Civic booty duty: Should the state have a place in our bedrooms? | John Allemang | Aug. 11, 2012 | The Globe and Mail

First world countries may espouse larger families to get more citizens, but even Singapore lags Scandinavian social and taxation programs that encourage childrearing.

Why should there be any place for the state in the bedrooms of the nation?

Because, boys and girls, that’s where babies are made and future taxpayers are created – if only more citizens saw procreation as their patriotic duty.

There are limited strategies for replenishing an aging population, and sex remains one of the best. Particularly in low-birthrate societies that would rather address the awkward intimacies of reproduction than welcome waves of immigrants.

But persuading people to hook up and have babies – and then, on the basis of that sobering experience, to have more babies – has turned out to be one of the great political challenges of the modern world.

Consider Singapore, which is obsessed by the failure of its young people to be fruitful and multiply. Among 30– to 34-year-olds, 44 per cent of men and 31 per cent of women are single – an enviable statistic for a Manhattan bar, perhaps, but “a grave problem” for a birthrate-conscious nation, according to former prime minister Lee Kuan Yew.

The collective awareness of the country’s fertility gap was demonstrated vividly this week with a saucy ad campaign that rebranded Singapore’s National Day as “National Night.” In a three-minute rap video, Mentos mints called on citizens – at least those “in stable and committed long-term relationships” – to use the holiday as an opportunity to produce progeny. [….]

Whether it’s Mentos elevating sex to a civic duty or the backwoods Greek mayor of Zacharo importing prospective brides for local lonelyhearts, setting the stage for the hook-up is much simpler than creating a world where raising a child is neither financially punitive nor personally compromising.

To achieve the high fertility rate of a pace-setter such as Norway, a modern industralized country would have to welcome high taxes, make female equality a social reality, lose all doubts about state-paid child care, extend parental leave to fathers and then recognize the resulting payoff in tax revenues and female labour-market participation.

Half-measures won’t cut it. Take Hong Kong, a city that once urged its citizens to limit their family size. Now, there’s deep anxiety about their low fertility rate – 1.10 births per woman, well short of the replacement rate of 2.1. But the tax breaks for having children barely register in a city with exorbitant costs for housing, education and child care – prospective parents, naturally enough, want a better life for yet-to-be-conceived children than subsistence-level incentives can provide.

Hong Kong is therefore considering a rather no-frills effort to increase its numbers: tapping mothers in mainland China to give birth in city hospitals, and later trying to recruit their children to “rejoin” Hong Kong as official residents.

The fertility rate in nearby Taiwan is even lower than Hong Kong’s, and it doesn’t have the option of a population grab from China. Instead, one legislator has proposed “matchmaking holidays” that will free up overworked civil servants to socialize more productively.

Taiwan also dangles the usual tax-break carrots, without success, leaving some public moralizers to rail against a culture of individuality that lacks respect for traditional values – demonstrating how a bid to boost procreation can also play into a conservative agenda and politicize baby-making. That family-first line plays equally well in the United States, where large broods are associated with the evangelical religious right. In fact, U.S. population growth depends much more on the imported values of poor Hispanic immigrants.

But if state-endorsed baby-making is simply reduced to patriotic duty, the easiest solution is to be found in Iran: President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has demanded that girls as young as 16 marry and procreate.

Full article as Civic booty duty: Should the state have a place in our bedrooms? | John Allemang | Aug. 11, 2012 | The Globe and Mail at

Civic booty duty: Should the state have a place in our bedrooms? - The Globe and Mail