The Danes are the latest Europeans to wake up to the decline in the continent’s birth rate, which actually fell below replacement level in the 1970s. Aroused by a 2013 report calling the decline “an approaching epidemic,” Denmark’s latest response shows a touching if misplaced confidence in technocratic solutions, relying, if you can believe it, on better sex education to reverse the country’s demographic implosion.
It’s quite a role reversal for Sex and Society, aka “the Danish Family Planning Association,” which is a leading provider of sexual education materials for the nation’s schools. It lined up behind Planned Parenthood back in 1956 to fight bravely for the cause that every baby be wanted, by terminating those that weren’t in the womb. In the 1990s it reframed its goal as “sexual and reproductive rights… strengthening each person’s chances of making free and informed choices about sexuality, sexual health, contraception and abortion,” with a strong international focus on exporting these same values to East Africa and Southeast Asia.
Sex and Society recently unveiled plans, during something it calls “Sex Week,” to educate school children on how and why they should produce more good Danish children of their own. After leaving school, of course, but not much after.
According to a story on Bloomberg.com, Sex and Society’s classroom material will first cover the demographic issue: a growing population of retired oldsters supported by ever-decreasing groups leaving school for the workforce. Next, Denmark’s future procreators will learn the best time to reproduce, when they are late teens or early 20s, that is, and not after 20 years in the workforce have rendered their semen weak and their eggs rotten.
Bjarne Christensen, Sex and Society’s executive director, is all over the semen issue: “There have been analyses of men’s semen quality and it’s actually been declining quite dramatically,” he observes. As well, women are putting off childbirth. “We have a culture in Denmark where you tend to prolong the time to the first birth, and we are now passing 29 years, which means a lot of people have children a lot later,” Christensen said. Even for fertile couples, later families means smaller families, while for many couples, delaying the first pregnancy means increasing the odds of infertility.
The depressing result: though most couples want between two and three children, the birth rate is actually 1.7 per woman. Only 55,873 children were born to Danes last year, versus 65,000 in 2008.
Nor is it a local problem. In the European Union, the number of live births has stagnated at around 5 million a year since the mid-1990s, according to the European Commission. In the 1960s, more than 7 million children were born each year.
A more whimsical framing of Sex and Society’s patriotic appeal was provided last year by the Danish travel agency Spies. It ran a brilliant, mock-serious TV ad encouraging travel as the remedy, claiming “10 percent of Danes are conceived on holiday,” and hammering home the point by following a shapely Danish blonde to the Parisian hotel room where her parents conceived her en vacance, then on to her own holiday there filled with beaucoup d’amour and also beaucoup de symbolisme phallique. The ad’s constant refrain: “Do it for Denmark.”
The group of doctors from a Copenhagen hospital who set off the current concern over the birthrate with a report last year offered a technical fix. Clearly spending far too much of their time providing fertility treatments to 40-year-old women who left starting a family too late, they urged the government to allow women to freeze their eggs on the government’s tab for more than the current five years—until, in fact, they are in their 40s. As it is, one in 10 couples requires fertility treatments to conceive. The same doctors have called for a concerted response to the fertility problem from government, professionals and community leaders.
Nobody is looking at the root causes, observes Brian Clowes of Human Life International, the global pro-life organization: decades of promoting sex as an activity designed for pleasure without consequences, and unrestricted abortion. “One of the hallmarks of the feminist, pro-abortion movement is its total short-sightedness,” Clowes told LifeSiteNews. “Unrestricted abortion has left us prey to unintended consequences–population decline.”
Denmark’s abortion rate — about 21 per cent of all conceptions (except for miscarriages) — would, if reduced to zero, bring the birth rate up to 2.1.
Clowes is pessimistic about government policies being able to solve the problem. “About 30 different countries,” he told LifeSiteNews, “have tried to jack up their birth rates but it was pretty hopeless.” Human Life International’s report, Facts of Life, describes how France’s birth rate fell from 2.5 in 1965 to 1.7 in 2010, as did Singapore’s and Germany’s, despite aggressive programs.
But this view is disputed by researchers at the Rand Corporation. In their 2005 study, Population Implosion? Low Fertility and Policy Responses in the European Union, they reported that some programs worked while others failed, and similar programs worked in some countries but failed in others. In the 1990s, the French and Swedish governments both slowed or reversed declines starting in the 1970s through, in Rand’s view, “pronatalist” policies such as daycare subsidies and, in France’s case, outright cash bonuses. Sweden offered no bonuses but legislated “flexible work schedules, quality child care, and extensive parental leave on reasonable economic terms” to reduce the financial burden of parenting.
Rand tied anxiety about the economy to the decline, noting how Poland’s and East Germany’s birth rates took nosedives after they moved from command economies to free enterprise. Still, overall, Rand’s data shows a general decline with occasional upward blips. Across the European Union, according to Rand, the birth rate fell from 2.4 in 1970 to 1.5 in 2002. According to HLI, because some women choose not to have children and others cannot, a birth rate of 2.36 is necessary to maintain a population.