Washington, D.C. Newsroom, Oct 3, 2020 / 13:00 pm
Could car seat mandates have caused a decline in births in the U.S. in recent decades? A recent working paper claims that they have.
According to the working paper “Car Seats as Contraception” written in July by finance professors Jordan Dickerson of MIT and David Solomon of Boston College, state policies on car seats are responsible for an estimated 145,000 fewer births in the U.S. between 1980 and 2017 because of the potential costs they bear on families.
The professors argue that stricter safety requirements over time have forced the sharpest decline in births after 2008--as the total fertility rate in the U.S. also plummeted.
“We document a large and perverse effect whereby child car seat mandates have the unintended consequence of large reductions in birth rates,” the professors wrote.
State laws beginning in 1977 mandated that children of a certain age required a car seat, right as birth rates were rebounding in the U.S., the paper says.
The professors argued that given that many cars cannot fit three car seats in one back row, many families desiring a third child were faced with the prospect of having to buy a bigger car, in addition to a third car seat.
“We estimate that these laws prevented only 57 car crash fatalities of children nationwide in 2017. Simultaneously, they led to a permanent reduction of approximately 8,000 births in the same year, and 145,000 fewer births since 1980, with 90% of this decline being since 2000,” the paper said.
Catherine Ruth Pakaluk, a professor of social research and economic thought at the Catholic University of America, said that the report “is a very classic ‘unintended consequences’ paper,” pointing to a central economic insight that “people change their behavior in relation to policy.”