Do Americans really need to make more babies?

It seems babies (or the lack thereof) are on everyone's mind these days -- not just at Foreign Policy. While the United States may not have made this list of countries with the lowest fertility rates in the world, it may not be that far from the threshold.

The United States' total fertility rate, or TFR, which is measured as the average number of children that would be born to a woman if she lived to the end of her childbearing years and bore children according to given age-specific fertility rates, hit a record low in 2011. American women now have fewer children than their British and French counterparts, and half as many as they did during the baby boom.

According to a recent New York Times article (printed on the front page on Jan. 1), the decline is largely due to the fact that Hispanic women (both immigrant and native-born), who have traditional had the most children in the country, are having fewer and fewer kids each year. CBS.com cites a Pew Research Center study: "Since 2007, the birth rate for U.S.-born women fell by 6 percent, and the rate for foreign-born women dropped 14 percent. For Mexican immigrants, the birth rate fell by a staggering 23 percent."

No doubt the sluggish economy has played a role in the fertility decline (Latinos have been hit particularly hard by the recession). But, the economy doesn't completely explain the accelerated decline amongst Hispanic women (compared to non-Hispanic whites, blacks and Asians), and why the decline has remained so persistent for so long.

The New York Times suggests that the TFR is declining as young Latinos are increasingly choosing to pursue education and careers rather than to have large families. This generation is also less strictly Catholic than their parents and grandparents were. They are educated about contraceptives, they use them (when they can afford them), and they think having one or two children is just fine.

Also, as another piece in the new issue of FP argues,  a country having fewer babies is not necessarily a bad thing in the long run.

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Passport

Why is Google's Eric Schmidt heading to North Korea?

It's an odd match, to be sure: a country with some of the most restrictive internet laws in the world (not to mention its other laws), and a company that still claims "Don't be evil" as its motto, and has been burned by authoritarian governments before. But the AP is reporting that Google executive chairman Eric Schmidt will be traveling to North Korea soon -- possibly as early as this month -- accompanied by former New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson. 

The news comes a day after a rare New Year's Day speech by North Korean leader Kim Jong Un that called for a "revolution" in science and technology in the poverty-stricken Hermit Kingdom. But it also comes just a few weeks after the country received international condemnation for a sneakily-timed rocket launch.

Google didn't officially confirm the story to AP and Schmidt has yet to make a public statement on why he's visiting the isolated country, which does hardly any business at all with U.S. companies. Also, it's not yet clear who exactly Schmidt and Richardson will be meeting with once they arrive. However, Schmidt has been working with former State Department Adviser Jared Cohen on a book called "The New Digital Age: Reshaping the Future of People, Nations and Business," and has long been an advocate of the power of internet access to improve quality of life and openness.

Still, North Korea controls its internet with a far heavier hand than China, which Google has tangled with in the past.  Those who have computer access mostly log on to a system known as the Kwangmyong, essentially a country-wide intranet run by a lone, state-run ISP provider (the BBC story linked to above includes the amazing detail that any time Kim Jong Un is mentioned on this intranet, his name is displayed slightly larger than the text around it). Just a few dozen families have unfiltered access to the real thing.

Can the power of "connectivity for the individual" be harnessed in a country where the government still cracks down on cell phones that can dial the outside world? Here's hoping Schmidt speaks up soon so we can hear what exactly he has in mind.

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