I know the mom who birthed the 7th billion baby in recent days is probably feeling some heat. Somewhere, someone is saying “Another person?! How dare you? Isn’t the planet crowded enough? “. I have more thoughts on moms and their ‘over-achievements’ in this area that can be found here.
The fact is mothers are really key to this issue. If we asked moms how to manage populations, we would probably see numerous changes in our social and economic systems that would likely lead to the birth of fewer people.
To support my point of view, I came up with ideas and discussed them with my friend, David, at Overpopulation Insights. He’s got a great articles on his site and is seriously concerned about overpopulation. I think we all should be.
Overpopulation Insights: I was critical recently of an article from
NEWSWEEK by Robert Samuelson whose major thesis was that it is somehow
our duty to produce children because it is good for the economy. In my
piece, I express the drawbacks of this theory. We currently have a
system that rewards, encourages, subsidizes and markets to any men or
women who are able to simply have children.
Ultimate Outcast: The problem is that we have not created a system
that benefits and rewards responsible reproduction. Moms are the best people to develop systems would improve this situation because they have the experience. The reproductive work that mothers do is too often considered a byproduct of events in society instead of the source through which every event is made possible. The financial/social/religious and political set up is backwards and out-of-balance.
Overpopulation Insights: Hence, much energy, writing and angst from
overpopulation concerns is directed at those more universal and
impoverished groups (often women with children), rather than the equally important task of developing systems and reinforcing attitudes and behaviors for a more select group of responsible and enlightened potential mothers and fathers.
Ultimate Outcast: I agree completely. We live by example. Often it’s difficult for women to see beyond the joys or pressures of a young man’s
attention, which leads to unplanned pregnancies. Especially if it is what her mother did. For young women to take a more intentioned path, they need
to see the road ahead as one wide enough to walk along with a child and dream for herself. That involves reviewing economic systems, particularly our own in this country. We have an opportunity to lead the world on this issue.
Overpopulation Insights: I have concerns about the role of poverty in
either producing unwanted children, or children with little or no
economic resources. One idea that has been considered is paying
people, especially young women at the poverty level, to delay having
children and pursue more education. That would postpone their choosing
to have children they cannot afford yet, raise both their skills and
consequent pay level so they are more competitive and productive in
the job market. In the end we have a more mature, better educated
person less dependent on society for her support, and studies have
shown they will have fewer children and happier more stable and
Ultimate Outcast: I think paying women to not have children would
create many ethical issues. But I support the idea of implementing
greater financial incentives for child-bearing in women who have
pursued education or have had a job. A woman engaged in these
activities will tend to bear fewer children and select more
responsible partners. Currently, there are mroe financial incentives
for an impoverished woman to have multiple children than to get an education and work in the U.S. That needs to change. I think we should consider a grant system for all new births as has been implemented in many
countries in the world. There would be a generous base grant amount
for the first two births based on the educational and work history of the individual woman. I think we can create an American version of this system
through market mechanisms. We need to create incentives for women to access a variety of opportunities, select an ideal partner to have children with and have a good life that includes a manageable number of children. And they would be the direct example for their sons and daughters.
Overpopulation Insights: Just what are the ethical issues you are
concerned about in paying women not to have children until they are
prepared to do so? It would seem to benefit both the mother and any
future children. A win-win situation, if you will. Secondly, paying
women not to have children in essence is a grant system, so why would
we need to institute a second grant system if women were already
prepared through education and job training to support their children,
if they choose to have them. Finally, the trend is actually fewer
births in educated families and they are the least likely to need a
grant system. So far there is little evidence that most women in
poverty have few if any incentives to not have children,
Unfortunately, I suspect there is so little that is available and
meaningful to women in poverty that producing children is the only
thing that is an option. I have empathy for their circumstances and
lack of choices, but it is counterproductive to empowering women and
mothers, and reducing both poverty and overpopulation.
In summary any incentives most likely should be aimed at raising the
standard of living and education of those least able to afford and
raise children successfully, rather than including those with more
resources. Those more educated and effluent groups are quite able to
pragmatically choose whether to have children or not, and be able to
nurture, educate and financially support them, if they do choose to
Ultimate Outcast: In theory, paying women not to have children does
sound like a solution until women are doing extreme things to rid
themselves of unintended pregnancies. I think we would also see
increases in newborn abandonment.
Paying women not to have children should coincide with paying people
not to procreate altogether. It takes two after all. So neither are
realistic policies. It’s a women who carries all of the evidence. The powerful role of childbearing is the source of reproductive bias and feminine suppression ever-present in religions, politics, economics.
China’s one-child policy has placed Chinese mothers in difficult ethical, emotional and moral dilemmas when a brief event turned into
another human being to feed. The problem is not the children. It’s the systems they are born into. But they suffer for it. Abortions are common while the elderly are living longer and longer. We need to pay attention to both problems. Are babies the problem or is it an aging population?
Overpopulation Insights: In an ideal world what you advocate is
certainly a reasonable scenario. Unfortunately, we are very far from
an ideal world, and this country and others are already in serious
crisis mode. Dramatically slowing fertility rates in the near term
have to be the major foundation for any real change in population
dynamics. That can only happen if the focus is on the groups in our
societies producing most of the unneeded and unwanted children,
specifically in this country, but also in the rest of the
underdeveloped nations. It would seem only logical then to funnel most
allocated resources to the poor and uneducated, both women and men as
you rightly point out.
For any potential solutions to occur, there must be a general
acknowledgement by all that overpopulation will doom us and our
children to ongoing conflicts and economic decline. That universal
consciousness does not yet exist.
Conclusion: In the end it will be the mothers (and fathers) that will carry the burden for not only educating their own children about the dangers of
too many people, but who also represent the biological means in which
fertility rates will fall to more sustainable levels. That is a burden
and responsibility that needs all the assistance we can provide,
whether in the form of grants or incentives.