The benefits of bringing up baby on an old-age pension

`Mothers make rotten employees, always thinking about something other than work'
IT WAS one of the great unfairnesses of life, of the human condition, that men stayed fertile all their grown lives but women had to cram their fertility into 25 years or so.

But now male scientists have bestowed upon women the gift of fertility- equality. Deep-freeze your ovarian tissue when young and in peak condition: grow your eggs as late as you like. All of a sudden the biological clock is ticking so softly you can hardly hear it. What you do hear are cries of outrage and fear as everything changes yet again: as we lurch into the sci-fi future of genetic technology, and the scales tilt yet further female-wards. Against God, against Nature! What woman now needs the approval of man, needs to be young and fanciable, before she can reproduce?

And just as well, some might say. A new solution has arisen to meet a new problem. Men and women both now live in a ruthless Ergonarchy (by which I mean rule by accountancy and the work ethic), which sends us all out to work and gives women little time or energy to find the right partner when young, that agreeable search once being the stuff of their idle stay- at-home days. They will need the extra decades.

It may well be the pattern of our working lives in the future, that women have their careers first and then raise their children in their retirement, using their pension plans to fund themselves. It would certainly suit the state if they did, saving the benefits that now have to be paid out to the generously reproducing and improvident young. Employers would appreciate it, too. Mothers make rotten employees, always thinking about something other than work, and dashing off home. Fathers begin to do it too.

What about the children, cry the horrified protesters, groping for argument, and finding only emotion. Who wants to be met at the school gate by a wrinkled hag? Who wants to be orphaned early? But if the choice is between embarrassment and not being born in the first place, being orphaned early or not being born at all, I reckon most of us would choose life. Better to be born to a flawed parent than not born at all. Who ever had faultless parents anyway; who ever was not embarrassed at the school gate? The wrong hat or the wrong car will do it, never mind the wrong age.

You can be too young as well, of course. Try to explain on the Gloria Hunniford Show, as I did last week, that 12-year-olds having babies is not a matter of "failing morals" or "not enough sex education", but of the early maturation of girls in response to better nutrition and housing, and everyone's baffled. Surely, they say, the answer is education, impressing upon the children that a) it's wrong to have sex, and b) that sex leads to babies. Then it won't happen.

But the argument from expediency doesn't work. If a girl's physically able to have a baby, she'll have the urges which go with the state. Talk of "mature, lasting relationships" or "responsibility" or "what about your exams?" all you like - she won't listen. She can't listen. Previous generations solved the problem by separating the boys from the girls, locking up their daughters, threatening hellfire, casting out into the snow without a penny if things went wrong, chaperoning night and day - we find it difficult to be so drastic, so we tut and huff and rely on "sex education in schools".

We do pretty well with it, considering. The young are contrary and court danger. They're not sensible like you or me. They don't heed health warnings. They think they'll live for ever, in perfect health. They think only bad girls get pregnant. Warn them against cigarette smoking by showing them the blackened lungs of those who died of lung cancer, and they'll compete to see who can have the blackest lungs. Show them a heroin addict crouching in a corner, and heroin chic is born.

Sex is a riot, sex education seldom is, that's the problem. We have the highest teenage pregnancy rate in Europe. Why? Are there answers to be found in sensible Holland, where the rate is the lowest? Perhaps the Dutch just have the highest abortion rate? Certainly they have the most sex education in schools, starting really young. But they do also have the lowest age of consent in Europe - in practice 12 - and it may well be that if you stop forbidding people to do a thing, they do less of it - like watching pornographic films, taking drugs, and having unprotected sex.

Uncoerced, we use our own judgement and come up trumps, even at the age of 12, and refrain. As one rather hopes women will do at the other end of an ever-lengthening scale, at 65.