French President Emmanuel Macron deepened one of his rhetorical ruts this fall, again stating publicly that human fertility—especially on the African continent—reflects ignorance and oppression.
While discussing African demographics at a Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation event in New York City, Macron said, “Present me the woman who decided, being perfectly educated, to have seven, eight or nine children…This is just because a lot of girls were not properly educated, sometimes because these countries decided the rights of these girls were not exactly the same rights as the young man.”
Macron, who has no children of his own, often rails against African countries’ strong fertility rates. This time, educated mothers across the world took umbrage at Macron’s remarks, and started posting their accomplishments alongside pictures of their families on Twitter, with the hashtag #PostcardsForMacron.
Catholic University of America professor Catherine Pakaluk initiated the hashtag with a picture of her wearing academic robes surrounded by six of her “eight children by choice.” Pakaluk has master’s and doctoral degrees from Harvard University.
“Actually it’s BECAUSE I’m educated that we had the intellect and wisdom to see the supreme value in being open to life,” wrote Shannon Jones alongside a picture of her, her husband, and their seven children. Christopher Scalia, son of deceased Supreme Court justice Antonin Scalia and Maureen McCarthy Scalia, wrote of his mother: “BA in English from Radcliffe. Nine children. 39 grandchildren. Two great-grandchildren.” Ugandan Eric Kigozi posted a picture of his wife, “a medical doctor and mother of seven,” and pinned it to the top of his Twitter feed.
Macron’s speech marked the release of the Gates’s annual “Goalkeepers” report. The Gates Foundation is the world’s wealthiest, and Melinda Gates has made reduction of fertility—typically through contraception access—one of her top spending priorities.
Across the world, including the United States, the poorest people tend to have more children, while the richest tend to have fewer. This counterintuitive reality represents a global crisis, says this year’s “Goalkeepers” report—not because those best situated for cultivating the next generation are shirking their civilizational duty, but because “more babies are being born in the places where it’s hardest to lead a healthy and productive life.” According to the report, this means the last half-century’s amazing worldwide poverty reduction could reverse.
This is indeed a problem for the world’s wealthiest economies, which fund government retirement programs with heaps of debt. America’s massively unfunded Medicaid and Social Security programs, for example, comprise 62 percent of annual federal spending. Their trust funds will be empty in an estimated eight years for Medicaid, and 16 years for Social Security, according to their latest trustees report. Most of the world’s advanced economies depend on increasing population to backfill broken promises to older generations.
Global birth rates have halved since the 1960s. Some countries have reached lows from which no civilization has ever recovered. While Africa is the target of the population control-minded, North Africa and the Middle East actually average fewer than three children per woman, and sub-Saharan Africa averages fewer than five. Both are likely to decline further without foreign intervention.
There are many explanations for the birth dearth: contraception, women’s workforce participation, and the cost of raising kids. Governments have tried all sorts of things, from Italy’s new land-grants for a third child to South Korea’s mandatory days off work to give couples more time for hopefully fertile sex. Unfortunately, these initiatives have had little success.
This may be partly due to a rarely-discussed psychological barrier. Waves of cultural feminism coincide with lower U.S. birth rates. Surveys find young people worry children will keep them from doing whatever they want with their time and money. Westerners’ typical message to young people is to stabilize career and finances before having kids, yet this prevents most women from having more than two children, as fertility declines sharply starting at age 35.
This means #PostcardsForMacron is the kind of celebratory, life-affirming message all women need to hear. It shows children and personal growth don’t have to compete. They can cooperate in a surprising, challenging, exhilarating lifetime of love and adventure.
Joy Pullmann is the executive editor of The Federalist and the mother of five children ages eight and younger.