December 10, 2019

The End of Babies

“In the fall of 2015, a rash of posters appeared around Copenhagen. One, in pink letters laid over an image of chicken eggs, asked, “Have you counted your eggs today?” A second — a blue-tinted close-up of human sperm — inquired, “Do they swim too slow?”

The posters, part of a campaign funded by the city to remind young Danes of the quiet ticking of their biological clocks, were not universally appreciated. They drew criticism for equating women with breeding farm animals. The timing, too, was clumsy: For some, encouraging Danes to make more babies while television news programs showed Syrian refugees trudging through Europe carried an inadvertent whiff of ugly nativism.

Dr. Soren Ziebe, former chairman of the Danish Fertility Society and one of the brains behind the campaign, believes the criticism was worth weathering. As the head of Denmark’s largest public fertility clinic, Dr. Ziebe thinks these kinds of messages, fraught as they are, are sorely needed. Denmark’s fertility rate has been below replacement level — that is, the level needed to maintain a stable population — for decades. And as Dr. Ziebe points out, the decline is not solely the result of more people deliberately choosing childlessness: Many of his patients are older couples and single women who want a family, but may have waited until too late.”

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