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Birth control, religion and Sarah Palin

Baby boom or bust

Baby boom or bust

October 13, 2008|By DAVID YOUNT / Scripps Howard News Service

You have to hand it to the French.

They are not only renowned for romance but for baby making. Having achieved a fertility rate of more than two children per woman, France is assured of replenishing its population, which has increased already by one-third of a million since 2006.

The motive behind the Gallic baby boom may not be the Creator's command to "increase and multiply." Rather, it's thanks to President Nicolas Sarkozy for having made pregnancy fashionable and larger families more affordable.

Here is what French mothers receive: $1,400 per newborn, $280 per month for staying at home to raise the child, a 50 percent discount for day care or hiring a nanny, 30 percent off train fares when traveling with three children, plus partially paid parental leave for as long as three years, with the employer required to keep the job open for the parent's return to work. Moreover, the income tax in France is reduced for each additional son or daughter.

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Being married is not a necessity to qualify for these benefits. Half of all French children are now born out of wedlock, as civil partnerships increase and weddings decrease. It has become chic for French women to resume their paid careers outside the home after giving birth.

France's rising childbirth rate is an exception. Russian couples now average only 1.2 children, while German families now produce 1.37 children and the British 1.91.

At the moment, worldwide fertility is only half what it was in the 1960s. The United Nations predicts that within a decade most of the world's women will be having fewer than two children, and by mid-century the world's population will be shrinking for the first time since the Black Death in the 14th century.

Religion, which traditionally encourages childbirth, is increasingly ignored. Although church opposition in Brazil withholds state-sponsored family planning, women there have cut the birthrate by half in just a generation, and there are 40 million fewer Brazilians as a result. In predominantly Catholic Italy and Spain, most women now choose to have just one child. Nor have the mullahs been able to prevent three-quarters of Iranian women from using contraceptives and cutting Iran's birthrate by two-thirds.

With fewer births and longer life expectancy, we can foresee a world in which an aging population will predominate and young people will be the exception.

Whether or not Sarah Palin is elected as the nation's next vice president, her example could help to reverse the trend toward couples who stop after having one child. She is remarkable not just for being a moose-hunting state governor, but for being the mother of five children.

- David Yount's "Growing in Faith: A Guide for the Reluctant Christian" (Seabury) is now available in paperback. He answers readers at P.O. Box 2758, Woodbridge, VA 22195 and dyount@erols.com.

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