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"Gender Equality" Partly to Blame For Fertility Decline, Says UN Official

July 23, 2004
Volume 7, Number 31

In a speech delivered this Spring that was largely ignored by the news media, the United Nation’s chief demographer declared that the very existence of some nations has now been endangered by fertility decline, and the international community’s insistent call for "gender equality" is making the problem even worse.

According to Dr. Joseph Chamie, Director of the Population Division of the UN’s Department of Economic and Social Affairs, "A growing number of countries view their low birth rates with the resulting population decline and ageing to be a serious crisis, jeopardizing the basic foundations of the nation and threatening its survival. Economic growth and vitality, defense, and pensions and health care for the elderly, for example, are all areas of major concern."

Chamie, who was speaking in his personal capacity at the Population Association of America’s annual meeting, asserted that one-third of the countries in the world now have "below replacement" level fertility, which means that women have fewer than 2.1 children on average. In 15 countries, the fertility rate has shrunk to l.5 children or less.

In an unprecedented statement for a high-ranking UN official, Chamie claimed that the drive for gender equality is partly to blame for low fertility, stating that, "While many governments, intergovernmental organizations, non-governmental organizations and individuals may strongly support gender equality at work and in the home as a fundamental principle and desirable goal, it is not at all evident how having men and women participate equally in employment, parenting and household responsibilities will raise low levels of fertility. On the contrary, the equal participation of men and women in the labor force, child rearing and housework points precisely in the opposite direction, i.e., below replacement fertility. And this is in fact precisely what is being observed today in an increasing number of countries."

Chamie also noted the some governments, especially in the developed world, may be concerned about appearing hypocritical if they seek to increase their own fertility rates, while at the same time working to decrease fertility in the developing world. According to Chamie, "Understandably, governments are reluctant to be seen as encouraging citizens to breed for the sake of the country. This is especially true for governments providing international assistance to family planning programs in countries aiming to reduce their comparatively higher rates of fertility and population."

In his address, Chamie investigated the effectiveness of a number of governmental responses to fertility decline, including promoting marriage and childbearing, reducing the costs of child rearing, and adapting work schedules to family life. He was not optimistic concerning these policies, concluding that, "the current and foreseeable efforts of most governments to raise their current low fertility rates to replacement levels seem highly unlikely."

Copyright 2004 – C-FAM (Catholic Family & Human Rights Institute). Permission granted for unlimited use. Credit required.
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