In an exhibition gallery, somewhere …
Welcome to our display of demographic failures! Here you will see amazing things, from both near and far. Behind this first curtain we have … Japan! It’s a nice place but the locals don’t seem to like it much. You see, their families aren’t having many children. As their birth rate is only at two-thirds of the needed replacement rate, experts see Japan’s population dropping by a third within 50 years. Even now, parts of the Japanese countryside have been abandoned, left to return to the wild.
Moving to our second curtain we see … Europe and Russia. Birth rates in the whole region are alarmingly low. In Spain, with 1.2 children per woman, and Italy, with 1.4 children per woman, the decline is dramatic. Their populations are expected to go down by a fourth in 50 years. Researchers say that there is hope of easing their population woes through immigration. However, immigration can have unwelcome side effects.
Coming to our third curtain we have … a mirror? Yes, the United States also has a population problem. Our national birth rate is down to 1.8 children per woman. As with Europe, immigration is hiding the decline.
The developed world, including the United States, has a shortage of children.
A Problem of Too Few Children
The birth rate of American families has been declining since the 1970s. Recently it decreased below the population replacement rate of 2.1 children per woman (slightly more than 2.0 to account for childhood deaths). A four decade decline is a trend, not an accident. Perhaps these causes have combined to make it so.
- Economic pressures on families push both parents into the work force. A two income household once was a novelty, gaining an additional income for a bearable cost in daytime child care. But the marketplace has since adjusted to these extra workers. Now it is hard to make ends meet without both incomes. But child care costs discourage having additional children.
- Young adults are less likely to marry until they finish their college years and establish themselves in their jobs. Having college debts to pay off, couples put off starting a family. Compared to people who can get a decent job right out of high school, married college graduates lose up to ten years of fertility. These older parents are less likely to have a large family.
- Propaganda by zero population growth advocates has made large families unfashionable. The disasters that these people were afraid of never came to pass, but their mindset is still with us.
- Perhaps young adults don’t value marriage and don’t need, or want, children. If they can have casual sex, then why bother with the cost, restrictions, and relationships of marriage? Or perhaps these people don’t believe that there is a future worth living for. Ours wouldn’t be the first age where someone said “this isn’t a good time to have children.”
For these reasons and others, the United States, like many countries, has a problem with declining birthrate. As this continues it has varied and surprising effects.
- The population isn’t just shrinking, it is aging. This means more old people receiving Social Security benefits, Medicare, and publicly financed pensions, but supported by a shrinking pool of young adults. There is no guarantee that the decreasing numbers of youth will continue to agree to fund the increasing burden of supporting the elderly.
- A declining, aging workforce won’t be able to do the things it can do now. Tasks that require youthful vigor, or intense physical exertion, will become more expensive due to lack of workers.
- A declining population won’t affect everywhere equally, or at the same moment. Some cities or farm regions will suddenly become unsustainable. It might be that there aren’t enough people left to justify maintaining streets or utilities. Such areas quickly become vacant.
- A nation with a shrinking population isn’t likely to be vigorous. Its mindset is on self-preservation, minimizing risk, and not fixing wrongs.
Can Immigration Fix Things?
Some advocate immigration as a fix for a nation’s declining population. An influx of new blood could simultaneously increase population and raise the birthrate. Problem solved, right?
This solution might create its own problems. The hoped-for immigrants would likely be coming from another culture. How will they assimilate into the culture of their new home?
- If they assimilate somewhat, but keep a strong birthrate, then soon their strong relative numbers will help fix the birthrate issue. Their traditions meld with the native culture, as has occurred many times in the past.
- If they assimilate to become just like the natives then they, too, would be afflicted with our child-deficient mindset. We’ll still have that declining national birthrate.
- If they don’t assimilate then they effectively take over, seeing themselves as colonists. After all, the future belongs to those who show up for it.
There’s no guarantee that immigration will fix the ills of a country with a declining birthrate.
Back to the Bible
The United States has a declining birthrate. What does the Bible say about birthrates?
First, we’re told to “be fruitful and multiply (Genesis 1:28).” We’ve already done a fair job at multiplying. This commandment can also be construed to read “don’t go and die off.”
Second, we’re to be stewards of the Earth (Genesis 1:28, 2:15). That can easily be restated as keeping the Earth in good shape for living in, both for us and our successors. The two commandments are complementary.
How are we doing with this stewardship? Have we hit peak population? Are we living on the last resources of the planet?
We’re definitely in good shape.
- There is plenty of food to eat. America has so much corn that we burn it in our cars (ethanol). At need we could take this food to feed the hungry. Across the world there is enough to eat except when people live in wastelands (deserts, perhaps like the Sudan), where men make war, and where men deliberately mismanage things (like Zimbabwe or Venezuela).
- There is plenty of oil and gas for heat, electricity, and transportation. New technologies have revealed centuries of reserves of these resources.
- There is plenty of land to live on. When rich, productive farmland is turned into suburban subdivisions it illustrates that we have ridiculous amounts of room to grow into.
There are enough resources for the population we have and for the future.
Third, God wants us to think of the future, the long haul. He’s promised to meet our needs (Matthew 6:25-33). We’re told that when the Master returns he expects us to be doing the tasks he gave us (Matthew 24:45-47).
Fourth, children are a blessing (Psalm 127:3-5). Raising them provides a purpose for life and direction for organizing a society. They’re also part of God’s supplying for our needs in old age (Exodus 20:12, Mark 7:9-13, 1 Timothy 5:8).
Fifth, children are an expression of hope for the future. Creating a family is commitment to care for them and to shape the world for their benefit. You prepare and teach them to go and do the same with their own children. As a society you plan on staying around for a long time (Jeremiah 29:6). You believe in God to provide for you and yours.
From this we conclude that God doesn’t want our nation to go “out of business” for lack of children. Having children is an act of faith in God’s provision, and his reward for our being faithful to Him.
Developed industrial nations seem to be historically nearsighted. Their peoples are too busy, perhaps too selfish to bother replacing themselves. People without children have a limited stake in the future.
Christians shouldn’t have that mindset. A godly family is a form of evangelism. Having more children in an ungodly society is a means of conquering it (Exodus 1:7-10,20). Your children are a stake in Americas’ future, your own future, and a comfort for your old age. How large a legacy do you wish to create?
Article previously published in 2016 at Illinois Family Institute
See second endnote ↑