Fertility forecast for free?

For $295, you can pay an outfit called Demographic Intelligence for their U.S. Fertility Forecast(TM). According to them, a number of companies that sell products for children, and families with children, have bought the product. Their forecast, they claim, was “a remarkable 99.8% accurate” for 2010.

Here is my free evaluation:

We don’t have the final fertility numbers for 2011 yet, but we have some reports from the government that take us from 2007-2009 to the middle of 2011. These tell us there were 4,057,000 births for the 12 months ending in June 2010. Let’s say you were conservative, and cheap, and wanted to sell a forecast that assumes nothing would change. In that case, you would forecast 4,057,000 births again for the 12 months ending June 2011. In fact, the number of births fell to an estimated 3,978,000. So your no-change forecast — let’s call it the Discount Forecast(TM) — would only be 98.1% accurate.

But, if you had an extra 10 minutes to work on it, you could take the 2007 number of births, which was 4,316,233, and calculate the annual change between 2007 and 2010, which is -64,808. Using that trend, your forecast for 2011 would be 3,992,192. And you would be 99.6% accurate. I would call that the Academic Spare Time Forecast(TM).

So, if you are a giant multinational conglomerate, I recommend paying the $295.

Why should you trust my free forecast?

I am an experienced blogger who has been following short-term fertility fluctuations since at least 2010 (if you discount my 2009 work, in which I misguidedly asked, “Why Are American Women Having More Children?” Since 2011 I have been offering speculation about the future of fertility. At that time I wrote, “I predict we will see a fertility rebound at least in the first half of 2011.”

In fairness to me, how wrong I was depends on how you define “rebound.” I showed that Google searches for “pregnancy growth,” “pregnancy tips,” and “pregnancy contractions” had started to rise again at the end of 2010 after a steep drop that mirrored the fall in actual birth rates associated with the recession. The latest government report does not show an increase in birth rates, but it does show a distinct slowing of the decline in the first half of 2011, with a curve that looks promising for a turnaround soon.

So, sure, I was “wrong,” if you define accuracy at the 100% level. But my error was in the correct direction.

If it reassures you, Demographic Intelligence has also predicted a rise in fertility for 2012, according to recent public relations reports attributed to then-D.I. President and founder Bradford Wilcox (I say “then” because he doesn’t appear on their website any more). You could trust them, despite their entanglement with Wilcox, whose National Marriage Project has produced a long series of misleading, ideologically driven reports; and their current research director Samuel Sturgeon, who previously worked for the Heritage Foundation and the Sustainable Demographic Dividend, which I discussed previously.

But trusting me is cheaper.*/**

What are the ethics here? Is it just distasteful (to me) to use your taxpayer-funded demographic training and credentials to make a profit from these companies, while concealing your results from the information-seeking public? Lots of academics — including me — make money on the side (and like medical “side-effects,” these may be bigger than the main effect). Just because our products aren’t as valuable as chemists’ or doctors’, should social scientists be left off the corporate gravy train?

Interestingly, that Demographic Dividend report, which had a lot of ridiculousness to it, also promoted fertility-enhancing efforts by corporations, and offered advice on how they could make more money with pro-natal ad campaigns. So, does Demographic Intelligence have a conflict of interest, because its officers want people to have more children?

*U.S. taxpayers have already paid. Thank you!

**Also, if you decide to go with Demographic Intelligence, please be aware that the phone number on their webpage is also  (or has recently been) the contact number for Family Worship Month, Family Worship Resources, the Freedom Film Fund and Freedom Film Distributors — so make sure you specify which product you want.

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