Last month, I wrote about controlling poor women’s fertility, primarily through coercive efforts to prevent them from having children. I have also written about forced pregnancy, opposition to birth control, and the Romanian experiment in banning birth control, which drove up abortion rates and led many children to be abandoned in orphanages where they were neglected and abused.
But there are more subtle forms of controlling women’s fertility than forcing them to use or not use birth control, namely through convincing the “right” kind of women to have more births.
There has been great concern among some that there is not enough population growth. I am not kidding. The fear is conveyed in this chart:
The gold part of the graph represents the historical and expected population growth of industrialized countries and the aqua part represents the same for developing countries. As you can see, there is plenty of population growth going on. The concern is that the bulk of the growth is not predicted to be among the “right” (gold) population. (The site I got this from seems a little sketch, but the graph is accurate.) This parallels fears often expressed in the U.S. that whites are destined to become a minority by mid-century. The U.S. population remains at replacement primarily because of immigrants, most of whom are not from developed nations. The fears of reproduction by people of color have driven many of the coercive fertility practices in the U.S.
If one thinks only locally and not globally, fears of demographic shifts may be reasonable. As people live longer, if there are not enough young people in the social system, there is not a system to support the elderly. One of the prime examples of this problem is Japan, which has undergone an unrelenting decline in births since the late 1970s. The average birthrate is 1.39 children per woman, far below the replacement rate of 2.1, and soon 1 in 3 Japanese citizens will be elderly. Some claim that adult diaper sales in Japan have already outpaced baby diaper sales. Forbes calls this population flip Japan’s “demographic death spiral.”
This kind of “death spiral” is the topic of film Demographic Winter: The Decline of the Human Family. In the world of population study, opportunities for women are promoted as a progressive solution for limiting births in poor countries, because education and economic independence for women lead to lower birthrates. Demographic Winter suggests that the advances already achieved by women in industrialized nations will cause a demographic collapse (as well as a collapse of the family as we know it). According to the film, among the major causes for the demographic winter are women in the workforce, the sexual revolution, and no-fault divorce.
The solution to the specter of a future of unsustainable taxes on the young in order to support the aging? Why, the subjugation of women and a return to patriarchy! Kathryn Joyce writes an excellent review, which I encourage you to read in full. She notes:
The sin that preoccupies the entire documentary – though such morally-infused terms are assiduously avoided throughout the film – is birth control and the sexual revolution, and the widespread cultural decision of women to limit their fertility.
She points out that in other venues, the filmmakers have indicated their agenda more blatantly:
The optimistic “springtime” solution to “demographic winter” was promoting aggressive pronatalist policies that would encourage a traditionalist family structure they call “the natural family.”
But the “sin” of straying from “the natural family” is the sin of the women of Europe or of European ancestry only. Immigration has kept the U.S. population at replacement rates, but in regard to the Muslim immigrants of Europe, a World Congress of Families speaker said that they are
“too many, and too culturally different from their new countries’ populations to assimilate quickly…They are contributing to the cultural suicide of these nations as they commit demographic suicide.”
As reported by Joyce, in the film, Phillip Longman (currently a senior fellow with the New America Foundation) concludes:
Certain kinds of human beings,” just like the “sterile pagan nobility” of the fading Roman Empire, “are on their way to extinction. People who for lack of faith don’t go forth and multiply.” The only solution Longman sees, quickly dismissing the progressive “Swedish model” welfare state that subsidizes more equitable parenthood, is a “return to traditional values: patriarchy, properly understood.”
Here is where we can see that subjugating women for the greater good is primarily about subjugating women. The industrialized nations with the lowest birthrates are distinctly not the countries with the most gender equity. In Japan, according to a story in the Guardian, the young are eschewing sex in addition to marriage and childbearing. Of marriage, the story reports:
“Marriage is a woman’s grave,” goes an old Japanese saying that refers to wives being ignored in favour of mistresses. For Japanese women today, marriage is the grave of their hard-won careers.
The BBC posits that Japan is “the worst country for working mothers”–70% of women quit after having their first child, in part because of cultural expectations and in part because of structural conditions. Daycare slots are in short supply, and work hours are incompatible with parenting. Workplace discrimination against married women and mothers is rampant. While mothers are expected to sacrifice themselves entirely for their children, men are expected to be completely devoted to their jobs. Japan also has very strict policies against immigration, which limits their routes for the country’s population growth.
Other countries with very low birth rates include Germany (1.36), where schools still send children home for lunch and working mothers are known by the slur “rabenmutter” (as the BBC notes, “scarcely a greater insult can be hurled by a man in a suit at a woman in a suit”); Switzerland (1.52), where women did not win the right to vote until 1971; and Spain (1.36), where until Franco’s regime ended in the 1970s, women could not own property and single women had to be chaperoned in public, and where machismo is still common in the culture today.
Among the countries with the highest birth rates? France (2.03), Iceland (2.02), Sweden (1.90) and Norway (1.88). All of these countries have progressive policies toward most of the social ills profiled in Demographic Winter, with high rates of premarital sex, cohabitation, out-of-wedlock pregnancy, and contraceptive use. They also provide ample parental leave (often for fathers as well as mothers), subsidized daycare, and short work weeks (the countries in which people have the shortest work weeks are also among the wealthiest in the world, so such policies are not destroying them).
So why return to patriarchy? In developed nations, gender inequality appears to depress, rather than accelerate, the birth rate. The question then becomes, is the fear of a “demographic winter” really about the elderly outnumbering the young? Or is it about the reproduction of nonwhites and the equality of women?
I think the latter.