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Britain’s Falling Birth-Rate

Category Articles
Date May 1, 2000

Reports of the UK population crisis are finally hitting the headlines of our major newspapers, such as the Sunday Times and the Daily Mail. LIFE has been warning for some time that decreased fertility rates and delayed motherhood are amongst factors contributing to an imminent population implosion.

However, figures just released by Eurostat, the European Union’s statistics office, reveal startling trends in population that, if unchecked, will result in the UK’s population peaking and then declining in just 35 years’ time.

With the third highest death rate in Europe, Britain is well on the way to the situation already suffered in Germany, Italy and Sweden, where deaths outnumber births. But no other statistic depicts our current crisis quite as alarmingly as the fact that Britain’s population ‘growth’ last year was, in fact, primarily due to immigrants rather than native births. And forecasters warn that with an ageing population, more and more immigrants will be needed in Europe to sustain the size of workforce necessary for economic survival.

The causes of this impending catastrophe can be said to fall into two categories, the first of which is couples’ growing infertility. One in six couples in Britain now experience problems conceiving, with sperm counts half what they were just sixty years ago and declining as fast as two per cent annually.

However, the real cause of concern is the sexually transmitted disease chlamydia, a symptomless condition that eventually causes blockage of the Fallopian tubes and eventual infertility. It seems the ‘safe sex’ message has failed to prevent this ‘silent epidemic’ from taking a stranglehold, particularly among the young, the majority of whom have never heard of the disease.

Other suggested causes of infertility, albeit requiring further research, are the high levels of oestrogen accumulating in water supplies due to years of women’s oral contraceptive use, and the chemicals found in food packaging and plastics.

The second of the two categories used to explain this chronic fall in birth rates, present and projected, is social change. Indeed, many experts believe that these factors are the most significant in the whole debate.

The rapidly growing trend of delaying motherhood in favour of a career, makes fertility problems more likely when women do want babies. A woman’s fertility can tail-off considerably after the age of 35. And late motherhood obviously leaves women with less reproductive years to produce other children.

A further effect of merging the old roles of men as breadwinners and women as mothers, is that women are now experiencing the career-related problems traditionally associated with men. Some researchers suggest that stress, long hours, fatigue, employers’ expectations and so on, mean that more and more women are suffering from chronic loss of libido. Moreover, survey after survey reveals that women, working or not, still take on the majority of domestic chores.

The UK’s situation is particularly ironic however, in that we have the highest teenage pregnancy rate in Europe as well as an infertility crisis. Added to this, the majority of abortions are had by women in their late twenties and early thirties. Britain is therefore fostering a culture in which those in the best position to have children are not having them, and those who are having children have neither the support nor maturity necessary to do the best job possible.

With the UN warning that no country in history has ever managed to reverse a decline in birth rate once it has begun, what can we do to avert this crisis? We can start with valuing the children we do have by supporting teenage mothers. If we encourage pregnant young girls to abort, the birth rate drops yet further. And if we continue to treat teenage mothers and children as the scourge of society our future looks very bleak indeed. Those children are our future.

And the infertility timebomb? Throwing free condoms at young people has failed to protect them from sexually transmitted diseases, not least because it devalues sex, resulting in more teenagers having sex, more condom failures, more failures to use a condom at all. Value-free sex education has not stemmed the infertility crisis. It has created it.

We also need to elevate the image and status of motherhood in this country beyond that of an inconvenient interruption to one’s career. Being a mother should be made practically and emotionally easier, so that those women in their twenties and thirties can listen to their ‘biological clocks’ if they want to, rather than deny them. We can make it easier for both men and women to combine career and family by educating employers to understand that ultimately it is in everybody’s best interests to do so.

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