Falling Birth Rates, Not Just a Woman’s Issue

By Orlagh McGlade, Doctor and For Britain Member

14th May 2020

Over the past few years I have been thinking a lot about the demographic change taking place around us, whereby relatively low European birth rates and mass immigration are literally changing the face of Europe. As a significant proportion of my generation remain without children at ages when previous generations were long settled with families, it feels as though we are at a critical crossroads for the future of European natives.

Any conversations around demographic change mostly focus on women. Why are women getting married and having children later? Is it a good thing that women have careers? Should women even get to make their own medical decisions? We are always treated like the conundrum to solve. However, many of us do not remain single because we live for our careers, because we don’t want children or because we are hideous, but due to a multitude of factors that sometimes seem completely insurmountable.

Women’s lives have changed dramatically in recent history and for this reason it is tempting to pin demographic problems on this, however, too few people want to talk about the obstacles that are in the way of women who do want children. Today I would like to offer my perspective as a woman of child-bearing age and shift the focus onto others for a change.

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Firstly, let’s talk about the choices men are making. While women’s careers are a handy scapegoat for delayed child-bearing, it is actually often men who are the rate-limiting factor when it comes to establishing families. There appears to be a certain regression among much of my generation (as reflected for example in a pop culture of superhero films and video gaming) and for perhaps the first time in history there seems to be very little societal pressure in the West for men to settle down. Combine this with modern methods of dating, such as apps, which offer seemingly unlimited dating options and many men can delay commitment indefinitely.

Meanwhile, women are subject to the same biological pressures we always have been and tend to want to settle down earlier. The casual dating culture we live in has shifted the power in dating in favour of men, the overall result of which is that women’s most fertile years are wasted. If women end up choosing men from different cultures, ones which apparently value their genetic legacy, they receive criticism for this but rarely do we acknowledge the vacuum that was left in the first place.

Instead of expecting women to gamble with their fertile years while waiting for passive men, why not challenge this Peter Pan syndrome? Education may also play an important role in encouraging young adults to see a future with children. We should not only teach teenagers how to avoid unwanted pregnancies, but also provide a realistic timeline for wanted pregnancies and promote respect for female fertility.

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Our increasingly atomised existence also contributes to the problem. Pair bonding, as a fundamental building block of society, requires both guidance and social support. Not so long ago matchmaking was common and mutual contacts set behavioural standards and accountability. We seem to have largely stopped doing this as our communities disband, hence the rise of the aforementioned dating apps. As well as providing unlimited scope for procrastination I believe the use of these apps cause a great deal of emotional damage in women particularly, which makes finding a healthy relationship all the more difficult. A little more interest and guidance from older generations would go a long way.

I have noticed that many millennials lack this kind of support from their families, who may believe that any involvement is interference or pressure. We have thankfully progressed from the days of arranged marriages but the pendulum now seems to have swung to the other extreme; indifference. This approach leads to loneliness and a lack of confidence. Family involvement doesn’t need to be overbearing, but can function to set expectations and help younger people envision a future with a family.

If we want to help women to settle down earlier we need to strengthen social systems that not only place expectation to men to settle as well, but make efforts to connect potential partners.

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Then there are the societal factors which work against or discourage those who are open to having families, especially for women in careers. In losing ‘the village’ when it comes to matchmaking so too have we lost the community that would help raise children. Instead now, having a family is commonly reported as an isolating experience in the western world. It also remains the case that women do the bulk of domestic work and childcare even if they also have a career[1].

The attitude towards motherhood often appears to be that it is a lifestyle choice and an inconvenience to employers, rather than an essential job. What if instead we treated it as a common life event that is disruptive to both parents and necessary in order to have a society at all? A little more respect may go a long way. Humanity exists, after-all, because of women who suffered cycles of constant pregnancy for much of our species history and who lived lives of tough domestic work with no remuneration.

Women’s traditional roles do not gain status or respect, yet now we find ourselves in a demographic decline suddenly we realise their importance. Times have changed and women are no longer trapped in these roles in service of everyone else, so it is up to us to make it more attractive and manageable. Simply put, we can’t diminish motherhood and then wonder why fewer women become mothers or why mothers have fewer children.

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There are also a number of distraction issues when it comes to demographics. Often abortion (and even sometimes contraception) is brought up in conservative circles as a conspiracy against the European population and considered highly suspect. As a woman and a doctor this concerns me greatly. Firstly, because it betrays a certain alarming lack of understanding when it comes to the medical realities of reproduction.*

There is an illusion of permanence when it comes to the safety of women in pregnancy and childbirth, but the medical realities must be acknowledged and respected by any society which intends to even approach gender equality. Secondly, because it suggests a certain sympathy with our enemies in their attitude towards women. Our heritage is of women who fought hard in order to determine their own lives and be respected as people in their own right. Throwing European women under the bus in order to win at competitive reproduction is not an option.

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In summary, there are many contributors to our demographic problems, but also many opportunities to intervene. I believe we should focus our efforts on removing the obstacles facing women who want children. Countries such as Hungary have tried to boost the population with financial incentives, but strategies like this will obviously only appeal to already existing couples. Despite the fact that women have the more demanding role in reproduction, in many instances finding a suitable partner is the rate limiting factor. We must find ways to challenge Peter Pan syndrome and examine the real effects of social apps on public health. We can all help bring back supportive, connected communities, which will provide the required environment for matchmaking and pair boding to take place.

We should find ways to encourage child-bearing, but as a civilised society must draw the line at reproductive coercion, a recognised form of domestic abuse no less unethical when committed by the state.

Finally and most urgently, we must of course resist mass immigration and remove some of the pressure that we are under to solve these problems in a potentially unrealistic time-frame. It is clear to me that For Britain intimately understands this urgency and is the only party which is capable of being honest about the demographic shift and therefore the solutions to it.

[1]. McMunn A, Bird L, Webb E (2020) ‘Gender Divisions of Paid and Unpaid Work in Contemporary UK Couples’, Work, employment and society, 34(2)

* I hope to write a more detailed article on this subject at a later date for a non-medical conservative leaning audience.

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