Fr Vincent Twomey, a very estimable theologian, has suggested that contraception has had a disastrous impact on fertility patterns throughout the western world.
Falling fertility certainly is a major concern, now, to economists.
Japan now sells more incontinence pads for older people than nappies for babies and Italy is in such dire straits over its catastrophically low birth rates – 1.39 babies per woman – that the Italian health minister tried to usher in a “fertility national day” to try and urge Italians to welcome more bambini.
The Economist magazine – traditionally a supporter of curbing birth rates – recently highlighted the fact that in 19 countries polled, women wanted to have more children than they already had.
The problem, in so many of these countries desperate for better fertility, is that the economic structure of society just doesn’t support mothers, fathers and families.
The Italian government’s call for “more babies” met with an angry reaction from younger women who said that there just wasn’t enough child-care support.
The nurseries and crèches were either very expensive or unavailable. Grandparents do their best to help out, but modern life sometimes means that the grandparents were geographically too far away for this to be practical.
Contraception alone is not the reason for the fall in fertility, as Todd G. Buchholz points out in his recent book, The Price of Prosperity – Why Rich Nations Fail.
Buchholz writes that rich nations fail when their fertility declines, but we need to address related issues around this: we need to build better community institutions (these support the family), and honour the durable traditions which are a counterpoint to the globalised, atomised, Internet-led influences of modernity.
And we also need, surely, to do everything we can to support mothers and fathers.
The debate about whether mothers ‘should’ work is now somewhat outworn: where mothers need to take financial responsibility their children, they, too should be supported by every social institution, including, of course, the churches.
To have pro-natalistic policies, we need an organic, joined-up pro-natalist approach to the whole of community life.