It’s A Woman’s Choice: Falling Fertility Rates Are Not the Business of Government by G. Hinsliff
The British birthrate is at a record low, but policymakers should steer clear of trying to influence this most personal of decisions
How many children should a woman have, and when? It’s a trick question, of course, because the answer is nearly always “none of your damn business”.
There is no one perfect solution to this most personal and intimate of dilemmas, no iron rule for getting it right, and yet that doesn’t stop the world and its aunt seemingly having an opinion.
Young women who steadfastly insist they don’t want children are knowingly told that they’ll change their minds when they’re older, even as they’re begging doctors for sterilisations.
….Yet somehow, despite all this incessant collective nagging, we seem to be heading for a baby drought. This week brought news of yet another fall in British birthrates, and for the first time they’re falling even among immigrant mothers, whose tendency to have larger families has for years quietly propped up the nation’s declining fertility rates.
….There is a danger of overreacting to all this, treating the decline in fertility like a lemming-like plunge off the cliff rather than a fairly slow and steady downward trend that gives policymakers decades to adapt (and has led to a welcome fall in teenage pregnancies in the UK to boot).
Yet falling fertility rates are becoming a dangerously hot political potato, as legitimate questions about how a shrinking pool of younger workers can support an expanding cloud of older ones start to become dangerously entangled with white supremacist hysteria about the supposed failure of Christian communities to breed fast enough, or with the perennial rightwing anxiety about what women might seek to do with their bodies if they had complete freedom to choose.
For some men, it seems the only thing scarier than the prospect of a broody woman trying to trap them into pregnancy is the idea of one wilfully refusing to get into all that.
….The more motherhood comes to be seen as a choice, rather than an unavoidable fact of female existence or some kind of great romantic destiny, the greater the anxiety both about making the wrong choice and about living with the ghost of the life not chosen.
Trying to counter all that by nagging young women to knuckle down to it in order to avoid a future global pensions deficit is destined for the failure such emotionally tin-eared tactics deserve.
Better, perhaps, to treat a shrinking population less like an annoying economic aberration to be corrected, and more like a riddle of human happiness. …