Today’s Question – Can Sarah Ditum Count?


Given that we are talking about fertility and other wimmins’ things perhaps it would be unkind to mention Barbie and her “Math is hard” comment. But that does seem to apply to Sarah Ditum here.

Just to be clear, how many children a woman has is clearly the decision of that woman. Further, much of what she thinks drives such decisions is right:

Another pressure is urbanisation. On a farm, a new child will soon be another pair of hands to work. In the city, they’re just another mouth to feed.

This part isn’t:

One cause is the rise in women’s status. Universally, the more education women have, the fewer babies they want.

Causality is the other way around. Society bothers to educate women once they’re not set for a life of nothing but parturition and lactation.

But, let us think on about what it is that might lead to higher fertility rates if that is indeed what is desired.

When this was my choice to make, my partner and I stretched and strained to make it work, because hanging on until school started would have put a five-year hole in a career that I hadn’t even begun. But there was another option – or there would have been, if I’d weighed this all up pre-pregnancy. Like many of my friends, I could have just not. No babies. No payslip turning to dust in your hand. No begging your childminder for lates when your office needs you just a bit longer. No joy of parenting either, but how can you miss people who haven’t been born?

My child-free friends are not exceptions. New figures from the Office for National Statistics say that the birth rate in England and Wales is the lowest since records began: just 1.7 children per woman, some way below the replacement level of 2.1. Nor are England and Wales outliers: many developed nations are in the same situation.

OK, the current stress and strain of the British way of doing things leads to a certain number of children. The German way however:

However, in Germany, the emphasis is on supporting women rather than exploiting them. There is generous leave, designed to encourage men to take their share so the whole parenting burden won’t devolve on to women, while every child aged over one is entitled to a nursery place (although provision is still short). And, thanks to a few other factors, it seems to work: the Economist recently reported that Germany’s birth rate rose from 1.33 to 1.57 between 2006 and 2017.

The German system leads to a lower fertility rate than the British. And the East German fertility rate, when there was an East Germany, was lower again when there was so much more free stuff for mothers.

So, if you wish to increase the fertility rate you’re going to follow the German prescription that leads to a lower rate or the British to a higher?

Ms. Ditum believes that you increase the rate by following the policy that leads to a lower one. Barbie was right, math is hard.