With the price of every part spiralling, is parenting hesitancy the brand new regular?
What is important in our whole life? What is of value? Most people can agree that parenting is important to us all. The value of parenting – its contribution to our health and wellbeing – is priceless.
However, the falling birth rates show us that it is becoming less and less attractive to be a parent around the world.
The total fertility rate – the number of children per woman – in Ireland fell from 1.8 in 2018 to 1.7 in 2019, and was 1.6 in 2020, well below the 2.1 required to replace the population.
In England and Wales it was 1.58 in 2020 and 1.29 in Scotland. Research published inin 2020 shows that this is a global trend – the projected birth rates in 183 out of 195 countries will not be sufficient to maintain the current population level without a liberal immigration policy.
According to this study, the population is expected to halve in 23 countries including Japan, Thailand, Spain, Italy, Portugal and South Korea. What is driving this withdrawal from parenthood?
Rising costs in both rich and poor countries adversely affect adults’ willingness and ability to commit to parenthood. Research shows a clear link between economic conditions and fertility.
Here in Ireland, rising housing and childcare costs are preventing all young adults – even those on good incomes – from having children.
Less affluent adults often navigate the rising cost of parenting as they weigh insecure employment and low wages against rising living costs.
Covering the basic cost of food, shelter and clothing is difficult enough and parents in financial distress often have to put their children’s needs above their own.
Research into the experiences of parents with lack of income in Ireland found that without meals and clothing are strategies used by low-income parents to meet the basic needs of their children.
In addition to the basic daily costs of bringing up children, parents are under pressure to find the means to invest in the future of their children.
In Ireland, the role of education in determining life’s fate has increased as social mobility has decreased and inequality has increased. Parents need to invest in their children’s education to secure their future.
The human capital accumulated through education has become the main distinguishing feature of well-behaved children raised by responsible parents who strive to vaccinate them and prepare them to thrive in the face of increasing inequality and uncertain futures. Providing children with a secure future education is not cheap in Ireland.
In both primary and secondary schools in independent schools, parents make “voluntary” contributions and pay for school books, uniforms and extracurricular activities. Financing higher education can be a criminal offense, especially if it includes accommodation costs in addition to enrollment fees.
Although it has been speculated that an increase in birth rates is likely, initial data suggest a different result.
Initial data suggest that the pandemic and the hardship it faces parents – school closings, childcare shortages, isolation from social networks, increased unemployment – have contributed to a decline in fertility.
The existential threat posed by Covid and the resulting uncertainty about when people can get their lives back on track and plan their future has undoubtedly led adults to choose to postpone a child.
There is also evidence that the climate crisis and the risks associated with rising temperatures around the world are contributing to a lack of confidence in the future that is making young people reluctant to have children.
While mainstream orthodox economic theory advocates a monetary value system for the market or private economy, the non-market or core economy places emphasis on care and friendliness. In the core economy, families and communities promote one another’s well-being through caring activities that promote social value.
The core economy is an integral part of people’s lives and resides in homes, communities, and society in general. Value is created through interpersonal transactions.
When people interact, they produce goods through emotional and social transactions that may be personal and private to them but contribute to the common good. Parenthood plays a central role in the non-market or core economy.
The sustainability of parenting as a source of well-being and social value in the core economy is jeopardized when the unpaid work that is critical to raising children is systematically devalued as the market economy takes up more time for family life.
Parents are actively involved in projects of value to themselves, communities, and society in general, but their hard work is not recognized and valued in a society based on private property and capitalist entrepreneurship.
While parenting reluctance, manifested in declining birth rates, could be viewed as a positive development slowing down population growth and associated environmental costs, a shrinking population will result in a relatively small working-age population having retirement, health benefits – and care costs of an increasing aging population.
From a social relations perspective, the reluctance of parents will significantly reduce the pool of care available in the core economy to meet the kind of human needs that the market or private economy pricing mechanism does not appreciate.
Stopping the tendency towards hesitant parenting requires a national consideration of the impact of policies on parental well-being and a thorough assessment of the contribution of parenting to the functioning of a caring society.
- Dr. Colm O’Doherty is Visiting Research Fellow – Technological University of the Shannon (TUS), Associate Editor of the Irish Journal of Applied Social Studies, and co-author of Learning on the Job: Parenting in Modern Ireland, Oak Tree Press.