Suzanne Fields

"From Christmas onwards, I will be standing on my head," one pregnant women who is due at any time tells der Spiegel magazine, counting on the old wives' tale that standing upside down delays birth. Europeans will be watching whether such subsidies can reverse the birth dearth, but skeptics abound. They argue that giving away government money aims incentives in the wrong direction, forcing women back into a 1950s family model of breadwinner Dad and stay-at-home Mom. But many women say they like it that way while their children are young.

Women in Germany, like women in America, wage "mommy wars." A particularly troubling German statistic is that at least 40 percent of women with college degrees are childless. Rural communities post higher fertility rates, which leads one demographic expert to suggest that the best formula to encourage fertility is to halt your education, marry early and live on a farm.

Ursula von der Leyen, the German family minister, is an exception to the trend. Frau von der Leyen is a medical doctor, a trained economist and an attractive blonde with seven children. But in Germany, where there's great pressure to be a nonworking "good mother," her example doesn't get much emulation. Career women find Chancellor Angela Merkel, who is childless, a more appealing model.

When you hear the phrase "baby gap" in Germany, it's not about a clothing label for youngsters but a term for men and women who in their old age can't count on support by an inflated welfare state. There won't be enough young people to pay all those taxes. Most of Europe is becoming an aging society of elders.

A book called "The Vanishing Adolescent" was popular 40 years ago. It wrongly predicted that teenagers would be deprived of their youth if they were rushed into adulthood. It didn't happen. Maybe the doomsday predictions are premature, and Cupid will rescue us yet. We'll need more babies crawling behind the old man with the scythe in new years to come. For auld lang syne.


Suzanne Fields

Suzanne Fields is currently working on a book that will revisit John Milton's 'Paradise Lost.'

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