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Interview: Jonathan Last on America's Looming Demographic Crisis (with Transcript)

MR. DRISCOLL:  Jonathan, getting back to demographics in the United States, Glenn Reynolds of Instapundit.com has two books out from, I believe, the same publisher as What to Expect When No One's Expecting, which explore the Higher Education Bubble and the K through 12 Implosion.  How does the skyrocketing cost of education impact American demographics, or perhaps, vice-versa?

MR. LAST:  Well, you know, it impacts it in three ways.  You know, there's a front end and a back end, and then there's a straight-up timeline way -- chronology end.  So on the back end, people who graduate from college graduate with a lot of debt.  They say in surveys that that debt -- you ask them and they tell you -- that debt is making them hold off on getting married and making them hold off on having children.

Going forward, prospectively, you know, if you -- if you were today to have a kid and think about what it would be like to put that kid in college today, that is the equivalent of buying basically a house and a half.  The average cost of a house in America is 185,000 dollars.  The average cost of college tuition right now is something like 212,000, or something like that.

The real cost of college since 1965, the real cost -- this is accounting for inflation, has increased by 1,000 percent.  You know, if this was any other sector -- and Glenn makes this point -- any other sector, we would be saying this is broken; this needs to be reformed.  But because it's education, we just keep pushing people into it.

So those are the front end and the back end effect.  But the other effect, the chronological one, is that it just keeps pushing back the average time of family formation.  So you don't graduate until you're twenty-two or, you know, maybe twenty-three or twenty-four.  And that's just with undergraduate.  So now you don't even begin to think about family formation and you don't get married until, say, twenty-seven, which is, I think, about what our average age of first marriage is now.  A dramatic rise since the early 1970s.

You then look at time of first birth.  Most people try at least to not have that first birth until after they're married.  And that gets pushed back until you're now your late twenty-eight, early twenty-nines.  And then you run up into the wall of biology.  You know, after thirty-five, it becomes harder for women to get pregnant, after thirty-nine, it becomes really, really hard for women to get pregnant.

And so you can see why, you know, somebody who wants to have, you know, two or three kids, if they're not getting started till they're twenty-nine or thirty, all of a sudden, that becomes, just as a logistical matter, kind of tough.

MR. DRISCOLL:  Jonathan, last question, because I know you're on the whirlwind tour today to promote the book.  Do you think that Obama, or anybody in DC, for that matter, is taking the issue of America's demographic decline seriously?

MR. LAST:  Well, Obama sure isn't.  You know, in a funny way, actually Rick Santorum, he didn't talk about this explicitly during the campaign, but he alluded to it a lot.  And he sort of tied it into, sort of, you know, talking morally about capitalism and the free market and the middle class in a very populist way.  I actually thought that was kind of interesting and effective.  He was the only one selling that sort of thing in the Republican field.

Now, of course, I would say this because I'm a crazy person and I'm obsessed with demographics.  But I actually do think that there is a really elegant and interesting way for Republicans to create a populist case for supporting middle class families centered around the idea of not hectoring people into having babies, but trying to take the policy changes that will help people have the families that they want to have.

And I think there's a way for Republicans to do it.  I think Rick Santorum was sort of edging in that direction.  And I'll be surprised if somebody in the 2016 field doesn't decide to take a flyer with this.

MR. DRISCOLL:  This is Ed Driscoll for PJ Media.com, and we've been talking with Jonathan Last of the Weekly Standard, the author of the new book What to Expect When No One's Expecting:  America's Coming Demographic Disaster.  It's published by Encounter Books, available from Amazon.com and your local bookseller.

And Jonathan, thank you once again for stopping by today.

MR. LAST:  It's great to be with you.  Thanks, Ed.

(End of recording.)

Transcribed by eScribers.net; with minor revisions (including hyperlinks) by Ed Driscoll. Thumbnail on PJM homepage assembled from multiple Shutterstock.com images.

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