The Cure for “Jaw Dropping” Population Decline
For the past few decades, the world elite have been so obsessed with finding ways to stop world population growth that they seem never to have seriously considered what would happen if they succeeded. Well, if a new report is to be trusted, we’re all about to find out – a lot sooner than many previous predictions led us to believe.
According to a new study published in The Lancet, the world is about to experience what one of the study’s authors described as a “jaw-dropping” decrease in population. According to the researchers, the global population is likely to peak at around 9.7 billion in 2064, and thereafter begin to rapidly decline to 8.79 billion by 2100.
These projections are starkly different from the official UN ones, which projected a peak in population of 11.2 billion at around 2100. Among the many stunning predictions by the authors, is that unless there is a dramatic reversal in fertility trends, 23 nations, including Spain, Japan and Thailand, are likely to see their populations be cut in half by 2100. The authors also estimate that 151 nations by the year 2050 will have a birth rate that is below replacement level (about 2.1 children born per woman).
Widespread Efforts to Boost Fertility
In recent years, numerous nations have begun to roll out various incentive packages, encouraging couples to have more children. While for decades we have only heard about the dangers of the population explosion, many nations are now realizing that a population implosion is the far greater danger – raising huge challenges in terms of how to deal with a dwindling workforce, reduced tax income, reduced economic output, and a rapidly-growing population of elderly.
The BBC reports that in recent years, “two-thirds of countries in Europe have introduced measures to increase fertility rates, from baby bonuses and tax incentives to paid parental leave, with varying degrees of success.” In general, the results of these incentive programs have been less than spectacular. In 2015, for instance, Italy launched an incentive program, offering an 800 Euro cash payment per baby per couple. The program seems to have had no noticeable impact on the birth rate, which remains one of the lowest in the world.
Even the Chinese government, which recently woke up to the existential threats posed by a basement-bottom birth rate, a rapidly aging population, and the growing problem of significantly skewed male-to-female gender imbalance (driven by sex-selective abortion), has begun to modify some of its draconian population control measures, and even – in some cases – to encourage couples to have more babies.
In 2016, China relaxed its one-child policy, allowing most families to now have two children, without penalties. However, the policy has had no noticeable impact on birth rates, except perhaps for sending them even further in the wrong direction. As the New York Times reported in March of last year, “Virtually all families can now have two children, but the anticipated baby boom did not materialize. In the last two years, births have dropped precipitously, falling by 12 percent in 2018. The trend has prompted increasingly dire warnings that China faces a graying population and a dwindling work force to support it in the decades ahead.”
Population Declines Despite Incentives
Even Scandinavia, which until recently was viewed as a “success” story in encouraging its population to have more children, is now witnessing a decline in fertility. A report in the BBC from January of this year noted that in Sweden the fertility rate has been about 1.9 children per woman – below the replacement level, but still significantly higher than many European countries. (Italy, for instance, has a birth rate of just 1.34 children per woman.)
In order to maintain their birthrate, Sweden offers parents extremely generous benefits, including a total of 480 days of parental leave for the couple, monthly cash payments to parents, subsidized childcare, and comparatively low working hours. And yet, Prof. Anne Guthier, a professor at the University of Groningen in the Netherlands, noted that the idea that Scandinavia is an example of how to successfully boost birth rates is now in question. “With Scandinavia we thought they had got it right,” she told the BBC, “until about last year when their fertility rate started to decline.” The fact is, she said, the kind of cash incentives being rolled out by an increasing number of nations, “usually have very little impact on the fertility rate.”
Culture, Not Money, Dictates Fertility
Many of the experts quoted in various news articles about the impending demographic winter seem strangely perplexed by the failure of incentives to boost birth rates. I say “strangely,” for there seems to me to be nothing perplexing about it.
In the abstract to one of his books, demographer Jan Hoem makes what seems to me to be the self-evident point that fertility is “best seen as a systemic outcome that depends more on broader attributes, such as the degree of family-friendliness of a society, and less on the presence and detailed construction of monetary benefits.”
In other words, parents will have kids not because someone gives them money, but because having children is widely viewed as being a good and desirable thing to do. However, the culture in most developed nations right now, including those that have introduced cash incentives, constantly tells parents precisely the opposite.
For decades now, the propaganda in our schools, media, and governments has emphasized that almost any goal except having children is a good goal. Women, especially, have been told practically from the moment they were born that while motherhood might not be a terrible idea in your 30s, they should really only consider it after they’ve accomplished something actually important, like climbing the corporate ladder or earning an advanced degree. And even then, the important thing is not to let motherhood take up too much of your time. To be a stay-at-home mother is to be a failure as a feminist, to be a woman who allowed her biological desires to get in the way of true achievement.
As if that weren’t bad enough, increasingly young adults are told that having children is, in fact, a selfish thing to do. They are told that having children will cause massive environmental damage, possibly even contributing to an environmental Armageddon that will cause widespread devastation, starvation, and even extinction. While couples might well feel the urge to start a family, the important thing is to resist that urge, for the greater good of humanity.
Parents who have more than two or three children are often shamed by those who have bought into the environmental doom-mongering, or are simply treated as “weird” by perfectly well-meaning peers who simply cannot fathom why anyone might want to have more than one or two kids. Meanwhile, those young adults who choose to prioritize marriage and children, even starting a family in their 20s (which used to be the historical norm), often find themselves isolated, as their peers continue to focus all their energies on their careers, travel, and serial dating. And because so few people now have babies, many young adults have absolutely zero exposure to babies or examples of parents in their lives; in many cases, the first time they ever hold a baby is when they hold their own. All of which makes starting a family seem a very lonely and terrifying proposition.
This is how childlessness becomes a self-perpetuating cycle – one that, ultimately, can only be reversed by a massive change in attitude and culture, and not with money.
First, Change Attitudes
While starting a family is, historically, the single most ordinary thing a person can do, it is also one of the most difficult and daring. It involves the equivalent of jumping off a high-dive board into the deep-end of a pool without being quite sure you know how to swim. In other words, it requires a leap of faith.
If young adults have only been given reason to believe that this leap of faith will result in suffering, misery, the suppression of their desires and identity, and harm to the rest of humanity, then no measly economic incentive is going to convince them to do it. Economic incentives are insufficient because their sales pitch is so painfully superficial and unconvincing: i.e. “We need you to give birth to more economic producers so that our country doesn’t go bankrupt and our quality of life doesn’t deteriorate.”
What a lousy and unconvincing reason to have children! Compare this message with this passage from St. John Paul II’s encyclical Familiaris consortio:
In its most profound reality, love is essentially a gift; and conjugal love, while leading the spouses to the reciprocal “knowledge” which makes them “one flesh,” does not end with the couple, because it makes them capable of the greatest possible gift, the gift by which they become cooperators with God for giving life to a new human person. Thus the couple, while giving themselves to one another, give not just themselves but also the reality of children, who are a living reflection of their love, a permanent sign of conjugal unity and a living and inseparable synthesis of their being a father and a mother.
Now, there’s something that speaks to the heart and the soul of a person: there’s something that places all the hardships and deprivations involved in parenthood in a different light! Children aren’t just “units” that we need more of for the sake of our economic health. Rather, they are the “greatest possible gift,” the natural and deepest reflection of a couple’s love for one another, a sign of the couple’s cooperation with God’s creative powers!
Why Start a Family?
Starting a family isn’t just something to begrudgingly do in response to a government incentive program. It’s an intrinsically meaningful thing to do, in fact, one of the most meaningful and rewarding things that any human being can do with their life. A person who starts a family is opening themselves up to love – to showering love on their children, and receiving love in return – and to witnessing one of the greatest miracles in the universe: the creation and growth of a completely unique human being.
Armed with this understanding of family life, a young couple may well be willing to reject the dominant spirit of the age, to risk being viewed as “weird,” to be willing to embrace the sleepless nights and anxieties of parenthood, knowing that it is all 100% worth it. Government incentives to encourage children may well be a good idea. But until we change the messaging, and more importantly the culture, we can expect birth rates to do nothing but continue to fall.
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Father Shenan J. Boquet was ordained in 1993 and is a priest of the Houma-Thibodaux Roman Catholic Diocese in Louisiana, his home state, where he served before joining HLI as its President in August 2011. Father Boquet earned a BA from Saint Joseph Seminary College, a Master of Divinity (MDiv) from Notre Dame Seminary Graduate School of Theology, a Certification Program in Health Care Ethics from the National Catholic Bioethics Center, and a Master of Science in Bioethics (MSBe) from the University of Mary in Bismarck. In 2018, Father Boquet was awarded an honorary visiting professorship by the Benedict XVI Catholic University in Trujillo, Peru. He is available for interviews and bookings on behalf of HLI by emailing email@example.com.