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  • The Why Wait Agenda

A secular take on fertility: getting to the heart of the Why Wait Agenda in a TEDx Talk

Updated: Oct 31, 2022

Putting the birth rate at the centre of public discourse from a secular standpoint. This is what journalist and social entrepreneur Eleonora Voltolina did in her TEDx talk “The Fertility Gap: Why don’t we have the kids we’d like to have?” in June 2022.

«Is it possible to be happy without having children?» Voltolina asks on stage. And the answer is yes, as well as no. The answers «are both equally valid: Yes, if the choice not to have children is our own. No, if the choice is not».

Because the elephant in the room, the great truth we must face, is that there are many individuals who would like to have children – one, two, perhaps even more than two – but don’t or have less than they might want.

«Statistical research shows that on average, Italians want two children» Voltolina recalls, «but how many do they actually have?. Because children are fractional in statistics, the answer to this question in Italy is: one point two five kids. It’s dubbed ‘demographic winter’. ‘A falling birthrate’».

Voltolina further emphasises that the problem is not limited to Italy, since it affects Switzerland, all European countries other than France, and just about all Western nations. It is the huge unacknowledged issue of the “Fertility Gap”, the difference between the number of children desired and the number of children women actually have.

Eleonora Voltolina’s TEDx talk, in Italian with English subtitles, focuses on the causes of this gap, focusing solely on those children who are desired but not born due to external factors such as economic, professional, or cultural issues. Emphasizing how motherhood and fatherhood are choices that should not be pushed on individuals who simply do not want children – those who respond with “zero” when asked “how many children would you like?”.

People who choose not to have children should not be blamed for the current demographic crisis: «Should people be encouraged to have more children?” Should we put pressure on them? Blame those who do not have any? Let’s not mess around here» Voltolina continues, repeating several times during her speech one of the most famous feminist slogans about being able to determine what to do with one’s body: «’My body, my choice’. People have a sacred right not to have children if they do not want to. We must let them be. There will be no ‘children for the homeland,’ thank you very much».

Attempting to coerce people into having children they do not fully want is not only unethical, but also unnecessary on a practical level. The most obvious and painless answer to this demographic winter, to the low birth rate that is producing the “empty cots” panic and undermining the balance of the welfare state, is simply to «let those who want to have children... have children!».

During her sixteen minutes on stage, Voltolina poured over data on the external pressures that young people - particularly young women - face from the outside world when deciding whether or not to have children, pointing out that in Italy «the average age of women having their first child

has risen over the last twenty-five years by almost three and a half years», from 28 in 1995 to 31.4 in 2020 - ‘the highest age of all European countries’ - and that «the average age of men having their first child has also risen a lot in recent decades».

Yet putting it off harbours real pitfalls: «The truth is that starting to try for children later in life can - not always, but it can - lead to many problems», Voltolina says bluntly: «There is a greater likelihood of having to resort to assisted fertilisation techniques, which, however, only have a positive result rate of around 30%; and this rate drops as soon as a woman turns forty». There is a greater risk of miscarriage or having children with health issues». Without sugarcoating the truth that «the intimate life of couples is sometimes severely tested by the sexual intercourse ‘on command’ that is required for conceiving».

As a result, unless the postponement is a full, deliberate, autonomous choice, there is a considerable risk that the stalled, deferred, delayed motherhood may never happen, bringing anguish and regret for the would-be parents.

Voltolina’s presentation plants the seeds for The Why Wait Agenda: «Now is the time to question ourselves, ‘Why wait?’ It is past time for a massive social battle to assert our freedom to have children whenever we desire. A cultural revolution to reaffirm that children are created by two people, at least in the majority of cases, and that we thus require genuinely shared parenting».

A campaign that is also political in nature «even if it does not appear so»: Voltolina, forcefully opposing the most common positions among those who normally deal with the subject of the birth rate, establishes a firm link between being able to have children and its «inverse, namely being able to not have children». According to the journalist, reproductive and sexual rights – family planning, access to contraception, and the right to abortion – can be integrated and expanded to include a new

interpretation that allows the younger generation, which is often literally on the verge of deciding to start a family, to choose how many children they want without having to wait any longer. Indeed, “Why Wait?”.

The campaign began on that stage, at the Teatro Tirinnanzi, during TEDxLegnano 2022: it now continues here, on this site, through the podcast, and on the shoulders of all those who want to give space and attention to the topic of the fertility gap.


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