Financial insecurity is one of the best, most sensible reasons not to have a baby. It’s also one of the saddest and creepiest.
The US birthrate is at its lowest for 35 years, according to the National Center for Health Statistics. The sharpest fall was teenagers, but rates dropped in almost every age and race group. There are indications that people are delaying having children until they’re older or don’t feel they should enlarge their families. There are similar drops elsewhere, including the UK in 2018, with the Office for National Statistics reporting a fall of 3.2% from 2017, down nearly 10% from 2012. In particular, millennial Britons appeared to be indefinitely deferring children because of practical considerations such as insecure work, low wages and unaffordable housing. Like I say, sensible, but sickening.
Of course, some people don’t want children for myriad valid reasons, but let’s focus on those who do. There was a feeling at the start of lockdown that there might be a baby boom. So much for that. When people don’t feel safe, the last thing they want to do is make babies. More generally, the nexus of cash and kids is nothing new. It’s always been prudent to wait until you can afford children; accidental pregnancy disrupts lives. So this isn’t about donning a red Handmaid’s cloak and going all Gilead about wanting women to reproduce at all costs. It’s the opposite: it’s about how, increasingly, one factor (economics) is limiting personal freedoms, stopping people making choices they want to make.
When I had my first child, I was relatively young and definitely skint. Yet I don’t recall being worried sick about money – put bluntly, I don’t remember feeling too scared to have a baby. Either I was incredibly thick (always an option) or, as seems likely, levels of fear and hopelessness have increased. Even if you factor in the grotesque message that there were the “right” and “wrong” sort of babies (no prizes for guessing which sort belonged to broke single parents), it is worse these days.
By deferring children, women risk later infertility. In this way, intense economic pressure on the young could scupper their chances of motherhood for ever. Maybe that’s why part of me feels that, if people want babies, they should go ahead and damn the economic consequences. Don’t let something as cold as money stop you. At the same time, I realise that, realistically, for many people, the situation is impossible and issuing vaguely gung-ho advice is unhelpful, bordering on offensive.
What a mess – one that predates coronavirus and is yet another pressure on an already beleaguered age group who have every right to feel cursed. In a fully functioning society, younger people wouldn’t be afraid to have babies.
Trump’s games with masks betray the victims
Over to America, where the Trump mask drama (“On or off, Mr President?”) continues. Trump has been widely criticised for not wearing a mask, such as during a recent visit to the Ford car plant in Michigan. The state’s attorney general pointed out that it was law to wear a mask in that setting, calling Trump a “petulant child”.
At the time, I thought Trump was in campaigning mode, trying to put across a “strongman of Covid-19” image. Vladimir Putin also tried to be ultra-masculinist at the start of the pandemic, and of course there’s our own hand-shaking Boris Johnson (you know, before he ended up in hospital). I could even imagine Trump’s macho stance being worked into his campaign. It still looks likely that Trump fears being “unmanned” by a mask. However, there may be an additional explanation.
A photo has surfaced of Trump wearing a mask earlier in the day of the Ford plant visit. There’s also his clarification: “I had [a mask] on before. I wore one in the back area. I didn’t want to give the press the pleasure of seeing it.”
Let’s get this straight: the world is getting to grips with a pandemic, people are dying, and the US president’s prime concern is not to give the press “the pleasure” of seeing him in a mask? Psst, Donald, you’re the president now, not still hosting The Apprentice. This is reality, not reality television. It’s about lives, not ratings. Which is a long way of saying – dude, quit your embarrassing bitch-fight with the media, and put on the damn mask.
This isn’t about Trump being thin-skinned and immature (that ship sailed); it’s about how thin-skinned and immature he clearly doesn’t mind being seen to be. Good luck to America during the coronavirus crisis. It needs it.
A great beauty and a big pain. Happy 50th, Naomi
Model Naomi Campbell has turned 50. Let’s celebrate her being a giant pain in the backside. I mean it. Campbell is one of the great beauties of her era – but I also like her attitude. Well, generally. There was that vile business when she threw her phone at her maid. Another incident involving air rage. (No excuses). Campbell also bullied fellow model Tyra Banks (out of insecurity because there wasn’t “room” for two big black models, but it’s still awful).
However, some of us felt that Campbell was unfairly publicly shamed when she was excluded from the big Nelson Mandela 90th birthday tribute concert in 2008. Mandela called Campbell his “honorary daughter”, she’d visited South Africa to support him numerous times, and she was an inspiration to black girls the world over. Meanwhile, Queen were playing at the concert. That’s Queen, who infamously (and lucratively) played Sun City in South Africa during the apartheid era when Mandela was jailed.
All that aside, throughout her career Campbell has been deliciously unapologetic about knowing her worth, and tirelessly outspoken about the racism infesting the fashion, advertising and magazine industries. Campbell isn’t perfect (she’s just spent a lot of time looking perfect), but few could deny that she’s stood up to be counted. Happy birthday, Naomi.
•Barbara Ellen is an Observer columnist