59 Comments

Nice work. I read the headline expecting to roll my eyes at the whole thing, but I am convinced that the association is real. Though, I'm not entirely convinced that the survey data can support a causal model, it is suggestive.

Expand full comment

I imagine the pattern would generalize really well beyond car seats i.e. the whole of child related safety regulations caused a significant percentage of the fertility decline since the 1960s.

Expand full comment
author

Yes. The impact of going back to a 1980s level of permissiveness would be quite large.

Expand full comment

Unfortunately, the genie is out of the bottle here. It would be political malpractice to liberalize these safety rules. The first child who dies or is critically injured after eliminating the post two year old requirements is a political disaster for whoever changed the rules.

Expand full comment

Maybe the initiative process could spread that political heat out over the voters instead, who can't face any consequences for their votes.

Expand full comment

I agree that's political reality for some measures that likely fail a cost-benefit analysis, but I see some distinguishing factors on this one.

First, the political angle depends heavily on an emotional "hook" for coverage of specific tragic events. With a subject such as child safety, that's typically grieving parents. Changing these laws, however, wouldn't prevent parents from deciding to have their children ride in car seats. The change simply wouldn't mandate it under state law.

Second, there are, of course, more than zero deaths and critical injuries among children riding in automobiles even in car seats. So that adds a layer of complexity in attributing specific injuries to lack of car seats.

Expand full comment

Sowell's "seen and unseen."

Expand full comment

If we're going to incentivize parenting, let's replace schools with an actually decent childminding service that works for parents instead of against them.

Expand full comment

I was going to note the upfront nature of the car seat costs, and how they are lumped timewise with most of the other new baby spending, particularly the cost of having the kid in the hospital. All three of ours were c-sections and ran into the 5 digits in terms of cost. Throw in an additional car seat and in the case of the last one a whole new mini-van, and that was a big chunk of money all at once. How many people have more than 30k$ just sitting around so they can cover all that without a loan? It also makes that third kid over twice as expensive as the first two in the short term.

In general, one has to wonder about the logic of e.g. preventing those 1 or 2 pediatric head injuries a year in exchange for tens of thousands of kids never even existing. A doctor at least might be myopic about the costs of that safety, since they only see the kids they treat and don't really keep track of how many are being born over all. For the lawmakers, I think you have it right that they simply don't care about what the effects of their decisions are on other people, only whether or not those decisions benefit themselves and their careers. We make a mistake giving the rule makers the benefit of the doubt when it is obvious they don't bother to find out.

Expand full comment

A small note; but since Obamacare, coverage of most maternity costs was mandated in most plans; here is a write-up; it's not universal, because you might be on some old grandfathered plan or still be entirely uninsured; but access to maternity should have become less of an issue now.

Expand full comment
Dec 15, 2023·edited Dec 15, 2023

Update to my note. Having since been caught in one of the exceptions regarding the maternity stuff (and still "paying off" my delivery) - it can still be a significant expenditure, even if out of pocket maxima apply. In particular, my plan (which is actually the employer being self -insured) covered only "physician-provided services" at 100% - so hospital, anesthesia, etc. was with a percentage co-insurance, which again wasn't the full billed amount but turned out to be substantial.

Expand full comment

Thanks for the update, Elle! Congrats on the new baby!

Expand full comment

Perhaps lowering the age for mandating car seat laws would also cause parents to drive even more carefully and have fewer accidents.

Expand full comment
author

Yes, there is always that discount factor on any new safety feature so it makes sense it would reverse for its absence. And of course, if they want to be safe, they can always continue to use the booster seats.

Expand full comment

Washington State requires car or booster seats until age 12 now: https://wtsc.wa.gov/programs-priorities/seat-belts-child-restraints/

Expand full comment

This is my first time hearing about 13 year olds being relegated to the back seat, and discovered my state of Washington requires that children up to age thirteen be transported in the back seat of the car "when practical."

I have to wonder if this even nets out to no effect on safety, and is actually a net negative. Kids that age can have conversations with their parents, and it's slightly more distracting to engage with someone in the backseat than someone riding shotgun. You also can't separate bickering siblings by having one of them ride up front.

Drivers also can't delegate things like updating the navigation, changing the radio station, climate control, etc. to riders in the backseat. At least not without them unbuckling their seat belts to reach forward between the front seats.

Expand full comment

Been waiting years for someone to write this.

Expand full comment

One additional item in the cost category that I’ve yet to see any good studies on (though I haven’t looked too hard) - with relatively high geographic mobility among the higher socioeconomic cohort where the study finds the most effect, it anecdotally seems many families don’t live near other family anymore... removing a source of “free” babysitting especially in those younger years where the difficulty dragging two or three car seat age kids to the grocery store is sometimes soul crushing. With less connection to neighbors (this well studied) and cultural resistance to leaving kids with neighbors anyway, this seems to greatly increase the cost of this “3 seat tax”.

Expand full comment
author

That's definitely a huge deal. Another intersecting problem is that the kids are not legally allowed to safely babysit each other (or even if they are, you can't trust that it will be socially/legally allowed), even for such short periods.

Expand full comment

In the great state of Maryland, not only does everyone under 8 (unless 4’9”+) need a car seat, you can’t leave them home or even in the car for a millisecond until the oldest sibling hits 13… even then, if you’ve got multiple kids like we do, I can’t say I’d want to bet custody of my kids that my 14 your old is viewed by a court as “responsible”.

From the state family law site:

“In Maryland, a child under the age of 8 years may not be left unattended at home, at school, or in a car.

If a parent or guardian needs to leave a child who is younger than 8 years old, the parent or guardian must ensure that a reliable person, who is at least 13 years old will stay to protect the child. Failure to provide a reliable person to babysit the child is a misdemeanor, and the parent or guardian is subject to a fine up to $500 and up to 30 days in prison.”

Expand full comment
Dec 15, 2023·edited Dec 15, 2023

It's way better for the child to have their parent in prison for 30 days than be in the car for a few mins alone, or for the family to forgo $500 in consumption or savings. (Sarcasm)

Expand full comment

They aren't? I looked after my parents' friends' kids when I was young.

Expand full comment

I have had several times recently when I needed to run a brief errand, 10 mins, but it would be way longer with all the kids and would disrupt naps, and I wished I could ask a neighbor to peek in on them. But it's weird to ask the neighbors that, so the errand didn't happen.

Expand full comment

When my wife and I had our third child, we got a minivan because there was no way to fit three car seats in the back of her car, despite the fact that it nominally held three passengers in the back.

Expand full comment

It can always be worse. Where I live in Europe car seats are required until age 12 (!!). (Technically it's for any child under 150cm in height or 36kg in weight)

Expand full comment

Sounds like an incentive to get yer kids obese asap.

Expand full comment

In the UK car seats are required until age 12 or 135cm, whichever comes first. However, the latter is almost always reached first- practically it's usually reached around 8.

There are countries in Europe that require car seats for adults under a certain height, irrespective of age.

Expand full comment
author

Are the rules against adults actually enforced? Are there are grown-ass humans forced to carry around car seats who otherwise aren't allowed to order an Uber?

Expand full comment

I think, on checking this up, that I was probably thinking of Ireland, and I wasn't quite right. Irish law requires any child under 150cm or less than 36kg (either) to use a child seat (as in the UK, taxis are exempt). Not only does this effectively mandate child seats up to around 13 or so for most people, it doesn't appear to define "child" anywhere. 150cm is about 5 feet, so there are plenty of adult women shorter than that. I assume it is not enforced.

Expand full comment

Hi, I'm David Solomon, one of the authors of the paper. I just wanted to say thanks heaps for doing such a fantastic writeup, especially in terms of explaining everything very clearly and in going into tons of detail. In particular, the estimates of the all-in dollar cost that prevents or subsidizes a birth is a really neat angle that we hadn't thought about, but something we're definitely going to consider more. I really appreciate it.

Expand full comment

A simple way of looking at studies like this is to simply ask "What predictions does this study make?"

This study predicts that places with more mass transit will have higher fertility rates than places with less mass transit. So New York City should have above average fertility relative to the rest of the US, and the EU should have significantly higher fertility.

We instead observe that NYC has below-average fertility rates for the US and the EU has substantially lower fertility rates than the US.

Failure.

This is a really bad sign for the hypothesis, and was literally the first thing I thought of.

This is the sort of very basic sanity check that should be done whenever doing anything like this.

Expand full comment

Except that places with mass transit tend to be more expensive, so families with children are less likely to live there, and big cities tend to have a lot more people who are politically liberal, have higher levels of education, are immersed in competitive careers, all of which make them less likely to have children. In partricular, most places in the US with enough transit to not require a car at all, are unaffordable for families with 3+ children, which is why families usually move to suburbs when they have their 2nd child and grow out of their apartment.

Expand full comment

Um... have you personally tried to travel with 2+ children using public transport? :-) I have (as an uncle) and trust me - it is NOT a great experience.

Expand full comment

What you write makes sense, but what would persist would be the awful perception that the govt. that changed the law was reckless with a child's life. Stories always win against facts in these sorts of things.

Expand full comment
author

There is such a risk but this implies we can never get rid of any regulation or requirement that can make a safety claim, however weak and however expensive to implement. If so, There Is No Hope.

Expand full comment

I think this is a special case because it involves children and driving is a universal activity.

For example, regulations that were overly restrictive on welders or hairdressers could be rolled back without the same "story" risk.

Expand full comment

Ummm... I would contend that regulations on welders and hairdressers can be arbitrarily draconian, because those populations are small enough in numbers and specialized enough, that only welders and hairdressers would be affected, the general public would not ever notice, so there would be no pushback. No regulations ever get rolled back, all the public sees is that one day there are no auto shops or fabrication businesss, and the corner barber shop is gone, wonder why?

See the literature on occupational licensing reqirements for example.

Expand full comment

What garbage did I just read?

Expand full comment

Even in nanny state Denmark, kids only need to be 135 cm to be out of a car seat (6-7 yo). And the third child in the middle seat isn't required to use a car seat. So many regulations in USA+Canada are so irrational it boggles my mind.

Expand full comment

How about states that prohibit children in the front seat until age 12?

Who made that law and why??

Expand full comment