What baffles me most about this story is that overpopulation is framed as everyone’s problem. But declining birth rates? It’s all on us, ladies.
First, we came for Applebee’s. Then, we came for Sears. And we didn’t stop there. We moved on to the real estate industry, stubbornly refusing to cough up down payments on homes we can’t afford. Chain restaurants, department stores, that charming townhouse in your favorite neighborhood that’s going for half a million. What could possibly be left for Millennials to ruin?
Friends, give yourselves a pat on the back. We’re killing the baby industry.
Well, “we” as in Millennial women. Sorry, men. You don’t get to take credit for this one, at least not according to Today.
There’s really nothing like an accusatory voice blaring, “American women are having fewer BABIES” at you while you’re trying to enjoy your morning avocado toast. Not to mention the accompanying montage of third-trimester bellies, sonograms, and wailing infants in incubators, because nothing could be less relevant to the life of someone who is, in fact, having fewer babies. That probably makes me sound like just another selfish Millennial, though. So focused on working and paying off student loans instead of perpetuating the human race.
The story, abbreviated as simply “FEWER BABIES,” reports that “the fertility rate in 2017 was 16 percent below what is needed for a population to replace itself.” And since men aren’t mentioned once during the full 30-second clip, I’m going to assume that they’re no longer part of the reproduction equation. Apparently we women are asexual now, and reproduce by budding or mitosis. (I really hope it’s mitosis. If I could make endless copies of myself, I could get so much more done and avoid that pesky Millennial burnout.)
It’s so weird that while chasing an ever-receding finish line that promises financial stability, career satisfaction, and eventual home ownership, a lot of our generation has forgotten to have kids. Paid maternity and paternity leave would help too, along with universal health care and affordable childcare. But try as we might to advocate for policies that would ease our burden, we’re asked by the older generations how we’re going to pay for all of it. You might say, metaphorically, that we’re up against a wall.
Wait, though. I know couples who are in their 30s like me. They’re married, and they’ve managed to finally pay off their loans and put down on that dream home. They even travel sometimes! And they still don’t have kids. Is it possible that some people just don’t want them? That some people feel fulfilled even though they haven’t replaced themselves? Who are they supposed to spend money on? I’m going to find that nun with the shame bell.
It’s funny. The premise of so many dystopian books and films is overpopulation. Soylent Green showed us a world so overcrowded that the dead are turned into consumable wafers. Logan’s Run killed each member of its out-of-control population off at 30. In the same way that The Hunger Games highlighted the dangers of extreme income inequality, there’s an entire genre devoted to scaring us straight so that we abide by our planet’s limitations. It would be nice to never have to live in a reality where Soylent Green is people, wouldn’t it? Where we don’t have to continuously redesign entire industries around our resource consumption?
Yes, yes, I know. Underpopulation should be taken seriously too, because it eventually means that there will be more retired folks who need social security and less adults working to pay into their services. Maybe that’s why my generation should feel guilty for not getting down to business. After all, I’m sure that baby boomers feel terribly about giving us both a climate crisis and a financial crisis. That’s why the ones in power are working so hard to turn things around! It’s much easier to think about the future when previous generations have unselfishly set the example.
If only there were more people wanting to move to the United States, who could offset these birth rate concerns. I guess that’s just another wall we’re up against.
What baffles me most about this story is that overpopulation is framed as everyone’s problem. But declining birth rates? It’s all on us, ladies. “A combination of several factors is to blame,” Today reported, “including changing economics and delays in childbirth by women pursing jobs and education.” Modern medicine has made it possible for Millennial women to enjoy sex without pregnancy and give birth when we want, if we want. We are also able to pursue things that make us happy outside the home, you know, like men have done for ages.
But remember, progress is always accompanied by moral panic. Maybe we should do something about these stubborn women and their lack of adherence to biological destiny. Red cloaks would be a nice touch.
Chelsea Cristene is an international student adviser, English professor, and graduate student based in Washington, D.C. She has been published by the Good Men Project, Salon, xoJane, The Establishment, and MamaMia, and has appeared on HuffPost Live. Find her on Twitter.