Magazine article The Spectator

The Joy of Big Families

Magazine article The Spectator

The Joy of Big Families

Article excerpt

Why I'm glad to have five children, with a sixth on the way

Let's face it. Whatever Pope Francis actually means when his head is in the clouds during those in-flight press conferences of his, we Europeans need to breed like rabbits if we want to preserve Europe. That is not why I have bred like a rabbit, but it is the brutal truth.

I have five children aged 11 down to three -- because until the age of 40 I thought I was infertile and did not think I could breed at all, let alone like a rabbit; and because though I am a devout agnostic, I am married to Carla, a devout Catholic, who is much younger than me and refuses to use contraception.

Indeed, I still do fear that I am infertile and that all these conceptions, if not immaculate, are at least miraculous. I am 56, after all. And guess what? Carla is pregnant again, with our sixth child. This terrifies me for all the usual reasons -- partly financial but mainly existential. How dare I condemn an innocent child to live in this world which is so appalling and then consign them forever, after death, to the abyss known as nothing?

The only other people with so many children in my neck of the woods here on Dante's Beach, near Ravenna, are the gypsies (or whatever we are allowed to call them these days). Not even the Muslims (can we call them that any more?), as far as I can tell, have five, let alone six. Italy -- where it is still common to meet old men called '-Decimo' (Tenth) -- has for decades now had the lowest birthrate in the world, more or less, at just over one child per woman.

But the situation is little better elsewhere in Europe. No European country's birthrate is much above two children per woman. Indeed, the birthrate is so low and the age of death so high that there is absolutely no way Europe -- especially Italy -- can afford to pay for the health care and the pensions of its old without massive immigration, and those costs are just the tip of the iceberg.

So while overpopulation might well be an issue in somewhere like Mumbai, and everyone talks about that ad nauseam, in Europe the issue is the opposite and yet no one talks about it. Let's not bugger about the bush here: European society nowadays is geared -- culturally, socially and economically -- only to promote its suicide. The extended family which used to provide so much back-up is dead, and the state has not replaced it in any useful way except perhaps in France, where the bill gets ever more unsustainable.

I have just read in the newspaperof an unemployed British woman who has 11 children and a 12th on the way and gets £38,000 a year in benefit. Not bad -- not bad at all -- all things considered. But in Italy, where I am self-employed, I am not entitled to a single euro of state help, or so they tell me, though I do get the odd pathetic tax break. I am sorely tempted to return to Britain and never work again. The one thing that puts me off is that a packet of 20 cigarettes now costs £8.50 in Britain, compared with £3.90 in Italy, where wine costs less than water.

Here's the funny thing. During his latest in-flight utterance, en route from Manila to Rome, what Pope Francis actually expressed was a concern at the lack of children in Europe, especially in Italy. He said:'I think the number of three children per family that you mentioned -- it makes me suffer -- I think it is the number experts say is important to keep the population going. …

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