Italy's low fertility rate and lack of support for young people have become a hot topic. But economic and social conditions are not what's stopping all Italian women from having children. Some simply want to do other things with their lives. Does that make them selfish, asks Italian writer Simonetta Sciandivasci.
In an essay for La Stampa, Simonetta Sciandivasci explains why she has no desire to become a mother. Her letter is addressed to ISTAT, Italy’s official statistics office, which explained Italy's low fertility rates as a reaction to economic or social conditions and the lack of support for young people and new parents. But Sciandivasci says the numbers don't tell her story. This article has been edited for length.
Dear ISTAT, I am writing to you because I don't fit into your numbers. From what I understand, I am part of the scant five percent. A thriving, and sometimes happy, small minority of women who don't have children because they don't want to. Not because we can't afford to or because we have no faith in the future. Not because we are dull, nihilistic, lonely, or cynical.
I'm afraid that you have a facile and sketchy idea of me and the minority in which I include myself. I would prefer to call us a bubble since I don't suffer discrimination (no one prevents me from enjoying my rights), but only socio-cultural stigmatization.
But I'm not talking about relatives and gynecologists asking me why I'm 36, have a job and good health but no one is calling me mamma. I am referring instead to the fact that I cannot adopt a child, because to do so in this country, I would have to be rich, married and never divorced, young, preferably chaste and a descendant of an ancient lineage of illustrious people.
A misunderstood minority
I am aware of the fact that in this country there are many women who want to have a child and cannot because they lack the economic means or living conditions. I thank you, ISTAT, because it seems to me that you have recorded and described their reasons very well.
But describing a majority is easy. The same is not true for a minority, even at a time when we try, with some inevitable yet useful hypocrisy, to represent minorities more carefully. I doubt that the gap between those who don't have children because they can't and those who don't because they don't want to is as wide as you claim, but I'm basing my observations on what I see around me and yours are based on extensive surveys.
But there's an important caveat: pollsters are lied to. People lie in polls because not all answers fit within a yes, no or maybe. People also lie because they are ashamed, in a hurry, or don't feel like telling the truth.
Sociologists, psychologists and columnists speak for me, they identify themselves with me
I have lost count of the number of times I have heard some of my friends say around large dinner tables that they had no intention of having children because "where do I leave them? How do I feed them? Who will help me?" They were the same ones who — sitting at much smaller tables — I heard say: "Thank goodness I don't have a child."
Ninety percent of my female friends are happy not to have had a baby. They have no intention of having one, and they live with delightful and sometimes frightened men who would be happy to have a child but are happier to accept the wishes of the person they love. Am I lucky? Maybe. Do I hang out with a bubble of highbrow turbo-capitalists? No. My friends almost all started earning a decent income in their thirties, after working their way up through the ranks during difficult years that they even remember affectionately.
"Ninety percent of my female friends are happy not to have had a baby"
The truth about not wanting a child
It is often repeated that people do not procreate here because Italy is not a country for young people.Those poor young people — so depressed, demotivated, abandoned, lonely and unproductive. We should help them to procreate, give them a bonus to do so or parental leave.
I don't want a child and yes, I can afford to have one. Am I being selfish? I have a lot of ideas about how a selfish society can stay on its feet and even progress, and some of them came to me while reading Ayn Rand's The Virtue of Selfishness.
They speak for me, they identify themselves with me. And they lead me back to something I am not.
Well, when I listen to sociologists, psychologists and columnists discussing the reasons why Italian women don't have children (males are not involved, they are an accessory), I realize that they all do the same: they speak for me, they identify themselves with me. And they lead me back to something I am not: an unhappy, unsatisfied woman, abandoned by her country.
If the day after tomorrow Prime Minister Mario Draghi brought me a million euros in cash and told me to use it to support a child, I would decline the offer. I would tell him there are other ways I can contribute to society. This includes trying to get it out of our heads that if the system isn't working because retired people outnumber the younger generation and that the only way to help is to have children.
And I don't rule out that 20 years from now, when not having children isn't an identity or generational issue, when it isn't associated with public mental health, that my friends' daughters and sons won't have a great desire to become parents. But for now that's not the case. Let's accept that and try telling each other the truth.
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