The article was widely shared online by leftie progressive types I follow and I was startled by some of the responses, particularly on the issue of the struggling family including three children.
Comments such as these were made:
"Agree though that life is all about choices and looking at the big picture of deciding to have 3 kids (and another from a prior relationship) to support when not in a strong enough financial position points to perhaps the wrong choices being made along the way."
"I agree that an average worker should expect to be able to support a family on average pay, but three or more kids I think is pushing it. You shouldn't enter into a situation you can't afford to maintain, that's irresponsible in my view."When did we decide that having three kids constitutes a large family?
In the whole of human history there has been a massive period of time with average family sizes of more than 3 children born to one couple. In many countries in the world now women are likely to have more than two children over the course of their fertile years, indeed the world average fertility rate is a bit over 2.5 on all three measures Wikipedia lists. Why is it unreasonable to expect to be able to have three children and be able to get by in Aotearoa New Zealand, a comparatively well-off place to live?
What also bugs me is how, like with so many issues that come up through a feminist prism, this is about pretending that you know more about someone else's life than they know about it themselves. Second guessing the life choices of others is a game I'd rather not play. There could be many reasons why people have 2< children (or indeed any children, one child, no children). Maybe there was a contraceptive failure, or cultural pressure to have a big family, or a desire to have children of different sexes, or they had the financial resources at the time of conception, or any range of other reasons that are theirs and not yours, or mine.
And what's are the assumptions made by those saying the equivalent of "you shouldn't breed more mouths than you can feed"?
- People's financial situations don't change over time - or at least they don't get worse.
- Someone can totally foresee how much more each child will add to their outgoings.
- Contraception is fool-proof and freely available and widely used and not socially, religiously or culturally discouraged for anyone.
- Abortion for economic reasons is legal and accessible.
None of these is an accurate assumption. Taken together they in fact look quite ludicrous, and the last one in particular I find quite chilling. Those advocating for the termination of pregnancies which are going to put financial pressure on a parent, based on projected income, well, there's a name for that.
And if you don't take it that far, if you merely encourage people who are on tight incomes to end pregnancies, then you are actually asking them to break to law, because, as we frequently discuss on this blog, an abortion for reasons other than the physical or mental health of the pregnant person is illegal in this country. While personally I'll be working to change that law, it isn't likely that abortions on economic grounds will be allowable in the near future.
So if the "Can't Feed Don't Breed" brigade don't want to force poor people to have abortions, or even encourage them to break the law, then what's the next thing? Use contraception? Not 100% effective, so no guarantee of children resulting to impoverish their siblings and parents. Oh wait I know, don't have consensual heterosexual sex! At least not during the fertile years - so that's never for men and not until post-menopause for women. This would certainly be good for that Homosexual Recruitment Drive we've all heard so much about.
Let's not lose sight of the original point of discussion that the Herald article was about - the widening income disparity in Auckland. How about we actually look at the real problem, rather than getting distracted. The issue here is not too many children but too little money; low incomes, whether it be from paid employment or social welfare or a combination of both.
It's not that long ago that most people in this country could expect a reasonable standard of living for their family based on the income of one full time worker, even with three or more children in the household. The area I represent at Auckland Council, Puketapapa, had the 18th lowest median income in the Herald's stats, despite having a lower percentage of people on benefits (10.5%) than many of the suburbs higher up. I live here, in one of the poorer suburbs, and I work all over this part of town. This gap is not about the choices of individuals, it is about a system that distributes wealth in a way that is all wrong. We simply must lift incomes. And we do that not by bagging people for having kids but by investing in education, in infrastructure, in social welfare, in job creation, in innovation, in pay equity and, in the public sector, in actual pay to public servants of all hues. Focusing on procreation is a distraction, not a solution.