Should Motherhood Pay?

Steven Mosher
PRI Weekly Briefing
29 December 2005
Vol. 7 / No. 51
Reproduced with Permission

It's a sad society, full of sad women -- not to mention men -- when mothers have to be paid not to kill their own children. Yet the situation in Italy, a country once known for a strong family-oriented and Catholic culture, has become so dismal that a parliamentary proposal made this month to pay women not to abort their babies has gained considerable support. On average, Italian women have about 1.2 children each in their lifetimes -- far, far below the minimal replacement rate of 2.1. Italy is a nation rapidly committing suicide.

With social security programs already severely strained, Italian society will not survive what is to come: The proportion of the population over 65 will go from 20% today to 36% by 2050. The proportion of people over 80 will triple to 15%. At the same time, the number of young people entering or about to enter the workforce will go down: The proportion of people aged 15-24 will go from 10% to 9% as Italy's population shrinks from 58 million to 51 million. And these statistics come from the overly optimistic medium variant of the United Nations Population Division's projections.

There is evidence that in the past year or two, Italy's birthrate may have bumped up to 1.4 children per woman due to the greater fertility of immigrants. This is death by another method -- replacement of a country's native population with unassimilated, largely Muslim foreigners. The UN Population Division has said that countries such as Italy will have to increase their already-high immigration rates by an astonishing 15 times to maintain the same worker-to-retiree ratio that she had in the 1990s. This is what is called an unsustainable development.

Perhaps to deflect pressure to change Italy's permissive 1978 abortion law, leftist parties in Italy have proposed paying lower-income women not to abort their children. Also, a general election is likely to be held early next year, and this may be a way for left-wing parties to attract a few Catholic votes. Some conservatives have welcomed the idea. The payments wouldn't be much -- $250 to $350 or so for three to six months of pregnancy -- but have a private precedent. "It is the same method used by the pro-life movement, funded by contributions from volunteers," noted Msgr. Elio Sgreccia of the Pontifical Academy for Life.

How much difference would this make? Strongly pro-life Rocco Buttiglione, an Italian Cabinet member, says that 10%-15% of abortions are due to economic reasons. The payments would be restricted to single women, but in Italy, married women have most abortions. After they have had the one "lifestyle accessory" child they want, married Italian women tend to abort subsequent children.

Excluding married women from these payments is unconscionable. In fact, single women ought to be excluded, or else some women will deliberately have children out of wedlock in order to collect money from the government, as they do in the United States under welfare. Setting up incentives for more illegitimacy, and disincentives for women to marry the fathers of their children, will in the long run destroy the family as a social unit -- and lower the birthrate -- even more.

"To provide families financial help from the State to raise the Italian birthrate is tricky," says Silvio Dalla Valle, Executive Director of the Italian pro-life group Voglio Vivere ("I Want to Live") and also a director of the magazine Radici Cristiane ("Christian Roots"). "First, if the government really wants families to have more money the way is simple: Drastically reduce the outrageous taxes Italians pay every year for the government. Those taxes are misused, wasted and, worst, they don't give Italians the services they were promised. Second, to state the reason the Italian birthrate is low is due to families' financial problems is very superficial, and doesn't t go the core of the problem. It is a fact that a century ago Italy was a rather poor country, and nevertheless the birthrate was very high. The real reason the Italian birthrate is extremely low is moral and religious."

Currently, abortion-on-demand is legal in Italy for the first three months of pregnancy and then for the health of the mother after that. Despite reports in the English-speaking press over the growing debate about abortion in that country, Dalla Valle thinks that more legal restrictions on abortion are not on the horizon. "When the Faith and the sense of the family vanish, when the sense of perpetuating certain values disappears, when selfishness takes over charity, it is natural that the birthrate declines," he says. "Because children are no longer seen as a gift from God but rather a burden. In Italian society as elsewhere, the more individuals are practicing Christians, the more children they have."

Dalla Valle is not necessarily against the pay-to-prevent-abortion idea: "It is very possible that such a measure to provide financial aid will also increase the illegitimate birthrate, and again weaken the concept of family. But the alternative is to kill an innocent child."

In the meantime, a Spanish government report says that abortion went up by 73% over the last decade in that country, which has a birthrate on par with Italy's. In Germany, ideas to increase that country's low birthrate are gaining steam as France considers financial incentives aimed at more affluent couples to raise her birthrate, already second-highest (after Ireland) in the 25-member European Union. But France's birthrate, perhaps as high as 1.9, is raised by Europe's largest Muslim population.

Any incentives would take a long time to have a significant effect demographically, and aren't expected to raise the native-born European populations' birthrates up to replacement level in any case. As Dalla Valle pointed out, the problem is not primarily financial in any case, though high taxation and an economy predicated on the two-income family are certainly parts of the puzzle. In more metaphorical ways than one, it seems that the proposals to save Western European civilization are a day late and a dollar short.