Newmark’s Door has a post referring to the public discussion of demographics recently highlighted in Reason, the New York Times, and the Boston Globe. The point is made that American mothers might find re-entry into the workforce easier than European women, and this may contribute to the higer fertility rate in America.
To which I comment:
The same labor laws in Europe which aggrivate unemployment among all workers may especially discriminate against mothers.
When it is difficult to fire workers firms become more reluctant about whom they will hire. A woman who has children already may be significantly more likely to become pregnant again, so a firm will hesitate at hiring such a woman. This is further aggrivated by laws providing long maternity (and paternity) leaves for parents. Such laws might make hiring women of child-bearing age even more disagreeable to firms. The result is that hiring firms will attempt to signal to potential workers that a commitment not to have children will make their chances of getting a job significantly better. Of course, discrimination on these grounds would most likely be illegal, but both parties have a strong incentive to suggest such a commitment.
As a result: women who want children, regardless of productive potential, are locked out of the labor market, and the overall economy suffers. Also, women who cannot afford not to work must give up having children, so population declines. Finally, marriage may signal likeliness to have children, so we should observe fewer people getting married, at least until they already have jobs. This delays marriage beyond peak fertility years, further lowering fertility rates. Incedentally, it may also lead to increased frustration among young men, contributing to crime rates, prostitution, and incedence of sexually transmitted diseases (Landsburg).
As Bastiat and Hazlitt demonstrate, there are always unintended consequences to interference in voluntary transactions. And as McClosky argues, free markets may lead to good ethics.