05 December 2012

So much for Danny’s Bootie Bonus #nlpoli

During the 2007 general election, the provincial Conservatives announced a policy under which they would pay $1000 to any woman in the province who gave birth to a live baby or or adopted one.

SRBP called it the bootie call.  Danny Williams tried to claim the idea was similar to an idea Hilary Clinton announced in the United States while she was trying to get the Democratic Party presidential nomination.  It wasn’t and SRBP explained the difference between the two and why the Bootie Call was unlikely to work.  It wouldn’t work because it hadn’t really worked in any of the other xenophobic places where they’d tried it.

Williams famously told reporters at the announcement in Corner Brook that “we can’t be a dying race.”

You don’t hear much about the Bootie Call from the Conservatives these days, but a look at the birth statistics will tell you what happened after the the provincial government started handing out the breeding bucks in 2008.

Here’s a nice table showing live births in Newfoundland and Labrador by quarter from 2001 to the second quarter of 2012.

births by quarter

Start at the left of the chart and you can see a gradual decline in the number of births each quarter. The black line is the trend averaging every four quarters.

Then there is the huge jump.  It happens in the third quarter of 2008.  Lots of people must have been busy nine months or so before that.  Umm like after the provincial election and the news that people would get cash for breeding.

But then notice what happens.


The trend continues its previous trip downwards. 

The jump in Q3 2008 was about 14% above Q3 2007.  But the trend ever since has been downward.



tbaird said...

A few points in response.

First, I think it is important to distinguish between solving a problem and making progress on a problem. A new cancer treatment that reduces mortality by 10% is valuable even though it doesn't save everyone. By the same token, a policy that lifts the falling birthrate is valuable even if it doesn't reverse the trend (assuming you believe that "preserving our race" is an important policy goal, which I do not).

Second, while I agree that the birth rate is declining at the same rate as it was before baby bonus was enacted, the trend line seems to have shifted up by about 100 births per quarter. This is exactly the effect one would predict from a discrete, permanent change of policy: the trend line should shift up but the slope (which is determined by other factors like the aging population) should remain the same. Now I don't believe this shift is due solely to the baby bonus, but the timing is certainly suggestive.

Third, I agree with you that the baby bonus bounce is not clearly evident in the age-group specific numbers. But when you divide up the data, you reduce the sample size and we enter the range where random effects become more important. For this reason I find the charts using the total fertility rate more convincing.

-Tom Baird

Edward Hollett said...

Thanks for the additional commentary Tom.

You raise some good additional points. I had actually sketched out another post using this policy as a based for discussing policy and decision-making in general.

Your comments on cancer and acceptable percentage changes will fit nicely into that.

On the bit about dividing up the sample, I disagree primarily because we are dealing with a sample which is 100% of the population under study. As a result accuracy/error isn't really an issue even when we break the population down into cohorts and look at each of them to see what is happening.

To take that a step farther, breaking down into age cohorts gives you a very good indication that women are not all the same between 15 and 50 when it comes to child birth and child-rearing. We can see changes over time in behaviour that serve as good clues to guide policy. These changes are tied to decisions about having children which in turn can be useful guides to policy. Aside from what I might suppose from anecdotal observation of women I know at different ages, that's generally what studies like the OECD and RAND book suggest as well.

Age just happens to be one of the factors I had readily to hand. To get a real handle on the child birth trends, I think we'd need to look in a bit more detail at other factors (education, marital status, availability of supports etc).

And let's not forget that we haven't really discounted another explanation for the uptick around 2008, namely the in-migration of women of prime child-bearing age beginning around 2006 who came home to escape the looking recession. Without taking a closer look at that issue, I wouldn't be willing to grant that the bootie call had much of an impact for certain on anything.