‘Concern’ for birth rates a cover for racist twaddle
Wow, Mark Steyn is an idiot and a cold motherfucker. He takes it as such a given that lowered fertility (by choice, mind you) is a bad thing that he doesn’t conceal that he’d accept higher infant mortality—which means more devastated, heart-broken families—in order to to achieve it. Steyn literally does see the great mass of humanity as a bunch of cogs in an income-generating machine, instead of as discrete human beings who have needs and concerns that are valid. The source of the discussion here is why the U.S. has such a high infant mortality rate. As Ampersand details, there’s a few reasons, with systemic racism at the core of the problem. Infant mortality, especially in the worldwide view, is a complicated problem, but it’s linked with poverty for obvious reasons—less food and access to health care leads to smaller, weaker babies—and less obvious reasons, such as the age when you have your first baby and how much access to contraception you have so that you can plan when you get pregnant. But Steyn brushes past all this and settles on a rather bizarre assessment based on his narrow focus on the need for more young labor.
But, even without taking into account the significant variations in the definition of “live birth”, one thing you notice is that, by comparison with the United States, the countries with the lowest “infant mortality rate” have some of the lowest fertility rates on the planet. That’s to say, it’s not just that they have fewer infant deaths, they have fewer infants, period. They have so few, indeed, that over the medium-term (in Italy, Germany and elsewhere) it will render their government health systems unsustainable. But, as a general proposition, I would say that, when fertility rates get as low as they are in Germany, Italy, Spain and elsewhere, to the point that you now have upside-down family trees of four grandparents, two children, one grandchild, it’s hardly surprising that “infant mortality” is lower.
I like that he puts “infant mortality” in scare quotes, as if liberals just made up dead babies in order to get government-subsidized Viagra for ourselves. Read Ampersand to get a better idea of how stupid Steyn is being. I’m not even sure if he understands how the infant mortality rate is determined. It’s not number of infants who die against the population at large, but deaths of infants per live births. Fewer infants period wouldn’t change the rate. But I might be wrong in this, since his conclusion shows that he has a rudimentary grasp of the fact that infant mortality is lowered when a nation and a family decides to put more of its resources into each individual, something that is an easier thing to pull off if you have fewer family members to begin with. (The book Half the Sky has a good discussion of how infant mortality and childhood death in general takes out more girls than boys in many nations, because parents devote more resources to the boys.) But as Ampersand details, that’s a bit of a stretch when you’re talking about the difference between Western Europe and the U.S., since we all have more than enough to go around for every individual. The birth rate could easily soar in the UK or Italy without any significant change to their infant mortality rate. Ours is high because we don’t invest enough in women’s health, and last I checked, women is where babies come from.
That’s why I have that video up above. It’s Rachel Maddow talking about women’s health results. Note how infant mortality is bucketed into the general category of “women’s reproductive health”, because infant mortality is more closely linked to women’s health than any other factor.
Which isn’t to say that contraception and low fertility rates don’t play a role in lowering infant mortality even in wealthy nations. Research increasingly demonstrates that child spacing is an important way to increase the odds that any one pregnancy will result in a healthy baby—the womb literally needs a couple of years between pregnancies to recover. (Someone tell the Duggars.) But again, a minor bump in fertility, where a large number of women have one more baby a piece or something like that, wouldn’t significantly impact the infant mortality rate.
It’s also useful to consider how many babies are born to women who really don’t want children right now for a good reason. Improved access to health care and therefore to prenatal care will help a lot of women living in poverty, but it can only do so much for the really marginalized women, who are homeless or drug-addicted and might be very interested in not having a baby right now if they could just have more means to prevent pregnancy.
Here’s what I don’t get: When assholes like Steyn start waxing on about how white women need to have more babies—and believe me, that’s what Steyn is getting at—I have to wonder how exactly they tend to make their goals happen. Through whining? Most people don’t know who Steyn is, and most who do aren’t going to change their decisions based on his half-assed arguments. Restricting access to abortion isn’t going to get the results Steyn wants, since his explicit goal is to get middle to upper class white women to have more babies. Those are the women that already don’t need as much abortion because they have more regular access to contraception in the first place. I googled around, and Steyn seems hostile to federally subsidized contraception, but again, if you took that away, the women he wants having more babies would not be affected, as most can afford contraception on their own without any assistance. $30-$50 a month for birth control pills is not an onerous burden for middle class people, and even if they have to cut corners elsewhere to afford it, they usually have somewhere to cut. Poorer women are the people who have to decide between the phone bill and condoms. Banning contraception? The googling resulted in articles that used Steyn as a stepping stone to argue for this, but I don’t imagine that Steyn is stupid enough to go that far. (And if middle class women were forced to have 12-20 kids a pop, then you really would start to see the infant mortality rate rise, because that sort of thing would plunge them into poverty.) There is literally nothing going for him, which leads me to conclude that his whole obsession with declining birth rates is just a cover for him to demagogue about race and ethnicity under the guise of “concern”.