One of the most ardent culture warriors in the state legislature is calling on Texas couples to breed—and breed, and breed some more. State representative Bryan Slaton, a Republican from Royse City, northeast of Dallas, has filed a bill that would offer property tax breaks to married couples who have four or more biological or adopted children. The tax credit would increase with each additional child, from 40 percent for four to 100 percent for ten or more. In a press release touting his idea, Slaton cited falling birth rates—which have nose-dived in Texas since 2007, particularly among Hispanics, following a nationwide trend—as the policy rationale for his proposal. The former minister added a biblical admonition: “With this bill,” he said, “Texas will start saying to couples: ‘Get married, stay married, and be fruitful and multiply.’ ”

But population experts say House Bill 2889 would do little or nothing to spur a baby boom in Texas. That’s partly because Slaton tailored the bill to allow only a particular slice of the populace to qualify for the tax breaks—specifically, heterosexual couples, “neither of whom have ever been divorced,” that can afford to own property. No single parents or same-sex couples would be eligible. And although Hispanic and Black women (in that order) have the highest fertility rates in the state, many of them would be ineligible for Slaton’s rewards for fruitfulness, because Black and Hispanic Texans have significantly lower homeownership rates than non-Hispanic whites. (According to the Texas Demographic Center, 41 percent of Black Texans owned homes in 2021, compared with 59 percent of Hispanics and 71 percent of non-Hispanic whites.) Rates of children who live in single-parent households are also significantly higher among Black and Hispanic Texans. 

Child advocacy groups and Democratic lawmakers have criticized the bill for shutting out so many families. “Wielding the power of government to discriminate against [certain] children or their caregivers is what bullies do,” said Michelle Castillo, deputy director of the Children’s Defense Fund–Texas. “I’m having a hard time reacting to it other than to be incredulous,” said state representative Donna Howard, an Austin Democrat. “It doesn’t rise to the level of meeting just about anything that I would be looking at in terms of how to really support families and how to look at the best way to address tax reduction.” Slaton did not respond to interview requests. 

His bill reflects the rise, in Texas and nationally, of “pronatalism,” a movement mainly on the political right, which calls for policies to encourage more childbearing, at least among non-Latino whites. A few days after Slaton filed his bill, former president Donald Trump posted a video in which he proposed “baby bonuses for young parents to help launch a new baby boom.” Slaton retweeted the video and plugged his proposal: “Trump wants to incentivize strong, healthy families with more children,” he wrote. “I’m trying to do the same thing in Texas.” Wealthy tech titans such as Elon Musk espouse their own brand of pronatalism, which involves breeding more “smart” kids, and they often boast about spreading their seed. But Musk, who has ten children, wouldn’t qualify for tax credits under Slaton’s bill because he fathered his brood with three women (two of whom he married).

Slaton isn’t merely in tune with Trump in his call for more babies; he’s also echoing right-wing populist leaders in Central and Eastern Europe. He makes no secret of that: when he announced his bill, Slaton noted that pronatalist policies “have been implemented in nations such as Hungary and Poland, where they have begun the process of reversing their declining birth rates, and are helping to foster thriving families.” (The policy outcomes in those countries have been mixed: while Hungary’s pro-baby policies helped boost the country’s birth rate from an all-time low of 1.2 births per woman in 2011 to 1.6 in 2018, the numbers have leveled off since then. Meanwhile, despite years of pro-baby policies, Poland still has one of the lowest fertility rates in Europe.)

Hungarian prime minister Viktor Orbán figures as something of an icon on the U.S. right. He’s made it a major priority to increase native Hungarians’ fertility; as of 2022, the country was spending more than 5 percent of its gross domestic product on pro-procreation policies that include a lifetime income-tax exemption for native Hungarian families with four or more children. Orbán is a promoter of the “great replacement” conspiracy theory, which posits (without a shred of evidence) a nefarious plot—which some believe is led by Hungarian-born Jewish billionaire George Soros, among others—to “replace” whites with nonwhite immigrants. “I see the great European population exchange as a suicidal attempt to replace the lack of European, Christian children with adults from other civilizations—migrants,” Orbán said in a speech last year marking the start of his fourth term in office. Shortly afterward, he was invited to speak at the Conservative Political Action Conference in Dallas, where he declared, “The globalists can all go to hell. I have come to Texas.” 

Last August, Russian president Vladimir Putin created his own baby bonus as he revived a Soviet-era honor once bestowed upon the nation’s most fertile women. Under Joseph Stalin, any woman who had ten or more children was designated a “Mother Heroine” for doing her part to boost Mother Russia’s numbers. Beginning in 1944, the nation gave each of these women a special certificate on her tenth child’s first birthday, along with a package of financial benefits. Putin’s new version of the honor offers any Russian woman one million rubles, the current equivalent of $13,000, after her tenth surviving child turns one year old. Since 2008, the Kremlin has also awarded the “Order of Parental Glory”—along with fifty thousand rubles (less than a thousand dollars)—to parents who have more than seven children. Prior to Russia’s 2022 invasion of Ukraine, the Russian fertility rate, as well as its population, had been on the decline. Now, with somewhere between 500,000 and 1 million Russians having fled the country following the invasion, the birth rate will likely plummet even lower.

Despite its ugly echoes of eugenics-adjacent family policies enacted by authoritarian regimes, Slaton’s bill is not addressing a made-up problem. Declining birth rates are a cause for concern in Texas and the U.S., although the problem is not as severe here as it is in many European and Asian countries. According to population experts, a “balanced population”—ideal for many reasons—occurs when women average 2.1 births apiece. Texans aren’t reproducing quite that much; the state’s total fertility rate was 1.81 in 2021, higher than the U.S. rate of 1.66 and the fourteenth highest in the country. When the fertility rate dips beneath the replacement rate, the median age of the population rises. An aging population, in the absence of significant in-migration, can cause labor shortages, increased health-care expenditures, and fewer young workers to finance that spending through their payroll-tax contributions to programs such as Medicare and Medicaid. As Slaton’s press release put it, “the age dependency ratio rises.” 

But the solution Slaton is proposing would not do much to boost the birth rate, said Jennifer Glass, a sociology professor at the University of Texas who works in its Population Research Center. “The evidence shows that child tax credits help alleviate poverty,” Glass said, “but their impacts on fertility are pretty small because you just can’t pay people enough. The average kid costs you about $18,000 to $36,000 a year depending on your standard of living. No tax credit is that big.” (And because Slaton’s proposal would exclude many of the state’s neediest families, its impact on poverty would also be limited.) 

Population experts say there is a surefire way to boost fertility rates: let in more immigrants. Migrants tend to be young and produce children at a higher rate than the native-born. But Texas, like the country as a whole, has experienced a decline in net international migration since 2016. Over the prior two decades, Glass said, the country was “saved by immigration.” (This helped boost the economy and keep Social Security and Medicare solvent.) But the end of legal in-country asylum seeking under Trump led to an immediate decline in the Hispanic birth rate, from approximately 2.1 in 2016 to 1.9 in 2020. “It’s pretty clear that immigration was propping up U.S. birth rates until the recent past,” Glass said. “And when that stops, the higher-than-average Hispanic birth rate created by recent migrants stops as well.” Without a steady flow of immigrants, she said, “we are an aging, low-fertility population.”   

Don’t expect Slaton to start proposing ways to allow more immigrants into Texas, however. In November, he filed legislation that would require the state to “finish” the border wall and name it the “President Donald J. Trump Wall.” He has authored another bill that would provide tax credits to Texans who send donations to the state for its border security efforts. 

If lawmakers like Slaton are serious about creating larger families, they shouldn’t be looking to Hungary, Poland, or Russia for models. Instead, they should look to France, where fertility rates are higher than in most developed countries. That’s thanks in part to a raft of policies that support gender equality in the workplace, such as requiring companies to publicly report wage gaps and enforcing penalties for failing to close them. France also has strong policies that support families, including generous paid parental leave and childcare services. “When you funnel real chunks of money to moms through wage and benefit gains at work, and make it possible to have children without penalty at work through federal paid leave and childcare, they have as many kids as they want—two to three on average,” said Glass. Proposing a baby bonus that benefits only certain families, by contrast, smacks more of ideological point scoring than serious policy making.