You’ve Come a Long Way, Baby, or Have You?
The woman’s movement has taken some astonishing steps over the last fifty years. Women have come out of the kitchen, rolled up their sleeves and become an active part of the work force, knocking down the doors of what had been primarily considered manly jobs, delivering an expertise in everything from driving trucks to major political voices in International affairs. Women have joined the military. Fewer women are marrying, preferring the comfortable arena of independent choice. Those who do take the vows, often revoke them as they decide their partnership isn’t quite as agreeable as they had previously thought. Divorce has lost its stigma, making single women with children as common place as households that own pets.
Much of the new found freedom is due to a general inclination to quit having so many babies. The reduced model, which leaves the average Western woman with no more than two children per household, frees her time for such endeavors as advanced academic studies, business investments, community affairs and travel. This has not only been beneficial to women, but in most of the Western world, the population has either stabilized or dropped.
This should be wonderful news on an Earth that has reached its maximum capacity for providing food, water and shelter for its staggering human dwellers. The combined populations of India and China are predicted to reach three billion within the next ten to twenty years. They have millions of families who are poverty stricken and limited resources for providing basic needs coverage. Although China began a rigorous campaign in 1979 to limit the number of children to one per household, a decrease in child mortality and a national health index that has increased individual life expectancy, as well as relaxed immigration, has kept the population numbers climbing. Analysts predict China’s population will peak, than begin dropping before the year 2040 as its pre-1980’s baby boom grows into old age, then dies off. Apparently, however, this is not good news for everyone.
Beginning in the 1990’s, a number of legislators, both on the National and International scene, have taken a stand against funding child health care programs for low income or poverty stricken families that use a portion of the funds to provide abortions. Whether a person is against abortions, or feels it’s the woman’s right to choose, this political alliance is still a little puzzling. Abortion on demand has become so common place, that many modern day women choose abortion when they feel the timing isn’t right, it will interfere with a career, or they already have the maximum number of children they feel comfortable with raising. Why then, should there be any concern at all whether or not a small part of these funds to admittedly hardship cases, goes to abortions?
From a purely cynical view, without the moral dilemma of fetal rights, there can be nothing more practical than allowing low income women to choose whether or not they wish to keep their unborn children. It insures that if they choose abortion, it won’t be a coat hanger or a meat grinder’s knife that ends the life. It creates fewer children to add to the welfare roles or the burgeoning department of foster care. The amount of money it costs to perform an abortion is trifling compared to the tax payer costs of supporting an unwanted child from infancy to early adult years. The purely cynical view might point out that the legislative decision making doesn’t concern itself with a woman’s right to make the choice, only that welfare dependent mothers not be allowed funding if it means giving them access to abortions. Is it a ruse; a loophole; a gimmick to with-hold monies for the health care of children already born, already adding their tiny footprints to the beaten path of humanity, or is it something far more complex?
Our Aging World
It takes 2.1 children per household to create a stable population that neither grows nor dwindles. In Europe, the unprecedented has happened. Instead of shrinking through the usual catastrophes of war, natural disasters or disease, the numbers dwindled through birth control. The average European household has 1.3 children. In Russia, the problem is even more acute. Its population peaked in the early 1990’s at 148 million. Its current figure is 143 million, the numbers reduced radically by a high death rate, birth control and abortions.
Europe, with 728 million people, saw its population shrink by 74,000 since the beginning of the decade, according to the United Nations. By 2050, it is projected to lose a total of 75 million people.
According to Hans-Peter Kohler, an associate professor of sociology at the University of Pennslyvania, this wouldn’t be a problem except that while fewer babies are being born, the existing population is growing older.
“Presumably, many people would not be so concerned about the numbers declining if it wasn’t combined with an aging population,” Kohler said. “I think it’s more the age structure that gives rise to these concerns, and these concerns are well justified.”
Fewer babies mean fewer young people entering the work place, fewer military placements, a smaller tax base for supporting its elderly. Russian President Vladimir Putin is so concerned about his country’s dwindling youth resources, he recently proposed paying women money to have children. Last year, France increased monthly stipends to parents who take time off work to care for a third child.
When Japan announced that its population had shrunk in 2005 for the first time, Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi said, “The data must be accepted gravely.”
Recently, Japan announced that it is now the world’s most elderly nation, with more than a fifth of its people 65 or older. Italy is second. China claims a work force of one youth for every four of its near-retirement aged citizens.
The United States is the only one of the highly industrialized Western countries to continue demonstrating population growth. However, the growth is buoyed forty percent through immigration. The number of generational citizens born in the United States by American born citizens is steadily dwindling. As the baby boomers enter old age, then die off, the numbers are expected to shrink substantially.
The Future of Cities
Once one of the largest cities in the world, Detroit, Michigan of the United States, has lost over half its occupants, placing it among the leading shrunken cities, along with Liepzig, Germany, Manchester, England and Olivana, Russia. With a reduced tax base, these cities find it difficult to repair their aging infrastructure, which includes vital water lines and sewage disposal. Urban sprawl and the ensuing expensive roadway and utility systems, as well as the destruction of natural resources, are just a few of the consequences involved with once large cities, now grown smaller. Unfortunately, traditional urban planning textbooks do not have the answer.
City planning in the United States is generally taught based on the American tradition of “growth at all costs” and “build it, they will come.” At a time when women were having plenty of babies, this type of treatment was cost effective, but those babies are now nearing retirement age, with each preceding generation progressively smaller. Cities like Detroit are losing their population at the rate of approximately 10,000 people per year, despite all the best efforts of the governing bodies to entice new growth.
According to the article, “Immigration and the Shrinking City”, academics have put forth Utopian and theoretical proposals for Detroit that would substantially increase the amount of park land, turn Detroit into an agrarian community, fencing off part of the city for “wilderness,” or make Detroit of a density that is even lower than that found in suburbia. These proposals deal with land issues, but they miss the primary issue of economics. Heroic, self-sufficient individuals are transforming portions of the city into sustainable environments, but how can the city as a whole survive without jobs and economic growth? The American capitalist system relies on economic growth, and any proposal that does not address that issue is doomed. The question might be, then, how can we make the city grow in the face of racism, the loss of automotive jobs and the declining quality of the city infrastructure?
According to the article, over the past several decades Detroit’s white population has shrunk, and the city has lost some African-Americans to the suburbs, but the numbers of Asian, Hispanic and Middle Eastern immigrants have increased. This gain in the 1990s (40,000 people) could not offset white flight, but it did make a significant difference.
This is not a difference we can continue to rely on as the world wide march toward a smaller population continues. Mexico, long considered a country of teeming millions, increased in size by 2.3 percent in 1980, and only 1.8 increase in 1990. Although areas like Mexico City still have high-density populations, this is mainly due to the number of people entering them in search of jobs. In many of their states, such as Morelos and Durango, there are as few as one person for every ten kilometers.
The number of immigrants, both legal and illegal, within the United States, have decreased by twenty-five percent. Just as a poor U.S. economy and a more aggressive stance on illegal immigration seems to be keeping immigrants from entering from Mexico, those same factors are keeping the immigrants that are already here from staying in one place. Many are following an elusive job market, trying their luck in areas that had not previously had large Hispanic communities and many are returning home or venturing into other countries. As immigration continues to wane, the United States will witness more shrunken cities.
The Declining Baby Market
Babies are big business. Along with the bills for pediatric care, comes the accompanying array of baby accessories; furniture, car seats, formula, clothing and toys. As the child grows older, the baby graduates into such social needs as day care providers, teachers, skilled instructors, counselors, playgrounds and recreational facilities. The lucrative industry of baby care also includes foster care parenting and adoption.
Despite a more liberal interpretation of what entails child abuse; which can and has; pulled children from their homes for being a little under the standard weight for their age group – despite policies that can and have removed children for living in poverty stricken conditions or simply took them based on a neighbor’s complaint, with no further evidence to back allegations – available foster children are on the decline. In the year 2000, there were 552,000 children enrolled in foster care programs within the United States. In the year 2006, the number had dwindled to 510,000. Although this might be an indication that Americans are learning to be better parents, it could also simply mean there are fewer children.
A year ago, Subversify posted an article by a writer who wished to remain anonymous as she was worried about foster care pursuing her and removing her four year old child. The article, titled “Sharon Smith; Whereabouts Unknown” related the nightmare account of her twin sister who had her child removed by the Division of Social Services at birth, without even giving her a chance to prove she was a fit mother. Recently, a mother added her comment to this strange estrangement: “This information is so true of OCS in Alaska—our 10 year old son was taken from us because of accusations of a neighbor. We are not in poverty and we are very educated. We have jumped through all the hoops they have set before us and yet they will not return our son. One new OCS worker hinted that OCS was delaying to meet the time required for a child to be in foster care so they could adopt him out. Our attorney, the guardian ad litem, our son’s therapist, etc., have all indicated that he should be home. OCS, apparently, has other motives other than their directive, “Make stronger families and keep our children safe”.
Along with fewer children for foster care services, is the natural consequence of fewer adoptable children. Women line up desperately in foreign countries, hoping to be one of the glorious few who are granted a child they can adopt. After a massive earthquake in Haiti, ten missionaries were held for trial after removing a number of children between the ages of two months to twelve years and placing them in adoptive care. While they innocently exclaimed they were just trying to be helpful, they had completely ignored the fact that no matter how desperately poor the parents may be, they might still wish to keep their children. Nor did they consider that the country of Haiti might prefer to have its children at home.
We have serious problems to face in the future, but the over-population explosion has just fizzled. The youth of today know about birth control. They plan their future carefully; the number of children they want and when they want them. Sometimes, they make mistakes, and abortion is taken into consideration, just as modern career women weigh their choices when faced with a pregnancy. Punishing low income women by forcing them to have children they do not want is not the answer to our dwindling supply of marketable babies. Arbitrarily removing children from homes to fill the demand for adoptable children is cruel, expensive to the tax payer and guarantees alienation and bitterness toward society. Depriving low income children of adequate health care because a portion of the funding might go to abortion only throttles the hope of a youthful, rejuvenated future.
There aren’t enough children to go around for our aging planet that short-sightedly forgot to save a few natural resources in its effort to capitalize on them, but the ones that we have should be allowed to thrive in good health, with adequate housing and nourishing foods. They are the heirs of our technology, the blood and bones of our work force. Let the population shrink according to their wisdom and their desires. It’s time to pull the shroud over an enterprise that pursued only capital gain without taking into account the effects of their cause. It’s time to abandon the mentality that triggered a century of wars, of squander, pollution and disease. By the year 2030, we will have only one working youth for every four gray-haired elderly people struggling with a pension. By the year 2050, we will have a brand-new world, one that strictly belongs to the babies of today.