The recent posting of the article Do Men Have a Duty to Have More than 2.1 Children on this site was meant to convey why a declining birthrate in the industrialized world is a serious problem.  The purpose of this article is to provide a more detailed look at the specific implications that a lower birthrate will mean for our nation’s future, even if they are currently still in their inchoate stage.  The virtue of prudence dictates that as Christian men we have a duty to pay attention to the critical issues of the present, so that we can make judicious decisions about and plan for the future.

One such issue is the realization that we have reached a tipping point in our culture.  The events of September 11th, 2001, laid bare the vulnerabilities of both our cultural and political institutions, that we had until that time the luxury of overlooking.  The strain on those same institutions has only increased and whether we realize it or not, we are going to see them break down even further into a kind of generational Ekpyrosis.  We are in fact transitioning into the society that will come afterwards right now and the makeup of that society will depend on the decisions that both individuals and public officials make today.  Hence, discussing the future size of one’s family is a very serious topic, and this article is meant to give a more detailed look at the problems we now face, what is causing them, what they will do to us, and to offer some recommendations for the future.

One book that deals with this issue in great detail is Jonathan V. Last’s What to Expect When No One is Expecting, where he lays out the unintended but inevitable consequences of having too few children.  What follows is a cursory summary, so if you want to view the statistical data yourself, please read the book.

The Problem

America’s total fertility rate (which is the average number of babies born per woman, as oppose to the birth rate which measures the total number of births per 1,000 people) has actually been shrinking since its founding, even as the overall population has ballooned.  This is due to what is called Demographic Momentum which means that previous generations with larger families, will produce larger numbers of offspring.  Thus the population can still grow even if the total fertility rate goes down.  Not until the last surviving member of a previous generation dies off does the population begin to shrink.

This has not happened very often in the United States because we started out with such a high fertility rate to begin with- 7.01 in 1800 (Last, 14).  Add in periodic waves of immigration from cultures that had their own high fertility rates and the population has continued to grow, while the total fertility rate has gradually gone down.  In fact the Baby Boom was something of an anomaly in our country’s history, as was the immigration from countries south of the border that began in the 1980’s, which also brought with them their own high fertility rates.

However, beginning in the 1960’s, the kind of environmentalism best exemplified by the thoroughly discredited book, The Population Bomb by Paul Erlich, made everyone think that we would run out of food and resources if we didn’t curb the planet’s population.  The world bought this nonsense and has been obsessed with overpopulation ever since.  So much so, that a lot of nations around the world have fallen below the 2.1 fertility rate needed to sustain a healthy population.  Some have even dropped to or below 1.4, which Last says is the lowest-low rate: the point at which no known population in history has ever recovered from.  The United States currently stands at 1.91.

Governments around the world, including our own, are realizing that they are now in a bind.  They do not have enough people, who in turn can produce enough children to pay for the massively bloated entitlement programs designed to care for the elderly and the indigent.  To solve this problem, nations have tried all manner of gimmicks to get their citizens to have more kids: cash payments or prizes, tax breaks, bachelor taxes, paid family leave, and offering universal and free daycare.  None of them has worked in any meaningful manner.  As Last points out, they have now realized (too late perhaps) that “Demographic Momentum is a two-way street.  Just as the population can still grow even after fertility rates have fallen below replacement level, that same momentum can also cause populations to contract even if fertility rates increase.” (Last, 97)

The Root Causes

Below is a list of what Last sees as the factors that have contributed to Americans having fewer children.  However, Last is careful to point out that, as the old saying goes “correlation is not causation”, nor is it destiny.  So these factors only affect the number of children Americans have had, in a way that is stronger than a correlation but weaker than direct causation.  Also, some of the factors may upset some readers, because they might view them as something positive.  Last is not making any judgements on them one way or the other; he is simply stating the obvious fact that every action societies take has both good and bad consequences- even if they don’t see them at first.

  1. From birth through college, the overall cost of raising a child has gone up.
  2.  FICA and income taxes have gone up dramatically since the 1960’s.
  3. Increased use of birth control and abortion.
  4.  Delaying marriage until later in life.
  5. Crippling student loan debts that delay starting a family.
  6. Increased divorce rates.
  7. An increase of cohabitation, same-sex unions, or any other non-traditional familial arrangements.
  8. Increase in regulations or ordinances that make having larger families difficult.
  9. Women entering fields that are not conducive to taking time off for kids.
  10. What has been termed the Dirt Gap– moving to communities that share your same outlook on life.  Thus, those who live in communities with little or no children will grow up to have little or no children.  Likewise, those who live in child-abundant communities, grow up to have larger families.

Implications for the Future

Having laid out the causes, Last then explains what having too few children will mean for our nation’s future well-being.

  1. A severe imbalance between the young and the old that will mean only 2.1 workers supporting one retiree by 2020 (as opposed to 159 in 1940).
  2. A smaller population producing fewer babies, which in turn will cause the population to shrink even faster, once the last of the Baby Boomers die off.
  3. Less tax revenue to fund entitlement programs.
  4. A transfer of the bulk of those diminished tax revenues into elder care and a much smaller military, which means less capital available for investment and innovation.
  5. Cities and towns will decrease in vitality and some smaller communities may disappear altogether.
  6. Labor shortages.  Thus whatever your view is on immigration (illegal or otherwise), the fact is that it is needed now to prop up our country’s low fertility rate and in the future to augment a smaller pool of available workers.  However, Last does point out that within two generations, immigrants with higher fertility rates tend to even out with the rest of the native-born population.  This last point is actually the only one to have a silver lining to it and that is that less workers means wages will go up on their own.

Where to Go from Here

While Last seems to be painting a rather bleak vision of the future, he is an optimist.  So even though some rough times are ahead, so are a lot of opportunities to reshape the ineffectual parts of our society that have bedraggled us for so long.  Thus he says, “The government cannot get people to have children they do not want.  However, it can help people have the children they do want.” (Last,162)  What follows are Last’s propositions for helping those who want larger families to do so.

Rethinking Social Security

Even though Social Security might have been started with the best of intentions, it has actually been a deterrent to having children since it decreases a young worker’s paycheck when they need it most- when starting a family.  So a good policy change would be to allow parents to be exempt from a certain percentage of FICA taxes in proportion to the number of kids they have.

Rethinking College

According to Last, a woman who has her first child by the age of 24, is more likely to have three or more in her lifetime.  Right now those are the years women spend in college or starting out in the workforce.  Thus if we want couples to have more kids, then college which is a huge deterrent to starting a family, needs to become more family friendly.  Last advocates allowing the Department of Education to set federal standards in certain subjects that anyone can pass through an examination which will be accepted by universities and employers.  Having the ability for some to bypass college would force colleges to offer more competitive pricing for those who do need to go there for professional education.  It would also allow young people to work and study at their own pace, as well as “giving employers something they do not have now: assurance that a student has achieved a certain level of knowledge and skill.” (Last, 165)

Rethinking Employment

Roll back the effects of the 1971 Griggs vs. Duke Power SCOTUS ruling, which banned companies from using IQ or aptitude tests to screen candidates (which they got around anyways by having universities to do it for them).  This would allow young people to find well-paying entry-level or OJT jobs that they have skills in or a knack for, without sacrificing their desire to start a family until after a lengthy and expensive stint in higher education- which, as mentioned above, could be obtained in other ways or over a longer period of time.

Rethinking Location

Young couple’s should be using the Dirt Gap to their advantage by living in like-minded but cheaper locations outside large urban areas.  This will require that we upgrade our nation’s infrastructure by building wider roads for commuting and better telecommunications networks for working either from home or local offices.

Rethinking Religion

Finally, but most importantly for the Maccabee-minded among us, is for more people to become religiously devout.  According to Last, there is in fact a direct correlation between having a large family and regular worship service attendance.  Among the general population only 6% of women think 3 or more kids is the right size family, but among those who regularly attend worship services, the number is 41%!

And their fertility rates prove it: for those who identify themselves as non-religious– 1.8, some-what religious– 2.1, but very religious– 2.3 (which remember is above replacement rate).  Also, when young people from non-religious and thus smaller families have difficulties finding a spouse (especially wives, since sex-selection abortion is still quite common in certain cultures), the fecundity of religious families can provide those spouses on condition of conversion, which in turn will further increase their numbers.

Last, who has throughout his book addressed this issue based strictly on statistical data, points out that an increase in religious practice should not be interpreted or portrayed as a desire for a theocracy, however it does mean that the government should be more “welcoming of, not hostile to, believers- if for no other reason that they produce the most future tax payers.” (Last, 170)

Obviously this is just one man’s perspective and recommendations.  However, it is a good place for Christian men to start thinking about these issues, because within the next 10-15 years, serious decisions will have to be made about the size and shape of our government and how it will conduct its foreign and domestic policies.  Those who can muster the most voters will determine the outcome of those decisions.  So while we should be doing all we can to get ourselves and the fence-sitters to the polls at election time, we have to look at this problem with the “big picture” in mind.  If we want to create a more Godly and just society then you must, either through natural means or adoption, increase the size of your family and raise them according to sound Christian principles.  Because in the end, the votes of the 3 or more children born early in the lives of actively religious families will override the votes of the 1 or 2 designer children had late in life of non-religious ones.

Update (03/30/16): Because of the anonymous imagery the internet is filled with, it can be a lonely and unforgiving place.  Every image and every photo is a “someone” created in the image of God, but if you ever wondered how Providence works in real life this will be one of them.  It turns out that the family in the stock photo I used does have a name- they are the nine children of the Allen and Danae Hebert, who run, surprise, surprise, a ministry to help families live out lives of holiness (http://www.yourholyfamily.com/).  You cannot make this stuff up!  God bless their family and work.