Population control advocates say ‘Hooray,’ but is there reason to celebrate?
A sobering new report finds the U.S. fertility rate has hit a 40-year low. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control estimate that there were about 3.85 million births in 2017, which translates into a total fertility rate (TFR – the number of children a woman will have in her lifespan) of about 1.76 births per woman.
That’s way below the fertility rate needed merely to replace the current population, about 2.1 births per woman. It also marks a dramatic drop since 2007, when there were 4.31 million births, and the TFR was 2.08.
Anti-natalist and population control advocates are celebrating the news. One author, writing in Reason magazine, greeted the report with a “Hooray!” “Because time and money are limited, more Americans are exercising their reproductive freedom,” wrote Ronald Bailey, “making the tradeoff between having more children and pursuing the satisfactions of career, travel, and lifestyle. That’s a good thing.”
The Value of Motherhood
In the first place, however, it’s not at all clear that the reduction in the U.S. fertility rate is due to the free choice of women. Since the 1970s, there has been a significant gap between the number of children that women say they would like to have (currently about 2.7), and the number they actually do have. That gap has only increased in recent years.
If liberals are as concerned as they say they are that women have the freedom to pursue their dreams unencumbered, perhaps they should inquire why women are not achieving their self-professed ideal family sizes. I suspect that if they did so, they would find a plethora of uncomfortable answers, including the existence of various “soft” coercive external pressures, starting with a culture of unrealistically high expectations on women to balance work and family, and the ubiquitous propaganda of pro-abortion, feminist, and population control groups. These latter constantly hammer women from the time they are little girls with the message that they have a “duty” to forego having children in order to achieve a particular, narrow version of “success” – i.e. economic success. No wonder then, at the drop in the U.S. fertility rate.
The epidemic of women regretting postponing child-bearing until it is too late suggests that women are not convinced by the radical feminist propaganda. Deep down, they understand the truth expressed so eloquently in St. Mother Teresa’s paean to motherhood:
That special power of loving that belongs to a woman is seen most clearly when she becomes a mother. Motherhood is the gift of God to women. How grateful we must be to God for this wonderful gift that brings such joy to the whole world, women and men alike! Yet we can destroy this gift of motherhood, especially by the evil of abortion, but also by thinking that other things like jobs or positions are more important than loving, than giving oneself to others. No job, no plans, no possessions, no idea of “freedom” can take the place of love. So, anything that destroys God’s gift of motherhood destroys His most precious gift to women – the ability to love as a woman.
— Mother Teresa’s Letter to the Fourth World Conference on Women, Beijing, 1995
In the second place, it’s hard to wrap one’s head around the kind of shallow, short-term thinking that fails to see how elevating career, travel, and “lifestyle” over the choice to have a family leads to a host of harmful long-term consequences, both for the individual and society.
As one author observed in the New York Times, while some celebrate the low birth rate as an answer to “overpopulation,” what they don’t understand is that “very real problems could develop from lower fertility that many might not see coming, like difficulty meeting Social Security obligations, caring for older people and maintaining economic growth.”
On the whole, pro-choice liberals are far more likely to support vast, government-funded social welfare programs. The irony is that these programs depend entirely on a robust and growing economy, which in turn relies upon a robust and growing population. Without a new generation of taxpayers to pay the taxes, welfare programs are merely a giant Ponzi scheme. The liberal worldview is thus at internal war with itself: supporting economic theories that require a growing population, while supporting an anti-natalist ideology that ensures those children will never be born.
Even worse, pro-choice liberals are simultaneously attacking the single most cost-effective, reliable, and humane “social welfare program” ever devised, the one and only program that can even survive an economic and political implosion: the family. From birth to death, the data is clear: the intact, two-parent nuclear family is the best assurance of success and well-being.
The sad truth is that all those couples who have deliberately chosen career, travel and lifestyle over raising a family will one day grow old; and when they do, there will often be no one to care for them. And without the economic productivity and taxes of their non-existent children, will the state be able to afford to provide the care they need? A loving child, on the other hand, will commit himself or herself to the care of an elderly parent, without demanding any payment in return.
This is also the sad irony of the U.S. government’s long-term and massive expenditure on pro-abortion population control groups like Planned Parenthood. That misuse of our taxpayer dollars has no doubt led us to our current predicament: a country with an imploding birth rate, and thus without a future. President Trump’s recent decision to cut federal funding to organizations that perform abortions is one welcome step towards rectifying this wrong.
The Irony of “Lifestyle” Worship
There is also a deeper and even more tragic irony in the anti-natalist ideology: namely that in the pursuit of a better “lifestyle,” its advocates are in fact pursuing a way of life that leaves many of their deepest desires – above all for meaning – unfulfilled.
Work is good, but rare are the careers that satisfy the human need to build and leave behind something inherently meaningful. Travel is fun and interesting, but it does not satisfy the profound human need to set down roots. Eating out, going to theatrical performances, having many friends and acquaintances and attending interesting parties are all perfectly worthy goods, but they do not sustain the soul in times of trial and suffering. So what does this have to do with the U.S. fertility rate?
This is the paradox of human existence: that many of the things that seem most difficult turn out in the end to impart the greatest satisfaction, while many of the things that seem most pleasant turn out to leave us feeling empty and unfulfilled. Sin is easy, but for all of its allure, it leads us only to destruction. Virtue is difficult, but in the end leads to literally infinite happiness.
Parenthood is difficult, and demands enormous sacrifices of time, personal aspirations, money, and independence: but what is more nourishing for the soul, and society at large, than a strong family united by close bonds of love? Behind the bleak but impersonal statistics put out by the Centers for Disease Control there are a million tragic stories of men too weak in character to commit to marriage and children, of women pressured to put aside their authentic desires for fashionable and shallow ones, and of couples choosing loneliness in old age over the rich gift of familial love.
At times, anti-natalists profess to be motivated by altruistic motives: the protection of the planet, the pursuit of “sustainability,” the eradication of poverty, etc. Scratch the surface, however, and you will often find a crass consumerism, which worships pleasure above sacrifice and independence above community.
Speaking of a growing problem of a “blind submission to consumerism,” St. John Paul II observed, “In the first place it represents crass materialism. At the same time, it represents a radical dissatisfaction because one quickly learns that the more one possesses, the more one wants, while deeper aspirations remain unsatisfied and perhaps even stifled.”
“As the family goes, so goes the nation, and so goes the whole world in which we live,” St. John Paul II also said elsewhere. These latest statistics only give us more reason to fear for the future of our world.