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Birth Rate Blues

08/25/08 7:55AM By Philip Baruth
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Man, I don't know about you, but last week's US Census Bureau report just hit me like a wicked sucker punch, right in the gut. I was in a bar after work, feeling pretty good, you know, and this big guy sitting next to me from Nebraska starts telling me all about it: that Vermont has the nation's second-lowest fertility rate, just 42.2 births for every 1,000 women.

And of course it turns out that Nebraska has the nation's second-highest rate, something like 70 births for every thousand Nebraskan women. Almost twice as many.

So after he's finished crowing about it, this Nebraska guy pats me on the shoulder, struts out to his pick-up and thunders on down the Interstate, like he's got places to go, if you know what I mean. And I'm left sitting there on the barstool, thinking: second to last place, in the /nation?/

Maybe it's all the Olympics coverage from Beijing, but man, that statistic was really depressing somehow. I thought Vermont was for lovers.

So the next day at work I looked up the report, and sure enough, we were just one spot away from being the least fertile state in the entire country. The experts gave two reasons: our homogenous population, and our high rate of education.

I guess, when you strip it all away, that means that A) we're can't get all that excited about ourselves because somehow we remind us too much of ourselves, and B) we're educated enough to realize that if we do have kids, we'll have to get up at 4:30 in the morning to drive them to hockey.

So for the rest of the afternoon, I tried concentrating on our high rate of education, sort of spinning myself that way, and it helped a little. But just before I left work, I got a call from an old friend out in Utah, which, by the way, has the nation's highest fertility rate by a longshot. As we talked I could swear there was just a little teeny bit of smug self-satisfaction in his voice. And that left me more deflated than ever.

Then, in the middle of the night, I woke up and sat bolt upright in bed. Because I realized that I had never checked which state was the only state with a lower birth rate than ours. So I got up and powered up the computer, went to Google, and bingo bango, there it was: New Hampshire. Vermont has a .02 % edge.

Ah! What a relief! I went back to bed, and I'm here to tell you, I slept like a baby, and not just any baby but a baby born in a state with a higher fertility rate than its next-door neighbor to the East. After we were forced to watch New Hampshire get all the attention and hoopla last year during Presidential primary season, suddenly we were on top. .02% on top, to be exact.

So the next day after work, I figured - for a change of pace - I'd stop by a bar in New Hampshire on my way home. It was only a couple hours out of my way, and I'd heard good things about New Hampshire bars. So I eventually find one in Laconia, and I sit down next to this guy, and one thing leads to another, and I happen to mention our slightly higher birth rate. And this New Hampshire guys looks at me, with a totally straight face, and he says, "Yeah, that's because we have a slightly higher rate of education."

And you know something? That made /sense./ Then the guy got up, patted me on the shoulder, strutted out to his pickup, and thundered on down the road. Which left me sitting there, in a strange bar in New Hampshire, feeling like a eight-time gold medalist in the Olympic sport of losing.
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