One of the realisations that came to me while reading ‘The Selfish Gene’ by Richard Dawkins in my 20s was that, at the most basic level, the success of an organism is measured by how many copies of its genes survive into the next generation. This is something we seem to have lost sight of in our sophisticated, pleasure-seeking modern society. Indeed, it’s also to be borne in mind that even small differences in the reproductive rates of two populations can lead to huge differences over time – even the eventual extinction of the less fertile populations, as has been speculated for Neanderthals versus homo sapiens.
Time was when it was considered normal to get married in your early 20s, start a family, for the husband to work and earn enough for the wife to stay at home with the kids – after all she has the equipment – to stay together and to look forward to grandchildren. Indeed, you were considered odd if you didn’t. In most cultures around the world this is still the case.
In the West we have departed from this in the last 50 years. We had a social revolution instigated by the left in which the young turned against the values and expectations of previous generations. We have lots of single people and couples who have chosen not to have children. Contraception and abortion are easily available. It’s OK to come out as gay. Women have careers and may choose to focus on that rather than have a family. Divorce has been made easier and there’s no taboo around it any more. There are single-parent families and ‘blended’ families. It’s all OK … and the birth rate is collapsing.
Of course I don’t want to force people into a lifestyle they feel miserable in – to make people live a lie that they’re straight when they’re not, to force people to stay in loveless or abusive relationships, for children to grow up feeling unwanted, with their parents blaming them for missed opportunities or to stigmatise people who lose their partners or are infertile through no fault of their own.
When I was young – indeed, not just young but well into adulthood – there was nothing cool about being married with kids. This attitude came from rock ‘n’ roll and was supported by popular culture and peers. The dream was a hedonistic lifestyle of partying, pursuing casual sex and backpacking round the world. Then there’s throwing yourself into work with long hours, travel and moving for the job. A family would have been an unwelcome expense and hindrance, to be avoided at all costs. On top of that I didn’t want to end up being one of those divorced dads – broke, screwed-over and having to go through the courts to get to see the kids.
Among the people in their late 30s and 40s I’m acquainted with, I see a lot of people who simply aren’t interested in having families: women who don’t want to sacrifice their careers; people who don’t want children to get in the way of their hobbies and social lives; those who want to be eternal teenagers, looking out for the next trend and the next romance; people who never want to settle down, plus those who just don’t think they can afford it. Also I see the women still holding out for the perfect man to come along, while their looks and fertility pass them by. The problem for those wanting to live the lifestyle of eternal youth is that age inevitable creeps up on you.
For anyone who’s a parent, I don’t have to remind them about the sacrifices, work, chaos, worry and so much more involved. To me, having kids is part of doing your bit – giving something back and raising the next generation to carry society forward.
Many people struggle to meet accommodation costs even without children. One of the effects of it becoming the norm for women to work is the contribution to rising house prices. We know mothers who would love to remain at home looking after the kids, but they simply can’t afford it. Then there’s the cost of childcare. We know other mums whose take-home pay barely covers the cost of childcare, but they keep working so as not to fall back in their career.
We know a number of couples who have decided to stick with just the one child, for all the reasons above and more, such as a difficult pregnancy/birth/ first few months or agonising rounds of IVF.
The irony is the very people we should, as a society, want to be having children – bright professional people whose offspring are more likely to be contributors than a burden on the system – are those deciding not to. There’s even the ethic among some that it’s morally wrong to bring children into the world – whether that be due to all the problems in the world or because of the carbon emissions a person produces over their lifetime.
Another underlying problem seems to be the left’s determination to destroy what it regards as institutions of historic oppression – in this case the family, gender and reproductive sexuality. Will white graduate politically correct people die out simple for failing to breed? Does Western culture survive going forward by being a Great Wen, sucking in fertile immigrants from around the world and sterilising them with millstones of debt and cultural Marxist dogma?
We definitely need to change the messages we are putting out to young people to show family life as a desirable lifestyle. Maybe we need a drive to provide affordable housing, subsidised childcare and more support for mothers who have invested in a career – though I know that such talk of interventionism will strike some readers as dangerously socialist.
Perhaps we need to bring back some of the old social expectations.
Then again, we could just bring in lots of immigrants from overpopulated parts of the world to replace ourselves …