“Tall oaks from little acorns grow.” Jean de la Fontaine
The other day, a girlfriend in Paris told me that she’s expecting her third child. This surprises me. We knew each other at film school in Los Angeles and she was not the type of woman you’d imagine with a child, let alone three (she was so single-mindedly ambitious and talented).
Then, oddly enough, another girlfriend here in Chamonix told me over coffee the other day that she had “finally” convinced her husband to have a third child.
I mentioned these bits of news to my husband at breakfast and to my surprise, he suggested we try for three, also!
I reminded him that I’m only a couple of months into the present pregnancy, so not a good time to talk about more pregnancies.
Also, technically, I’ve had three pregnancies in two years – perhaps this is my allotment? Besides, I said, I never intended to have children at all, so one will be great. At his look of dismay, I joked that he could try for two more with his next wife.
I started to think about the people I know with kids stateside and those I know in France. I’m one of three children – I have a brother and a sister. Aside from my siblings, who each have two children, everyone I know with kids there has just one child.
The same is true of my friends in England. Then I got to thinking about the people that I know in Chamonix with kids, which is about a dozen. In fact, I only know a few people here without kids. And, everyone I know here has two or three (after I miscarried the second time, I told my husband that I couldn’t live in Chamonix childless because it’d be too depressing for me). After discussing it with several of these friends with ‘only’ two children here, I discovered that a few of them are intending to have another pregnancy; a couple of them are unable, lamentably, to have a third child; and a couple of them are happy with two.
So I looked into statistics to see if my ring of acquaintances is distorting my perception that folks in France have more children than folks in the States. Much to my surprise, it isn’t. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, the average number of children to a U.S. family is .94. This makes sense. In addition to the fact that almost everyone I know there has one child, the rest of those I know have none.
According to Eurostat, part of the European Commission, France is only second behind Ireland. All jokes about the Catholics and Jonathan Swift’s A Modest Proposal aside, this came as a surprise to me. France is the only other country, besides Ireland, in the European Union to report a fertility rate “in excess” of 2.0 per woman. The lowest fertility rates are in Eastern European countries, such as Latvia and Hungary, with an average of 1.3 per woman.
The reports that I perused said that in the 1970s through the 1990s, birth rates – at 3.8 per family post WWII – declined. According to these statisticians, this is attributed to an increased use of birth control, women having careers, higher education in general, and women having children at a later age.
Currently, in the U.S. one out of every 12 women who are having their first child are 35 years old plus! In Europe, the age is 29.8. But, if increased birth control, women having careers, higher education in general, and women starting families later are the reason for lower fertility rates, in general, then why are France’s numbers rebounding?
Is it the fact of stellar healthcare? But other E.U. countries have great health systems. Is it a reflection of family values? But what about Italy with its notion of the family being of primary importance? Is it a simple trend, here? A ‘Keeping up with the Jones’ sort-of-thing? Maybe there are tax breaks for three children? Perhaps my pregnancy, and having a child, will reveal all of this?