a time where Latino women's kids will take over, because, for sure, they will have more than one or two children."

And yes, she believes, the coming Latino majority will change San Diego and California, but in subtle ways. Her branch of a well-to-do Cuernavaca family moved to California when she was nine years old. Now she is married to an Anglo and runs a bilingual household. "I have lived both cultures," she says. "I think if Latinos have an influence, it will be to add a culture of family. Families will be warmer, more connected, more extended."

She does believe the U.S. lifestyle discourages larger families. "Insurance, college, medication, homes, everything. You cannot manage...I always say, food is not a problem. The problem is, you have to go to the dentist, you have to go to the orthodontist. All those things are very expensive. College is very expensive. But people here want to have the lifestyle, they want to have the house, the travel. That's why they can only afford to have one or two children. A lot of people I know whose children go to school with my kids have one or two children. That's it. And yet my nanny had ten kids. She comes from the country. She's nearly 70. And they were so poor! But I love when she tells me how they went and picked fruit and went to the river to bathe and to wash clothes. She said, 'We didn't have dolls, but my mom used to make us rag dolls. Everything was made from scratch. Coffee, tortillas, everything.' And I don't ever hear sadness in her voice. I hear a happy life. I really think it was a beautiful lifestyle, a country life."

Here in San Diego, she's nostalgic for Norman Rockwell's America. Its flavor was more akin to the Latino ethos. "I do think that Americans in the '50s had a beautiful life. Culture and family orientation. The moment the women started having feminist rights, 'I want to be equal to men'...I don't want to sound bad, but I definitely think that it has gotten a little out of hand, where I as a woman have the same rights as a man. It's just sad, because it does make a family lifestyle go down. Twenty years ago, when I was growing up, you went to college, but then, usually, we got married, you had kids, and that was your responsibility as a woman. The kids and the house. One thing I will tell my kids is, I think it's important that they make something of themselves, but to always know that if they're going to have kids, their kids should come before anything. Because the bottom line is, if you're bringing them into this world, you owe them that."

She says most Mexican kids stay with their parents until they marry. Or at least until they're 21. "With Latino parents, one of the most important things is the bond that you have. And we were always very close, even with our cousins. I go back [to Cuernavaca] and I bond. My kids are bilingual. They go to Mexico and see my upbringing, see the unity of our family. And I think that's important. You came into this life with nothing and you're going to leave it with nothing, so material stuff really doesn't sum up life for Mexicans. It's family for us. Family is the most important thing."

Mike Connolly knows plunging birthrates. He knows what it is to stare into the abyss of extinction. The aerospace engineer also knows about facing overwhelming numbers of immigrants swamping the host society.

He's Kumeyaay.

His family has been living here in San Diego for 10,000 years. His people have faced illegal immigrants arriving under Spanish, Mexican, American, and probably Chinese flags, way back, and ended up with their culture swamped, their lives restricted to the least fertile sections of the county. Especially during the last 150 years.

"Birthrates? Ours went as low as they could go. Around 1900, we were down to 300, maybe 400 people," he says. "We had to have large families, because so many died of disease and violence from settlers. It was horrible. Now, we're up to 3000- 4000. By 2030, we'll probably be around 10,000."

Up in the Campo reservation, to which Connolly's branch of the largely coastal tribe was relegated, big families are still seen as a kind of insurance. Connolly has 3 children, but his brother has 11. "My grandmother had 10 children," he says. "Five survived childhood." It's hard to realize he is talking about San Diego County. His advice to soon-to-be minority Anglos? "Remember, this was never just an Anglo domain, or a Spanish domain. We have to learn to share, not just land but ways. Be interested in others' language, cultures, knowledge of the land. That's the way forward."

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