Friday, May 25, 2007

Liberals Ask Themselves, "Why Don't Liberals Procreate?"

UPDATE 8/10/14 - The Extinction of Abortion Advocates: They Don't Procreate

From "Making moms: Can we feed the need to breed? -- Canada has a baby deficit. Will paying women to have more kids help?" by Lianne George, posted May 28, 2007 in Macleans

Canada's fertility rate has been in a free fall for decades. In recent years, though, it has hovered at an all-time low of roughly 1.5 children per woman (we need 2.1 if we're going to replace ourselves). Social analysts pin it on some jumble of female education and fiscal autonomy, secularization, birth control, Sex and the City, a heightened desire for personal freedom, and increasing uncertainty about bringing a child into a world plagued by terrorism, global warming and Lindsay Lohan. [Oops, forgot to mention abortion!] In a hyper-individualistic, ultra-commodified culture like ours, motherhood, for better and worse, is less a fact of life than just another lifestyle choice.

All over the developed world, the same pattern is apparent. Russia, Britain, Ireland, Australia, Spain, Italy and dozens of other countries are contending with fertility rates well below replacement levels. Forty per cent of female university graduates in Germany are childless. In Japan, where the birth rate has sunk to a record low of 1.26, family planning groups are blaming the Internet, charging that fertile men and women are spending too much time online, and not enough having sex.

In Canada, economists and demographers are already noting dysytopian, Children Of Men-tinged scenarios. Across the country, women on average aren't having their first child until the age of 31. Elementary schools and daycare facilities, without enough kids to fill the nap mats, are closing for business. Ontario's Ministry of Education predicts that, by 2010, total elementary and secondary school enrolment will drop by nearly 100,000 students from 2002 numbers. In New Brunswick, the province's death rate has overtaken its birth rate. And the economic implications of a disappearing population are substantial: analysts are estimating a shortage of 1.2 million workers by 2020. "For every two people about to retire in the coming decades," says Linda Duxbury, a professor at Carleton University's Sprott School of Business, "there will be less than one person to take their place, which will put significant strain on the health care system." Alberta, B.C. and the Maritimes are already feeling the crunch. "Demographers have known for ages this is coming," she says. "An issue like this takes decades to solve and we've really pushed the envelope on starting to deal with it."

In a quest to hold on to older workers, the Canadian government expunged the mandatory retirement age in December. But this move alone will not avert a labour crisis. Who, after all, wants to work a full-time job much past the age of 65? (Currently, only about six per cent of Canadians do so.) . . . Nor will immigration be the solution. At the moment, Statistics Canada reports that Canada's average of 240,000 new Canadian immigrants per year more than compensates for our dismal fertility rate. However, those studying long-range trends say this is nowhere near enough, particularly as global competition for skilled labour becomes more aggressive in the coming decades. "The numbers that we're talking about are phenomenal," says Duxbury. "Half a million to two-thirds of a million per year. I wonder, where are we going to get those immigrants from? Because most of the industrialized world is going through this same set of problems we are."

Faced with this odd conundrum -- a supply-and-demand crisis in which the suppliers (women) theoretically have the capacity to meet demand (for babies) but are opting not to -- economists and demographers are left scratching their heads. By now, just about every country in the developed world has implemented some policy or monetary incentives, ranging from baby bonuses to tax breaks. Still, the numbers fall. Short of establishing a Handmaid's Tale regime, they're wondering, what will it take to make women have babies? (And they're not talking just one.) . . . Exacerbating the financial hit for women is the fact that they, unlike men, lose income when they have a child -- a phenomenon David Ellwood [a professor of political economy and dean of the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University] calls the "motherhood penalty." In a study he co-authored, Ellwood tracked women's income over time, beginning in 1979, and determined that the salaries of university-educated women plateau after childbirth, resulting in a loss of 15 to 20 per cent in income during the subsequent 10 years. Men's wages, on the other hand, don't appear to be affected. "Why are the most educated women postponing children the most?" says Ellwood. "The answer is, it's not because they can't afford child care. They're in a better position to afford it than most people. I think a lot of it is more fundamental than that, which has to do with what having children does to their own economic futures and opportunities."

Disparities at work are no longer a male-female issue. These days, they are most explicitly expressed between the women who have children, and those who don't. Kids are the new glass ceiling. According to U.S. economist Sylvia Ann Hewlett, founding president of the Center for Work-Life Policy, only 74 per cent of "off-ramped" women seeking to rejoin the workforce are able to, and only 40 per cent of those return to full-time, professional jobs. A Cornell University study found that mothers are 44 per cent less likely to be hired than non-mothers with the same resumé, experience and qualifications. "It's no accident that the majority of male senior executives have kids and the majority of female senior executives don't," says Ellen Bravo, a renowned American feminist and author of the newly published Taking on the Big Boys. "It's a requirement for the job."

But it's not only women's lost income that policy wonks are going to have to consider. It's also that, although child-rearing is a multi-pronged job which, if done properly, benefits the family, the nation, and everyone in between, the bulk of the responsibility for undertaking the whole thing still sits squarely on a mother's shoulders. Even as we bemoan our plummeting birth rate, and the grim economic future it may bring, everything about the way we've organized our culture is designed to force women to choose between work and kids -- and to penalize them if they choose kids. [Liberals view it as a penalty, others view it as a blessing!] And so, these days, it's not just a matter of a woman wanting children; it's a matter of wanting them at the expense of everything else she's worked for. . . . In Vienna, researchers at the International Instutite for Applied Systems Analysis have developed a disquieting hypothesis called the "low fertility trap," which suggests that the causes of low fertility are self-perpetuating. They foresee the potential for the baby bust to spiral out of control for three reasons: first, negative population growth means there will be fewer women of child-bearing age in the future to produce more children. Second, young people have been socialized [a.k.a. "brainwashed"] to believe that the ideal family size is a small one, which means fewer couples will have more than one child. Finally, the aging population will place tremendous financial strain on younger cohorts -- who have been raised with higher material aspirations to begin with -- which will translate into fewer children, or none at all.

"In the next 20 years," says Harvard's Ellwood, "there will be no net new native-born workers in the so-called prime age of 24 to 55 in the United States. The only new workers will come from two places: older workers and immigrants. And most immigrants in nations like the U.S. have been low-skill. Canada has had more higher-skill immigrants." The issue is made more difficult by the fact that, among Americans in particular, there is wide-ranging discomfort with a liberal immigration policy right now. "[Immigrants] are in a world where there's concerns about terrorism, and worries about jobs being sent abroad. So it's a real challenge."

Here is where we bump up against the dark underbelly of the demography discussion: the fact that it's not so much about urging women to have babies as it is about urging the right women to have them -- and to preserve Western civilization in the process. As it happens, the group whose fertility rates are declining the fastest are those with the greatest social and financial prospects. That is, Western (well-assimilated, if not white) professionals with university degrees. [Any conservative who would make such statements would be in the unemployment line along with Don Imus.]
. . .
It's this type of economic reasoning, paired with an underlying xenophobic angst, that is spurring pro-fertility policy initiatives in developed nations around the world. In Poland, where the population has fallen by half a million since 2000, the government has begun offering up a modest sum of 1,000 zlotys (roughly $400) for each child a woman produces. In Italy, officials are offering a reward of $1,500 for each second child -- and even toying with the possibility of paying women not to go ahead with abortions.

Amazingly, the evidence suggests that the most successful policies have one thing in common: they don't try to pay women to procreate. Rather, they facilitate the careers of working mothers. They are premised on the idea that, the more value a society places on women's work inside and outside of the home, the more likely she is to want to contribute meaningfully in both spheres. In other words, take some of the load off of her shoulders and spread it around so that children become everybody's responsibility. Who would have thought that the most economically sound solution to a fertility crisis would be rooted in good old-fashioned feminism?

The liberals just don't "get it!" They'll be asking themselves the same question (in the title of this Blog posting) until they're extinct.

Read the rest of this article.