The Fertility of Europe
It is commonly discussed that Europe has a greying population. The continent experienced a ‘baby boom’ after World War 2. Peace and prosperity triggered many large families in this new blissful era. Only 70 years ago, Europe’s population grew massively.
Now that our populations are not growing so quick anymore, governments are saying migrants are required to fill the gap. Why is it that a population has to continue growing all the time? Would a shrinking population be such a dangerous thing?
The Replacement Rate
In order for a population to maintain a stable level the fertility rate needs to be around 2.1. It takes two people to create a baby, and the 0.1 extra allows for those that pass away in childhood and will never become a part of the adult female population. Any number above 2.1 means the population is growing, while anything below 2.1 implies the population is shrinking.
In Europe, not a single country even reaches a fertility rate of 2. France has the highest score with 1.96, while Portugal is at the bottom with a meager 1.31. This gives us two relevant questions; why is this happening, and what is so bad about it? First, we are going to focus on the why.
Why Is The Rate So Low – The Financial Reason
One of the most obvious reasons is financial security; or better said, a lack thereof. Especially since the crisis of 2008, unemployment in Europe has been relatively high. A lot of Italians for example are living with their parents well into their 30’s, rather than moving out and starting families of their own.
Some nations are giving some financial benefits to people with children, but these amounts generally do not go above 50-100 euro a month. One example of this is Poland, seeking to improve its rate from 1.32; near the bottom of the table. Although definitely a step in the right direction when it comes improving fertility rate, it is questionable how much difference 600-1200 euro a year will make.
Why Is The Rate So Low – The Career-Focusing Feminist Reason
A different reason is the increase of women in the workforce. Many women seek to make a career for themselves before having children. Generally a 3-9 month break in your career does not help your prospect of promotion, so women rather postpone motherhood. Partially as well, one may guess, because motherhood is no longer looked up to. Feminism has framed motherhood as a sort of sacrifice, rather than as an act of fulfillment.
Postponement, however, leads to it never taking place at all. Nowadays 20% of British women over 45 do not have any children. Although some may have consciously chosen to be ‘child-free’, many of those live the end of their lives in regret. This is a risk fairly hidden in our society, and one of the few topics that simply is not being discussed.
Why Is The Rate So Low – The Man-Child Reason
Not only women are afraid children limiting their freedom and how much they can ‘get out of life’. Men too have radically changed their beliefs and many have lost interest in having children or ever starting a family. Furthermore, some appear to have lost interest in acting like an adult at all.
Additionally, men are concerned about the finances as well. Raising children is not cheap, and if their partner takes maternity leave it will impact their income. A very rational approach, treating the sexes as equal in the act of marriage, sees no benefit of children.
Why Money Is Not The Real Problem
Firstly, the finances create a strong problem. To start a family you do not want to still be paying off your university debt. You want to be able to afford a nice house to live in, with enough space for a family. Increased tax rates, and wages lagging behind for decades have put us in a poor situation.
At the same time, Europe is one of the richest areas of the world. More than a lack of money being the problem, the problem is prioritizing what to do with the money. Having children may mean less holidays abroad, a less expensive car, less luxury gadgets. Frankly, the economy is about trade-offs.
The Desire For Freedom
There is another, more cultural reason. The reason of equality and freedom. The women want the freedom to focus on their career. The men want the freedom to hang out in bars and play videogames. Both want financial freedom to spend their money on frivolities as they please. Children lock you down, they limit your flexibility and options, they limit your freedom. Nonetheless, this has never been a problem in the past.
Apparently our culture has changed. We have moved to a culture where individual liberty is the greatest good and there is no moral obligation towards the community.
The question remains whether the nihilistic quest for hedonistic pleasures will bring contentment and happiness to the new generation.