- 44. (second paragraph) Morally responsible openness to life represents a rich social and economic resource. Populous nations have been able to emerge from poverty thanks not least to the size of their population and the talents of their people. On the other hand, formerly prosperous nations are presently passing through a phase of uncertainty and in some cases decline, precisely because of their falling birth rates; this has become a crucial problem for highly affluent societies. The decline in births, falling at times beneath the so-called “replacement level”, also puts a strain on social welfare systems, increases their cost, eats into savings and hence the financial resources needed for investment, reduces the availability of qualified labourers, and narrows the “brain pool” upon which nations can draw for their needs. Furthermore, smaller and at times miniscule families run the risk of impoverishing social relations, and failing to ensure effective forms of solidarity. These situations are symptomatic of scant confidence in the future and moral weariness. It is thus becoming a social and even economic necessity once more to hold up to future generations the beauty of marriage and the family, and the fact that these institutions correspond to the deepest needs and dignity of the person. In view of this, States are called to enact policies promoting the centrality and the integrity of the family founded on marriage between a man and a woman, the primary vital cell of society, and to assume responsibility for its economic and fiscal needs, while respecting its essentially relational character.
The experience of France, Sweden and the US suggests that enabling mothers to remain in the workplace at least part-time is vital to encouraging women to have children. In Europe the northern countries overall have a higher birth rate than the southern and more Catholic countries. In commenting on this phenomenon, David Willits is cited in this article,
- On the surface there are economic explanations for why this phenomenon has occurred in southern Europe. Italy, for example, pays the lowest starting wages of any country in the E.U., which causes young people to delay striking out on their own. And as the British politician David Willetts has noted, “Living at home with your parents is a very powerful contraception.” But the deeper problem may lie precisely in the family-friendly ethos of these countries. This part of the self-definition of southern European culture — the “My Big Fat Greek Wedding” ideal — has a flip side. “In all of these countries,” Billari said, “it’s very difficult to combine work and family. And that is partly because, within couples, we have evidence that in these countries the gender relationships are very asymmetric.”
There, according to waves of recent evidence, is the rub — the result of a friction between tectonic plates in modern society that has been quietly at work for decades. The accepted demographic wisdom had been that as women enter the job market, a society’s fertility rate drops. That has been broadly true in the developed world, but more recently, and especially in Europe, the numbers don’t bear it out. In fact, something like the opposite has been the case. According to Hans-Peter Kohler of the University of Pennsylvania, analysis of recent studies showed that “high fertility was associated with high female labor-force participation . . . and the lowest fertility levels in Europe since the mid-1990s are often found in countries with the lowest female labor-force participation.” In other words, working mothers are having more babies than stay-at-home moms.
How can this be? A study released in February of this year by Letizia Mencarini, the demographer from the University of Turin, and three of her colleagues compared the situation of women in Italy and the Netherlands. They found that a greater percentage of Dutch women than Italian women are in the work force but that, at the same time, the fertility rate in the Netherlands is significantly higher (1.73 compared to 1.33). In both countries, people tend to have traditional views about gender roles, but Italian society is considerably more conservative in this regard, and this seems to be a decisive difference. The hypothesis the sociologists set out to test was borne out by the data: women who do more than 75 percent of the housework and child care are less likely to want to have another child than women whose husbands or partners share the load. Put differently, Dutch fathers change more diapers, pick up more kids after soccer practice and clean up the living room more often than Italian fathers; therefore, relative to the population, there are more Dutch babies than Italian babies being born. As Mencarini said, “It’s about how much the man participates in child care.”