I recently ran across the news that Italy is thinking of doubling its subsidy for children to combat what is being called a birthrate “apocalypse.” And while Italy has one of the lowest birthrates in the world the conditions that have led to this are affecting pretty much all the western world, and some in the east. Of all the reasons that could be examined I think the most important one is that people today have been conditioned to focus on the purported disadvantages to having children as opposed to the advantages. In reality children are a blessing and perhaps, in addition to nations giving bonuses to advance the birthrate, they could create campaigns to promote the advantages at the personal and societal level. For instance:
- The greatest investment ever. Okay, true there are costs associated with having children, and some people choose to forego any births, or curtail their families to only two children, but let’s look at this carefully. Ultimately pretty much every consumer item you crave to have will be in a second-hand store or junk yard in a decade. How much is that computer you wished your parents would buy you back in 2005? That car you envied the neighbor having back in 2000? On the other hand children are an investment into the future. The fulfillment one will gain from one child can only be magnified by many children and these children can bring you grandchildren.
- Your family is the only enduring social network you will have. Very, very few of the people you call friends will remain close to you as time goes on. And the more children you have the larger this biological network will be. You have to admire many of the immigrants from the Middle East who go into a business as a family and then expand it, filling the administrative positions with brothers and cousins. Our “modern” society has, for the most part, abandoned this aspect of family… and along with it possibilities as well as security.
- Greater support. I read an article about Mexican Americans and depression a few years ago. It said that recent immigrants had much lower depression than the general culture, but then their children began to acquire the traits of those around them. The theory was that the first generation newcomers came from large extended families. They were able to turn to each other for psychological support in times of stress or depression. Maybe ones parents don’t understand a person that well while one of the brothers or sisters do. Large families have an advantage there. I cover the issue (with a fiction platform) in the second novel, “Freedom from Conscience – Melanie’s Awakening: https://www.amazon.com/Freedom-Conscience-Melanies-Awakening-Book-ebook/dp/B008UAZQVA
- People who are in strong family units tend to fare better on health measures than those who don’t. How many times have you heard of parents dying in an accident so the grandparents assume the role of parents again; and their agility and outlook returns to a younger state? Family gives us meaning and people who have a sense of their importance supplied by family will have an advantage in health and well-being.
- Married people live longer than single people and people with families tend to live longer as well. Childbirth can of course reduce risk of certain cancers but even beyond that larger families may hold advantages. For instance, we see an explosion of childhood obesity and one factor that has been cited is smaller families that can afford to indulge one or two kids with lots more treats than one with three or four (or more) children would be able, or willing, to do.
- Better use of resources. People with families tend to buy more in bulk and use less resources per person for heating, water and even transportation.
- Cultural preservation. A culture that is not replacing itself is one that is slated for the same fate as the Shakers – decline and extinction. It is not so simple as saying that the average birthrate has to be around 2.3 children per woman just to have a replacement of the previous generation. We have to consider that there are many people who are sterile, others who never marry, mortality, and some people absolutely not wanting families. To attain 2.3 you have to have a significant number of couples having three or more children to offset this.
- Genetic survival. It is more than chromosomes; much more. You are the result of countless generations of people who survived long enough to reproduce. Your DNA is a chain that connects you to the ancient past.
- Seriously, while I often hear parents complain about the responsibilities of raising children not a one of them, at least the many I have encountered, say they wish they had not had them, or had avoided the youngest or whatever. On a cost-benefit scale the joys of parenting far outweigh the costs.
- Getting to experience life again. What better excuse to re-gain the fun you had when you were a kid playing with toys than to have an excuse to play with them again with your children? And even a person who is an astronomer as a living can experience the simple pleasures of looking at the stars with their kids on a July night. As adults we often get caught up with the complexities of life that we forget the joys of simply watching ants go about their business on a spring day, or planting seeds in a garden. Yet in the company of children we regain the perspective that we may have had twenty or thirty (or more) years previously. The marvels of creation can often be forgotten in our dog-eat-dog world, but children remind us of what is important.
Darwin once said, “How paramount the future is to the present when one is surrounded by children.” He should have known, he and his wife had ten children together.