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Department: Family Briefing
Italy's Department of Public Health came under fire for its series of advertisements promoting "Fertility Day," which fell on September 22. "Beauty has no age limit. Fertility does," read the caption of one poster, which depicted a woman holding an hourglass in one hand while resting the other lightly on her belly. "Don't let your sperm go up in smoke," warns another, this one showing an unmistakably male hand holding a half-burned cigarette. A third poster features a rotting banana; its caption reads, "Male fertility is much more vulnerable than you might think."
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The purpose of the ad campaign was, of course, to encourage young Italian couples to have more children. This would seem to make sense in a country whose birthrate is a dismal 1.35—replacement level is 2.1—but the international media went ballistic. A Guardian editorial called the ads "sexist" and "ageist," and claimed they were "similar to the fascist slogans of the 1930s, when posters on the walls incited women to give more children to the fatherland." Italians themselves took to social media to protest the ads, calling them "dangerous" and pointing out that, with the country's 11 percent unemployment rate and lack of paid maternity leave, conditions in Italy were not exactly ripe for bearing children.
In the wake of the backlash the ads were withdrawn, but the problem they highlighted remains. And Italy isn't the only European nation trying to come up with innovative measures to get its citizens to make more babies. A Washington Post story reported that some Scandinavian nations are doing it, too, albeit in a less flashy way. In an ironic twist, Danish schoolchildren are now taught not only how to avoid pregnancy, but also how to achieve it. Neighboring Sweden continues to maintain the generous family leave policies it is famous for worldwide.
What such campaigns point to is the already well-known fact that Europe is dying, and fast. The nations of the European Union have an average fertility rate of about 1.6. Most of their governments likely wouldn't care, except for one glaring reality: Europe is full of socialist states. And socialism relies on the young to pay for maintaining the old.
What we are seeing now, then, is the predictable consequence of decades' worth of wrongheaded decisions and selfish mistakes. Socialism cannot effectively replace the family system, which God designed for the preservation of young and old alike. Not even a hundred years ago, married couples were expected to bear children, and those children, once grown, were expected to care for their elders. Multi-generational and extended families provided for each other: Grandparents and were available to offer some childcare services, while parents brought home the income. Single aunts and uncles could lend a hand when needed. The system worked, enabling families to maintain themselves and, better yet, making it possible for children to be loved, treasured, and cared for by people actually related to them.
Under the socialist system, however, the government takes care of those who don't have children and provides childcare for those who do. It subsidizes education, part of which is teaching 12-year-olds how to use condoms and where to go for abortions. As a consequence, those who grow up under this system enter adulthood with dreams of launching a career, buying a home, or simply having fun, not with dreams of starting a family. Young women assume they can push back childbearing to some indefinite later point in their lives. Babies are work, and why start work any sooner than you have to? Anyway—and here enters one of the great lies of our age—when you want a baby, and are ready to have a baby, and are financially secure enough to care for a baby, why, a baby will of course appear!
Millions of heartbroken couples around the world have found out this lie too late. Fertility in women starts to decline at about age 35, almost exactly the age when many Western women intend to start their families. The sad but unsurprising fallout from this incongruity is that infertility in developed countries is now at epidemic proportions.
The Family Way
Efforts to promote procreation are therefore legitimate, even urgent, but the modern state could do something more profound than quirky ad campaigns or even pro-natal sex education: it could back off. Leave it to family members to take care of each other: for adult children to care for their elderly parents; for unmarried aunts and uncles to babysit their young nieces and nephews; for grandparents to be brought back under the family roof—above all, for babies to be cared for by blood relatives instead of paid workers. In sum, allow for the creation of homes that were common a century ago—healthy, vibrant, and well-functioning homes that do more than provide overnight shelter for working parents and daycare-bound children.
In other words, give the family both the freedom and the responsibility to do what the family was meant to do, and what it has always done best: care for its own. This would go a long way toward solving another problem at epidemic proportions worldwide—loneliness. •
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