This month Anna Louie Sussman wrote a passionate piece in The New York Times entitled “The End of Babies”. As we often have, she ponders what is stopping us from having the number of children we say we desire.
While China may have explicitly created one child propaganda for decades, it seems that countries the world over have their own subtle propaganda which means that, even for those financially able, having children is psychologically harder than ever before. Sussman writes:
A lifetime of messaging directs us toward other pursuits instead: education, work, travel.
… It seems clear that what we have come to think of as “late capitalism” — that is, not just the economic system, but all its attendant inequalities, indignities, opportunities and absurdities — has become hostile to reproduction. Around the world, economic, social and environmental conditions function as a diffuse, barely perceptible contraceptive.
Using Denmark as an example of a country attempting to take much of the financial pressure of babies off parents (and pondering why such measures don't seem to be increasing its birth rate), she writes:
Danes instead must grapple with the promise and pressure of seemingly limitless freedom, which can combine to make children an afterthought, or an unwelcome intrusion on a life that offers rewards and satisfactions of a different kind — an engaging career, esoteric hobbies, exotic holidays.
“Parents say that ‘children are the most important thing in my life,’” said Dr. Ziebe, a father of two. By contrast, those who haven’t tried it — who cannot imagine the shifts in priorities it produces, nor fathom its rewards — see parenting as an unwelcome responsibility. “Young people say, ‘Having children is the end of my life.’”
… Lyman Stone, an economist who studies population, points to two features of modern life that correlate with low fertility: rising “workism” — a term popularized by the Atlantic writer Derek Thompson — and declining religiosity. “There is a desire for meaning-making in humans,” Mr. Stone told me. Without religion, one way people seek external validation is through work, which, when it becomes a dominant cultural value, is “inherently fertility reducing.”
Sussman finally comes to the conclusion that the key problem we face is:
…the quiet human tragedies, born of preventable constraints — an employer’s indifference, a belated realization, a poisoned body — that make the wanted child impossible.
The crisis in reproduction lurks in the shadows, but is visible if you look for it. It shows up each year that birthrates plumb a new low. It’s in the persistent flow of studies linking infertility and poor birth outcomes to nearly every feature of modern life — fast-food wrappers, air pollution, pesticides.
… Seen from this perspective, the conversation around reproduction can and should take on some of the urgency of the climate change debate. We are recognizing nature’s majesty too late, appreciating its uniqueness and irreplaceability only as we watch it burn.
Former ABC journalist and now mother, Virginia Tapscott, also writes passionately from Australia on this topic in an opinion piece entitled 'I want to be able to choose to be “mother,” and only that. But society says no.’: She writes:
The momentum on equality for women seemed to pause once we all got jobs.
It was like all the men of the world leaned back in their office chairs, breathed a collective, exasperated sigh of relief and said ‘Happy now?’ No, John, I’m not happy. I’m mad we didn’t push for more. You see, I would like to have some more progressive options when it comes to having a family other than ‘give your kids to someone else while you go to work’.
Surely we can come up with something a little more sophisticated than just outsourcing child raising duties or swapping the mum for the dad or freezing our eggs. Why can’t we freeze our careers?
I want to be able to choose to be mother, and only that, and not feel the oppressive weight of expectation to have a career at the same time.
I want my daughter to be able choose to take a decade out of the workforce, be valued by society for her choice, and then be supported and equipped to re-establish her career, rather than feeling the whole time that the workplace has moved on and that she has lost all that she has worked so hard for.
I want her to live in a society that values full time mothering as much as it values a pay cheque or a job title.
It seems that more and more women are crying out for society to recognise them as more than their careers. They want to be recognised for the real, and highly intellectual and purposeful work, that bringing up future citizens is – and to be accommodated to have careers alongside that if they so desire, or not have a career alongside that, as the case may be.
Shannon Roberts is co-editor of Demography is Destiny, MercatorNet's blog on population issues.