If there's one thing economists tend to agree on, it's the benefits of free movement of labour. Lowering barriers to immigration has the power to add up to US$90 trillion (S$130 trillion) a year to the global economy, doubling global gross domestic product and dwarfing the impact of reducing barriers to trade and capital flows. Not only does immigration boost the economy, it has also helped empower professional women in the British and American economies over the past 50 years.
The entry of professional women into the labour market has been supported by an army of low-paid - often immigrant - domestic helpers. According to the sociologist Lynn Prince Cooke, the upside of the higher income inequality in the US and UK economies compared with continental Europe has been the availability of low-cost labour to which educated women have been able to subcontract out their traditional domestic duties, from cleaning and childcare to looking after the elderly. At the end of the day, where would "power couples" be without the low-paid, often female and immigrant, labour on which they depend?
In the United States, educated women have benefited from the availability of cheap, unskilled, immigrant workers from Latin America, while those in the United Kingdom have benefited from Eastern European labour - the immigrant labour that voters and governments have on their radar. Reduced immigration will leave us with a choice: either life will be more difficult for professional women, or professional men will have to do more around the home.
Meanwhile, countries that need immigrants to make up for falling fertility rates among natives will find this source unavailable. Fertility in the US and UK has fallen below the replacement ratio of 2.1 and the proportion of women with no children has risen significantly. According to the US Office for National Statistics, of the women born in 1940, nine out of 10 went on to have children. By 1967, double the number of women were not having children (one in five) and, if trends continue, estimates suggest that by 2018, a quarter of middle-aged women will be childless. In the US, and according to the Census Bureau's 2014 census, 28.9 per cent of women aged 30 to 34 have no children.
There have been various recent policy initiatives aimed at encouraging Western women to have more babies. They include cash inducements (as offered in Singapore and Turkey), subsidised childcare (popular in Scandinavia and increasingly so in the UK), additional paid leave and even national fertility-boosting songs and, in Russia, an annual day earmarked for baby-making.
In the US, educated women have benefited from the availability of cheap unskilled immigrant workers from Latin America, while those in the UK have benefited from Eastern European labour... Reduced immigration will leave us with a choice: Either life will be more difficult for professional women, or professional men will have to do more around the home.
Immigration, and especially the availability of domestic help and childcare options, allows Western women to make a choice about their fertility without excessive pressure from government. If immigration barriers go up, there's a real risk such pressure will increase rather than decrease. A recent paper by PhD student Jason Lu and Professor Coen Teulings argues that women's access to birth control has contributed to over-saving and secular stagnation. It's not a stretch to imagine that policymakers, faced with challenging demographics and the need to boost growth, would seek to nudge more women into parenthood.
Attempts to restrict immigration in the era of Brexit and President Donald Trump will not only damage the economy, they could restrict the lives of professional women. If that happens, the male population will find itself having to pick up some of the slack - and 2017 might not be a year of marital bliss.
- Victoria Bateman is a fellow and lecturer in economics at Gonville and Caius College, Cambridge University.