In 2012, National Night was launched in Singapore, on the eve of the nation’s independence day. While the name sounds benign, the impetus is anything but: This evening was dedicated to baby-making. Concocted by the Perfetti Van Melle, the makers of Mentos — seriously — the initiative even came with a soundtrack: a ridiculous English-language hip-hop song featuring lyrics like:
Man: You see this August 9th; it’s time to do our civic duty, and I’m not talking about speeches, fireworks, or parades.
Woman: But I like those things.
Man: I’m talking about the stuff after that stuff. I’m talking about making a baby, baby.
Leaving aside the misogynistic tone of the song (submissive woman, dominant male), this sort of propaganda is popping up in a number of countries. As CNN’s Fareed Zakaria recently reported, a Danish travel agency recently kicked off a similar campaign. Turns out that Danes have 46 percent more sex while on vacation; 10 percent of all Danish children are conceived while on holiday. The government would like to take advantage of that.
Selling sex is nothing new. Selling sex specifically for the purpose of procreation is also not new — religions have depended on such pro-tribal techniques for millennia. The catchphrase, "Do It For Denmark," is more revealing: The Danish government is concerned about population rates, which, like many other countries around the world, are dropping.
According to Zakaria, the average woman needs to birth 2.1 babies to maintain the current population of a developed nation. At the moment, every single European nation is below that level. That means by 2050, Greece will be down 10.9 percent, Germany 14.7 percent, Portugal a whopping 18.6 percent.
Japan is in even more dire shape. Thirty-five years from now the nation’s population is expected to be reduced by one-fifth. Factor in senior citizens requiring more federal assistance and health care with a lightened work force and the future is not rosy. That is one reason the Japanese government is funding matchmaking events.
Yet the ways these countries are going about inspiring procreation are odd. In Russia, for example, citizens in one region are being incentivized to "Bear a Patriot" with free refrigerators and cars. The South Korean government is directly asking religious institutions to lower the costs of weddings. In 2012, a single wedding cost $200,000, nearly four times the national pay average.
As Zakaria points out, such blatant measures are not inspiring hordes of young citizens to get it on. France’s birthrate has held steady, which many attribute to programs like state-paid nannies, extended leaves of absence from work, and free preschool. Japan, to its credit, is also offering better benefits for mothers.
While the birth rate in the US reached a record low in 2013, our nation is poised to grow by 27 percent by 2050. Ironically, this is mostly due to our immigration policies, one of the most heated topics in current GOP politics. While government officials and presidential hopefuls are saying "leave," the best thing for our workforce and economic growth is for immigrants to stay: they tend to have more children than native-born citizens, a major factor in our expected growth.
Still, contradictory messaging from political and religious establishments makes procreation confusing. The church is first to invoke the sanctity of marriage and sacredness of childbirth, which is why groups like Mormons and Evangelical Protestants birth the most children: They see it as a duty to their god. While Evangelicals are the winners when it comes to conversions, America has slowly been transforming into a more secular nation, which statistically means less children.
While the debate hinges on whether or not immigration takes away jobs from American-born citizens, the bigger picture shows that we will be reliant on a birthing boom in the decades to come. From a cultural perspective, this is more relevant than who is getting those jobs. Problem is, America is a nation born and raised on individualism, something foreign in countries like Japan. Point being, in America you can’t take away women’s health care access and severely restrict immigration and expect the population to increase.
Which leads to the biggest of these big pictures: climate change. We already inhabit an overpopulated planet. Instead of addressing environmental concerns, nations like Russia, Denmark, and Japan are dreaming up ways of raising their own population (tribal) while ignoring the continued footprint 10-plus billion people will leave behind (global).
Few people are going to be inspired to "bear a patriot." The religion angle has proven more successful, although that too has a narrow focus. This whole story is reminiscent of Barack Obama’s recent visit to the Arctic: His selfie videos showing the effects of climate change in real time while his administration just allowed offshore drilling is a contradiction he has yet to seriously address. The reality is the environment doesn't really care about the economic needs of the working class, or those who pay the working class.
Nations are going to have to learn to provide more with less: This is not a tribal argument, but an environmental and economic reality. Truth is, many of us in developed nations are going to have to live with less. It’s a difficult reality to face in a culture insistent that more is always the way forward, but then again capitalism and its theory of constant growth is just that: a theory. And like many theories, it exists only until it can exist no more.
Image: Sam Yeh / Getty