I wouldn’t have written about this topic, except that I saw it on the TV news this morning so I guess it’s fair game… and anyway, I know that I’m not alone.
We are among the new Greek childless. A growing group of Greeks in their 30s who are choosing not to have children, because, as I heard on the news this morning, having a child would be catastrophic for their family. There is no ‘welfare’ to speak of here, so having children is very risky. What happens to the child if you can’t feed it, clothe it, and house it?
With 29% of Greeks between the ages 25 and 34 unemployed, the cost of supporting a basically healthy pregnancy is out of reach for many. That’s not even taking into consideration the cost of things the baby would need after its birth, like clothing, or want, like a car seat or toys.
I’ve heard many Americans say “every child is a blessing.” In Greece, where almost 30% of children already live in poverty, having a baby can be considered irresponsible, if not actually cruel, for many married couples. The Greek economic crisis has become the new form of contraception in Greece.
From a February 8, 2012 article in the English-language newspaper Athens News:
In Greece, the percentage of children up to 17 years old living in poverty was 28.7 percent, in the 18-64 age group the poverty rate was 27.7 percent and in the 65-plus age group the poverty rate was 26.7 percent.
However, what the article doesn’t mention, but I think is very important to note: that statistic reflects the situation in 2010 – before the Greek economic crisis hit most Greeks. Right now, what is the percentage of children living in poverty?
In 2010, we didn’t hear about children fainting from hunger in their classrooms. In 2011, we heard about them. In 2012, they’re not even newsworthy anymore. So to say that 28.7% of Greek children are living in poverty in 2012 is clearly wishful thinking. The percentage should be far higher.
How do you contemplate a pregnancy in a situation like that? Even those who can afford it now can’t be sure they can afford it nine months from now.
Many people like to say that all babies need is love. I’ve never had one, but don’t they also need food, warmth in the winter, clothing, something to stimulate their brain development, and medical care? And then there are the babies that might need some kind of special care or special diet for whatever reason.
So I think it makes a lot of sense that Greek families like us are turning away from the idea of having children.
But is this a good long term solution? On the list of countries by fertility rate, Greece ranked at 1.37 children per woman (i.e., per couple) before the crisis. That’s clearly below the “replacement rate,” where a man and woman have two children to replace themselves. (Technically the replacement rate is actually considered to be 2.1, to account for the people who die before they reach reproductive age.) The United States eeks out a replacement rate at 2.06 children per woman. It will probably surprise no one that 33 out of the bottom 41 countries are located in Europe. (The overall world average is 2.55 children per woman, by the way.)
Greece has struggled with the so-called Demographic Problem for years. Greek women tend to have children later in life, and to have fewer of them. The sibling experience is becoming rare. The population is aging – in a country with a traditionally long lifespan – and pensions have been cut dramatically due to the crisis. Only about 40% of Greeks are employed based on the statistics that came out yesterday, due to severe unemployment across the country – many Greeks of productive age are reliant on their retired parents’ pension to survive.
One of the many times that they cut the education budget, the explanation was given: “Greeks aren’t having very many children, so there’s no need to have so many schools and teachers.” That’s the official government line on it: you’re not having children, so we’re not going to invest in education.
Already the media has dubbed Greeks in the 20-30 age group as the “Lost Generation.” What should we call the whole generation of theoretical Greeks who will likely never be conceived at all, because of the crisis?
You can pick your talking points with the Greek crisis: unemployment, hunger, lack of competitiveness, breakdown in social institutions, whatever you like. But how to talk about this black hole that is pulling Greece and the Greeks into inexistence?
We can talk about it all we want… but when S and I talk about the future, having our own children isn’t part of that future.