Debate stirred by International Women’s Day has been thought-provoking.  The media abounds with encouragement for women in CEO positions and strategies for how more could and should get there.  However, how many women are truly hankering after a CEO position to complete the greatest desires of their souls?  For the majority of us, our satisfaction with relationships, family life and the emotional well-being of our children is what most contributes to our day-to-day happiness and well-being. The editorial in the March edition of First Things put forward an insightful point:  It is a small rich elite that benefits from the cultural shift around work, marriage and family in recent years, and the poor that are forsaken by their destruction.  It comments:

Today’s progressivism has come a long way from Pete Seeger’s communism.  It’s now almost entirely pre-occupied with elite issues.  Organs of the liberal establishment … focus on the super-subtle problems facing super-high-achieving women with super-high status.  The class ceiling is a problem that’s about as One Percent as it gets. 

The editorial goes on to make the point that the re-definition of marriage and the traditional family, along with now commonplace no-fault divorce, are ‘a luxury good for the rich, at the expense of the poor’.  As a result of them, ‘the middle class continues to slide toward underclass levels of illegitimately and family dysfunction’.  The traditional family provides a reliable social safety net for women and young children in their care.  It is this safety net that has been eroded for the desires and demands of a few – those who are most likely to be able to afford to live with the consequences of the destruction of such structures. Yet, this issue so often remains a silent one.

Speaking of vulnerable women without the support of a family structure, it is heartening that recent New Zealand figures show that there were 48 per cent fewer teen mums on Government welfare at the end of 2014 compared to 2009 – a huge drop.  Teen parents spend an average of 19 years on a benefit, and have some of the highest lifetime costs for the rest of society of any group on welfare.  Much of this drop is due to teenage mothers having better access to employment and educational courses, so in celebrating such figures one must also consider a baby’s access to its mother’s time in those crucial early developmental years, and through childhood, of course.  People being made capable of supporting themselves and providing a good example of work and responsibility to their children is positive though.

However, much more positively, the drop is also in part due to an overall drop in the New Zealand teen pregnancy rate.  Abortion rates have also fallen.  What factors have caused this success?  A government report identifies that less sexual activity amongst teenagers is an important factor in the decline. In New Zealand, the Youth 2000 survey series of secondary school students (carried out in 2001, 2007 and 2012) found decreases in sexual activity and pregnancy between 2007 and 2012. The New Zealand report also notes that ‘the declining birth rate in the United States has been linked to the provision of accessible information and services to teenagers and more holistic education programmes that go beyond information about sex and contraception.’  Very encouraging.  Teenagers should be respected as intelligent beings capable of self-control and independent thought, not condescendingly supplied an ever-increasing pile of contraception.   

Interestingly, and a little counter-intuitively, the report also notes some positives for teen pregnancy itself, making mention of New Zealand’s overall worryingly low fertility rates:

Relatively high teenage birth rates in countries like New Zealand and the US are part of generally higher total fertility rates.  A potential benefit is that this may offer some protection against the impacts of structural ageing, such as a declining population of workforce age to support a growing proportion of elderly people.

It is not the age of pregnancy that is so much the problem.  The well-being of babies and children always comes back to the family structures and parental commitments which pregnancy occurs within the bounds of.  It is these structures that go a long way to supporting and protecting the vulnerable women for whom a CEO position is not within the bounds of reality or even desired. It is such structures that truly provide a foundation for a fulfilling life for the tiny baby girl, who develops so much of herself throughout childhood within her family unit, and every woman.

Shannon Roberts

Shannon Roberts is co-editor of MercatorNet's blog on population issues, Demography is Destiny. While she has a background as a barrister, writing has been a life-long passion and she has contributed...