Im­pact of fewer ba­bies

Jamaica Gleaner - - NEWS -

JA­MAICA’S FER­TIL­ITY rate is go­ing down and it now stands at two chil­dren per mother. At first blush, this sounds like a rea­son to cel­e­brate. How­ever, the cau­tion by Dr Wayne Henry, di­rec­tor gen­eral of the Plan­ning In­sti­tute of Ja­maica, gives cause to pause. He cited the dan­ger of a nat­u­rally de­clin­ing pop­u­la­tion over time if the fer­til­ity rate were to fall too low. This is likely to lead to a de­crease in the work­force and an in­crease in the age­ing pop­u­la­tion. Both ex­tremes are to be avoided be­cause of the gaps they in­evitably cre­ate within a so­ci­ety.

So is it a good thing that the coun­try’s fer­til­ity rate is go­ing down? It could be, in a world of di­min­ish­ing re­sources. Be­sides, the en­vi­ron­men­tal im­pact of more peo­ple may be neg­a­tive in terms of pol­lu­tion and car­bon emis­sion.

But be­fore we de­cide whether the fall­ing num­bers are great for our coun­try, we need to scratch be­neath the sur­face and dis­cern the pic­ture that emerges.

We sub­mit that be­hind th­ese de­clin­ing num­bers may be the seeds of a po­ten­tial so­cial cri­sis that looms for a fu­ture Ja­maica.

CHILD­LESS BY CHOICE

With­out the ben­e­fit of dis­ag­gre­gated sta­tis­tics, we ob­serve hun­dreds of pro­fes­sional women and en­trepreneurs who are child­less by choice. Grad­u­ally, there has been greater so­cial ac­cep­tance of women who make that choice and no longer as great a stigma at­tached to child­less women.

In­deed, the pro­file is one of an ed­u­cated in­di­vid­ual who is fi­nan­cially se­cure and who has the where­withal to pro­vide for chil­dren and seem equipped to raise a worth­while fu­ture cit­i­zen. The rea­sons women choose to re­main child­less tend to be var­ied – from not be­ing able to find the ideal part­ner to be­ing fo­cused on a ca­reer and ed­u­ca­tion. Some, of course, ex­pe­ri­ence med­i­cal dif­fi­cul­ties, while oth­ers sim­ply post­pone child­bear­ing un­til it is too late.

The fact is that women in their mid-40s are now al­most twice as likely to be child­less as their par­ents’ gen­er­a­tion.

Mean­time, women of lesser means con­tinue to re­pro­duce, often with mul­ti­ple part­ners, in spite of the many birth-con­trol meth­ods now avail­able. Many of th­ese ab­sen­tee fa­thers do not con­trib­ute fi­nan­cially or emo­tion­ally to their chil­dren’s up­bring­ing. The moth­ers, some­times barely lit­er­ate and job­less or marginally em­ployed, also can­not ad­e­quately pro­vide for th­ese chil­dren.

The re­sult is that this new breed of young­sters be­come hus­tlers on the streets and many are fod­der for mur­der­ous street gangs. They do not at­tend school and thus their ed­u­ca­tional prospects are blighted and they seem doomed never to be able to com­mand good-pay­ing jobs.

So if, as the num­bers sug­gest, we are head­ing to be­come a coun­try with more old peo­ple, who will take on the bur­den of car­ing for the aged when there are fewer young peo­ple in the labour force? And if th­ese old peo­ple are child­less, what are the im­pli­ca­tions for fam­ily sup­port and interaction? And what of the ram­i­fi­ca­tions to pen­sion funds?

Ac­com­pa­ny­ing a shrink­ing pop­u­la­tion is a dwin­dling tax base which will have a huge im­pact on the ser­vices Govern­ment will be able to pro­vide to its cit­i­zens.

Child­less­ness is not an easy sub­ject to dis­cuss in the pub­lic do­main, but there needs to be a de­bate about the crit­i­cal roles of Govern­ment in set­ting pol­icy and pro­vide for older peo­ple within the con­text of main­tain­ing a pros­per­ous so­ci­ety.

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