Today, Christians around the world are celebrating a birth. In truth, a lot of people who are not Christians are also celebrating.
It’s a good time to be reminded, by Mark Steyn, that Europe’s financial crisis has a lot to do with the dearth of births. The elderly and the not-so-elderly receive generous pensions and benefits. Unfortunately, there are so few able-bodied young workers that they cannot afford to pick up the tab.
As an economic model it does not and cannot work.
Steyn explains: “Take Greece, which has now become the most convenient shorthand for sovereign insolvency …. Greece has a spending problem, a revenue problem, something along those lines, right? At a superficial level, yes. But the underlying issue is more primal: It has one of the lowest fertility rates on the planet. In Greece, 100 grandparents have 42 grandchildren – i.e., the family tree is upside down. In a social democratic state where workers in ‘hazardous’ professions (such as, er, hairdressing) retire at 50, there aren't enough young people around to pay for your three-decade retirement. And there are unlikely ever to be again.”
Other parts of Europe and the Westernized world have the same problem: “The developed world … is barren. Collectively barren, I hasten to add. Individually, it's made up of millions of fertile women, who voluntarily opt for no children at all or one designer kid at 39. In Italy, the home of the Church, the birthrate's somewhere around 1.2, 1.3 children per couple – or about half ‘replacement rate.’ Japan, Germany and Russia are already in net population decline. Fifty percent of Japanese women born in the Seventies are childless. Between 1990 and 2000, the percentage of Spanish women childless at the age of 30 almost doubled, from just over 30 percent to just shy of 60 percent. In Sweden, Finland, Austria, Switzerland, the Netherlands and the United Kingdom, 20 percent of 40-year old women are childless.”
In the distant past people chose to have a goodly number of children because they expected that their children would care for them in their old age. More children meant more future wealth.
Nowadays, few parents rely on their children for material support.
If they pride themselves on their self-reliance they do not want their children to take care of them. If they live in a wealthy country they might even believe that the government will take care of them.
If you do not need a large number of children to care for you in old age, why have a large number of children.
In the past families tended to overbreed. Life’s hardships inevitably deprived them of some of their children. Disease, famine and warfare decimated families.
Today’s children are less exposed to disease, famine or warfare. They are more likely to survive childhood and adolescence.
Thus, there is no need to have a few spare children.
In cultures where people have no confidence in their ability to care for themselves into old age and where government is too incompetent or corrupt to help, everyone seems to want to have many children. Besides, economically backward cultures tend to have poorer medical care, poorer nutrition, and more violence. They have higher infant and adolescent mortality rates.
By this reasoning, it makes good sense that poor and underdeveloped countries have higher birth rates. And it also makes sense that developed countries would not want or need to emulate their example.
In his article Steyn seems to want to lay the burden on women. He suggests that they, like many non-female postmoderns, are self-involved and selfish. They feel no duty to society as a whole, and prefer to spend their time doing the things that make them feel happy and fulfilled.
Many women, and their husbands, believe that a large number of children will consume their lives and their vacation money.
I find it too facile to blame women. True enough, many are choosing not to have children, but no decision of this magnitude is made in complete isolation.
It is fairer to say that women are increasingly unwilling to bring children into insecure family environments.
Some women are willing to be single mothers, but others have a strong preference for the traditional mother/father family structure.
Having many children means taking responsibility for many children. Parents who take their responsibilities seriously will ask themselves whether they can provide the best upbringing for a gaggle of young ‘uns.
Even when the state is picking up a large part of the tab, more children still means more expenses. The state might provide child care and schooling, but parents have to provide food, shelter, and clothing.
Of course, it’s not just about biology and economics. Culturally speaking, marriage is a declining institution. Two score years ago a marriage license was proclaimed to be just another piece of paper. And then divorce was destigmatized. The result was an epidemic of divorce and the advent of single motherhood.
The war against marriage continues to this day, but right now the most venerable human institution has been drained of its meaning. It has become just another relationship, no more special than any other. If the traditional meaning of marriage-- procreation-- is undermined, then why participate.
Many of today’s young people are the children of divorce. Regardless of what the propagandists say, they know that divorce is a very painful trauma. Given the option they are loath to risk subjecting their children to it.
If the marriage contract is no longer binding, women are naturally more hesitant to sign up for permanent insecurity. If they worry about ending up as single mothers, they will surely want to limit the number of children they have.
If marriage is no longer a vow taken seriously, if it is no longer about producing and raising children, then why would people marry. If they do not know that they will be raising children in a stable marriage, many of them would just as soon forgo the experience.
In the old days, procreation was the meaning of sex. Now it is, ironically, considered to be something of a curse. Sex education has no real place for conception. The emphasis is on contraception and disease-avoidance. Children are also taught that all sex acts are created equal... as a means to achieve pleasure.
Children are taught about two kinds of contraception. They hear more than they need to know about birth control and are encouraged to engage in the kinds of sex acts that are foolproof contraception.
The war on marriage was accompanied by a war on female fertility. Women were told that their sexuality was functionally equivalent to male sexuality. Thus, an unintended pregnancy was a minor inconvenience, easily taken care of. Fertility was devalued. Since it was no longer a sacred trust women, and men, felt only a secondary duty to reproduce.
The impetus for this distortion came from women themselves, but it is fair to say that men have been more than happy to exploit the situation to their own advantage. If women refuse to see their sex in terms of fertility why would men argue the point. If they do they are going to be denounced as sexist.