Wednesday, March 08, 2006

Dear Madeleine Bunting ...

Re your Guardian article "Our culture of contempt for parenthood".

“The fact that we still have as many births in the UK as we do is extraordinary”

“The point is that parenthood is against the grain of all the aspirations of our culture.”

That depends, I think, on who you mean by ‘we’ and ‘our’.

Yours seems to be a view which only takes into account the culture of the natives, rather than considering the many other cultures which make up Britain (particularly England) today.

It's true that 'we' don't value motherhood or the job of caring for and socialising children - hence the 'I'm only a housewife' syndrome, the fact that mothers caring for their kids are discriminated against by a tax system which rewards joint-earners and single parents over two parent/one earner families. Take a look at which social category (on the 2001 census) child minder and nursery nurse fall into. This culture, common to all Western nations, has been recently described with great insight by the (childless) writer Lionel Shriver in the Guardian and the Sunday Times.

As recent research has pointed out, only the very poor or the wealthy can afford large families - the biggest drop in births has been among those on average incomes.

But we should not confuse 'our' culture with that of all the UK. Other cultures are still having children, and therefore presumably still value them. The ONS birth statistics for England in 2004 showed that nearly 20% of births were to mothers born overseas - 50% of the births in London.

Other research showed that of these babies, half the fathers were born overseas.

In towns like Bradford, where I lived for many years, the ethnic minority population is projected to have tripled in the thirty years 1980-2010. Fifty percent of the current minority population is under eighteen.

I would imagine that if you asked the DFES for a breakdown of primary school numbers by ethnicity (recorded by each head and reported to the DFES) the figure would be 25%+ for ethnic minorities in England.

So the picture may be less bleak than you paint. As the anti-natalist culture continues not to reproduce, and other cultures do, the problem will solve itself. The anti-natalist culture will literally die out.

I had to smile last year, when commentators after the 7/7 bombings pointed to the low numbers of Pakistani and Bangladeshi (origin) women in full time employment as evidence of a disconnection from UK culture. Those women are working alright - they’re raising children.



Afterthought. Ms Bunting finishes with these words (on why we still have any children).

"I prefer a more romantic notion: that it's a form of popular rebellion by which the prevailing anti-natalist mores of a manipulative consumer capitalism are trumped by the innate understanding of millions of women (and men) of what really constitutes love and fulfilment - dependence, commitment, the pleasure of guiding enthusiasm and, above all, the privilege of nurturing innocence."

I think romantic is the only possible description of the idea that parents are making some kind of Naomi Kleinish 'No Logo'-type statement, having noted above that outside the rich, only the state-funded underclass can afford large families. Whatever's being nurtured there, innocence ain't it.

I was at a gathering last weekend with many teachers present. A pair from North London secondaries told me, as if it was the most natural thing in the world, that all secondary schools in the area had police permanently present. Then I talked to the head of a primary on a large council estate in a Northern town, discussing the limited options a school has when dealing with a damaged child (one of several, all different fathers, no set hours - or set anything - at home, brother dead of an overdose at sixteen).

"I'd say the majority of kids at my school come from homes like that"


(other Maddy-reaction at Norm, Clive Davis, Adventures In Capitalism, Jon Rowett.


James G. said...

I blame Betty Friedan and The Feminine Mystique...The concept that motherhood is unfulfilling drudgery began to permeate our culture as a result of that book being read by women in universities.

"Yes, women, you, too, can be isolated, unfulfilled, cogs in the machine; just like men have become since the advent of the Industrial Revolution. It is a little bit less effort."

Anonymous said...

"only the state-funded underclass can afford large families."

very true.
my wife and i would be better off if we actually divorced. in fact the system is geared to discourage you from marrying in the first place - which is why you have the multiple-fathers, multiple-children syndrome.

Anonymous said...

The Lionel Shriver make interesting reading, thanks for posting the links to them. She comes across as a bit of a loon in the Sunday Times interview, but the Guardian article she wrote is indeed perceptive.

Regarding how many ethnic minority children are in primary schools, Table S101 from the Office of National Statistics 2001 Census gives a full age group-by-ethnicity breakdown. The figure's probably around 18% now, but obviously will increase. At what rate and to what level, who knows?

There's quite a lot of interesting stats info on fertility rates for different ethnic groups in London available through the Greater London Assembly's website here:

Bangladeshis have the highest total lifetime fertility rate, and Chinese the lowest at almost panda-like levels. White women have the second lowest at around 1.3, significantly lower than the national average for their group, which is around 1.6-1.7.

A common observation in many countries is that immigrant fertility rates approximate that of the host population after two generations. This has happened with some ethnic groups in this country, and probably will happen for non-Muslim Black Africans as it has for Black Caribbeans, but won't anytime soon for Pakistanis or Bangladeshis.