EDITORIAL: More children the answer?

 

IT is a concern echoed around the world: What will become of a nation’s ability to replace older workers if its rapidly ageing population supersedes the young? Countries that fall below the accepted replacement fertility rate of 2.1 births per woman have begun to encourage women to get more children. Major economies like Germany and Japan are experiencing low rates (1.44 and 1.41, respectively). Even China (a 1.6 rate), which was well known for its one-child policy, has abolished that mandate and is encouraging urban couples to have two offspring.
 
Barbados’ replacement rate currently stands at around 1.8 and, based on recent comments, authorities are looking critically at the matter. This however is a multi-faceted, dynamic issue and therefore requires a number of considerations. For example, we learned recently that Barbados is classified as the 15th most water-scarce country and has an ageing infrastructure. Right now there is a challenge supplying constant water to some rural parishes because of a significant drop in rainfall and the drought experienced by the country. Citizens now produce thousands of tons of garbage per day, traffic is gridlocked at peak hours, and schools are bursting at the seams. Clearly, any move to increase the population significantly will have an added impact on the aforementioned social services. Then there is the economic argument. The reality is that child rearing – from private prenatal, schooling and post-natal health care – is a very expensive undertaking, and the State simply cannot afford to fit the bill on a long-term basis.
 
Another proposed solution for larger countries is to open their borders to immigrants. However, given the political, anti-immigration push-back in Europe and the United States, it is naive to think, with contention over resources such as jobs, that immigrants can be integrated seamlessly. In addition, at 7.5 billion people strong, there hardly seems need to increase the population, not with a planet that is clearly showing the effects of climate change and whose population’s fragility is exposed during times of extreme natural disaster. 
 
What’s left is to find practical and workable solutions. We must bear in mind that larger countries have not always succeeded in encouraging families to have more babies, which brings to mind key questions: Can a country be successful with a low replacement fertility rate? Are there lessons we can glean from larger countries that have maintained the accepted rate? If not, then more needs to be done to encourage a higher rate without it: impacting on the significant strides women have made in their professional and personal lives; increasing the strain on already burdened social services; and derailing the country’s long-term, developmental goals.
 
In short, if we are investing in our country’s future, it requires input from key stakeholders comprising the following organisations – state, employer, workers’ representative, religious, education, parent, teacher, retiree and youth. We should do this holistically with the country’s economic and social development in mind. For example, over the years Warrens has developed as a commercial hub (haphazardly, some might argue). There may need to create similar hubs (and therefore jobs, schooling and associated services) in other parishes to decrease traffic descending to western and southern parishes. Another matter of note is that with an increasing elderly population, and a rise in conditions such as dementia, parents may also be saddled with elder care – a double burden that might necessitate State support.
 
In this way, and in these forums, we anticipate that creative solutions can be obtained.

Barbados Advocate

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