Anti-Natalism Caused Demographic Time Bomb

“I wanted to publicize the dramatic fall in birth rates, especially in the developed countries. As you well know, about half the countries in the world, including all the developed countries in the world, now have a non-reproductive birthrate. Entire nations are dying out.”

— Human Life International, Founder Fr. Paul Marx, 2000

Even those of us who have been warning for decades that the concerns over overpopulation amounted to unjustified hysteria are more than a little startled to see how rapidly the conversation has changed.

In the decades following the 1968 publication of The Population Bomb by Paul Ehrlich, the idea that the world was dangerously overpopulated, and that the most urgent priority facing humanity was to reduce fertility rates, was all but universally accepted in elite circles.

In the U.S. the idea that overpopulation posed an existential threat to national security was expressed in the now-infamous Kissinger Report (National Security Study Memorandum 200, 1974), which directed U.S. foreign policy to promote population control in developing nations. International agencies such as the United Nations also made population control, through coercive means, one of their core mandates.

Certainly, there were always those, like HLI founder Fr. Paul Marx, OSB, who countered that the world could sustain a much larger population than demographers like Ehlich predicted. But they were a small minority and received no hearing in the media or spheres of political power. And when some of these same people, including Fr. Marx, began warning that, in fact, the more urgent concern was a looming depopulation crisis, they were mocked.

And yet, sometime in the past decade, the situation began to change. It became increasingly common to hear bureaucrats, social scientists, and political thinktanks quietly expressing concern that something was afoot in many affluent Western and Asian nations that could have dire social and financial consequences, and that it was not overpopulation.

The slowly emerging concern was summed up well by the title of a 2006 report by the Canadian Senate: “The Demographic Time Bomb: Mitigating the Effects of Demographic Change in Canada.” The language of this largely ignored (at the time) report was stark, and fatalistic. “The demographic die is cast,” wrote the country’s auditor general in that report. “[T]here is little we can do to reverse or even slow the ag(e)ing of Canada’s population over the coming decades.”


The Demographic Time Bomb Has Arrived

Two years ago, a Canadian newspaper published an article that proclaimed, “The demographic time bomb has arrived.” Noting that the Canadian population is rapidly aging, Jack Mintz observed, “we are facing a demographic storm that will have far-reaching impacts on the economy and geopolitics.”

The concerns expressed by Mintz in that 2022 article closely mirror those expressed by Fr. Marx well over 20 years ago. “Who will take care of the old?” Fr Marx asked in 2000. “Given such low birthrates, who will take care of the increasing numbers of elderly? Government programs will be hard pressed to take care of the old in the future, both in the U.S. and in all developed countries — to say nothing of the developing world.”

It may have taken developed nations over two decades to catch up, but they are arriving at similar conclusions as those expressed by Fr. Marx. Indeed, some are realizing that the situation may even be far worse than the title of Mintz’s article suggests: that, in fact, the demographic time bomb exploded years—even decades—ago, and that they were simply too distracted by the hysteria over “overpopulation” to notice.

If things are bad in Western nations like Canada—and, to a somewhat lesser extent, the United States—consider the situation in Asian nations like Japan, South Korea, Singapore and China. In 2000, Fr. Marx expressed his alarm that Japan’s birth rate was 1.38 children born per woman (currently 1.2 and decreasing). In South Korea, however, the birth rate has fallen to a staggeringly low .84 birth rate…and is still dropping.

Meanwhile, after decades without any reversal in their low fertility rate, the Japanese government has identified depopulation as the single greatest threat to the future of the country. Prime Minister Fumio Kishida’s language has become increasingly apocalyptic. “Japan is standing on the verge of whether we can continue to function as a society,” Kishida told lawmakers recently. “Focusing attention on policies regarding children and child-rearing is an issue that cannot wait and cannot be postponed.”

Prime Minister Kishida called it a case of “now or never.”


Incentives Fail to Reverse Low Birth Rates

Many of the nations with the lowest birth rates have implemented various programs to increase the birth rate, as well as propaganda campaigns drawing attention to the social benefits of welcoming more children.

In China, the government lifted the long-standing one-child policy in 2016 and has since been strongly encouraging couples to welcome more children. In a case of political whiplash, some Chinese authorities are now looking at the idea of taxing couples for having too few children, as well as restricting abortion and divorce.

This comes after decades in which the Chinese government employed a vast army of population controllers, who were empowered to perform the most grotesque violations of human rights in order to prevent births. This included forced sterilizations and barbaric forced abortions.

And yet, none of the new incentive programs seem to have made the slightest difference. At most, they may have slightly arrested the process of population decline.

As Time magazine recently reported, “In China, many experts say the reversal of the one-child policy may have come too late. After seeing an initial uptick in births, the number has steadily declined by nearly 50%—from 17.86 million in 2016 to just 9.56 million in 2022, according to a report published by the National Health Commission.”

That is a staggering drop in births in the space of just five years.


Pro-Birth Messaging Won’t Fix Cultural Problem

Perhaps the most astonishing thing about these government propaganda and incentive programs, is that the bureaucrats who devised them seem to be surprised that they aren’t working. They naively seem to think that if governments could lower birth rates by urging couples to avoid welcoming children and providing widespread access to contraceptives, then they can similarly raise the birth rates, through incentives and the right messaging.

The reality, of course, is that marriage, childbearing, and family values are so fundamental to the cultural identity of a people, that once those values are shifted in one direction, it is a monumental task to shift them back. And indeed, there are reasons to think that it is easier to shift the trend towards low birth rates, than it is to shift it back to higher rates.

The reality is that welcoming children is a difficult task. Parenthood requires a willingness to take on the great risks involved in bringing new human beings into the world. Throughout human history, societies developed elaborate cultural practices and social networks to support young couples in this difficult task, recognizing its central importance.

In many cultures, for instance, the multi-generational home was the norm, with the result that grandparents (who were themselves highly experienced in child-rearing) were often available during their grandchildren’s youngest years to provide advice and practical help.

Then there were the networks of stay-at-home moms who gathered to exchange advice and material assistance. Or the myriad, often-subtle, pro-child social norms that encouraged and validated parenthood, e.g. the knowing, supportive smiles on the street from elderly who were delighted to see children; the enthusiastic congratulations from friends and family at the news of a new pregnancy; doors held open for pregnant mothers; strangers who helped lift strollers or soothe a crying child.


Anti-Natal Movement Destroyed Support Network

The anti-natal movement has demolished much of these hard-built institutions and values in the space of a few decades. Now, when a young couple considers the possibility of welcoming a child, they must contend with the reality that they will have to do so largely alone. They often cannot count on much, if any support from their own parents, who often only had one child and thus are largely inexperienced themselves, and whose priorities often lie elsewhere than helping raise their grandchildren.

Similarly, new moms must face the bleak reality that they will often live a lonely existence with their newborn child at home. Gone are the days of daily gatherings of moms at the park to exchange advice and forge the meaningful friendships that brought consolation and support during the inevitable difficult days of motherhood.

And since most women only welcome children after having entered the workforce, young moms must wrestle with the fear that they are letting crucial career opportunities pass them by. These stresses are exacerbated by the normalization of divorce, with the result that many women worry that if they don’t look out for their careers, they may end up supporting themselves on a salary that is much lower than it would have been if they focused on their career instead of motherhood.

And worst of all, perhaps, is that new parents must contend with a host of new social norms that cast into doubt the validity of choosing to welcome a child over such things as career advancement or travel. This is expressed in everything from the “cool” reception from one’s boss at the news that one is going on maternity leave, or the annoyed expressions on the faces of people who, not ever having had children themselves, do not know how to delight in the rambunctiousness of little children.


Facing the Reality of an Anti-Child Culture

This may all sound bleak. But it is simply the reality that many young couples face in increasingly childless cultures.

To a large extent, we no longer notice these things, because we are the “frog boiling in water.” Many young people have never experienced a culture other than our increasingly childless, anti-child culture. They do not remember a time when practically every married couple joyfully welcomed multiple children, and when there were many functioning systems and norms that were designed to encourage children and spread the work and stress of child-rearing around.

This is what bureaucrats in countries like China and Japan, and so many other developed nations, do not understand, but are discovering right now. Train entire generations of people to despise child-rearing, and instead to focus on short-sighted, fundamentally superficial, and selfish pursuits, and no amount of government handouts will get them to rethink their priorities.


We Need a Spiritual Awakening

In the end, the only real solution to the demographic crisis is a spiritual awakening. A strong religious faith provides a couple with transcendent values that protect them from the shallow obsession with the present, instead training their eyes on long-term, eternal goods. And faith provides the hope and the courage needed to face the inherent uncertainties of child-rearing with confidence.

Our depopulation alarmists have undermined our cultural and spiritual values, destroying the social and spiritual capital that gave young couples the motivation and support needed to welcome new life. Reversing this trend will not be a matter of rolling out a new social program. It will be the work of generations.

And it will not be the work of our governments. Although there are many policies that can and will help, it is ultimately up to each of us to begin rebuilding that which has been lost. It is up to us to find ways, for instance, to encourage those young neighbors who just welcomed a baby by bringing them meals and offering support. It is up to us to build local communities of moms, dads and families that carry one another’s burdens. It is up to us to show our children, by example, that parenthood is a source of immense joy and meaning, and that they, too, should be open to life.

Christians have rebuilt civilization from the rubble in the past, and we can do it again! Because we have something that the world does not: a boundless confidence in the future, rooted in our faith in the victory of Jesus Christ.

As president of Human Life International, Fr. Boquet is a leading expert on the international pro-life and family movement, having journeyed to nearly 90 countries on pro-life missions over the last decade. Father Boquet works with pro-life and family leaders in 116 counties that partner with HLI to proclaim and advance the Gospel of Life. Read his full bio here.

Did you find this useful?


  1. Al Patrick on March 4, 2024 at 4:56 PM

    This anti-natalism trend is very disturbing. I find it rare that couples refrain from living together before marriage and then wait until they have nearly passed the time of fertility to have children. The use of drugs like marijuana which have permanent physiological effects on decreasing psychological maturation are widely increasing with its legalization. St. Thomas Aquinas noted long ago that the first effect of impurity is the diminution of the intellect.
    The “environmental” effects of population growth seems to have been confused with controllable factors. One of which is excessive consumerism. We are living for this passing world instead of for the life to come. It is well known that the size of houses families live in is inversely correlated with the size of the family living in them. People don’t have money for food but women can afford hair braids that cost hundreds of dollars. With the inefficiency of the small family running our institutions it is no surprise that governments are running up huge deficits. I often ride past the places that hand out free food and am surprised that every one of the cars as I ride past is newer and in better shape than mine, including cars line Mercedes. The result is that tensions between nations are getting worse and worse.
    The answer to this materialistic tendency is in the various orders of penitents within the Church such as the Secular Franciscan Order. In 1963, Dietrich von Hildebrand in his book “Not as the World Gives” called Secular Franciscans to become part of the answer to the corruption of society by the authentic living out of their vocations of penance and conversion.
    On the natural side, the populations of ocean fish have diminished by 90% according to some. This is not surprising with the massive number of women using birth control pills and polluting our waterways with substances capable of trans-sexualizing fish species in our coastal areas here their concentrations are the highest. These xeno- hormones, unlike natural ones, adhere to their physiological sites of action like super glue. I am of the opinion that since fish tend to breed along our coasts, these toxins are interfering with the breeding of fish species with the possible outcome of eventual mass starvation. I would not be surprised if one day it is discovered that the population controllers in their immoral insanity are purposely engaging in this poisoning of our waterways to prove their evil lies. I am also of the opinion that these substances are playing into the perverse gender movement of today and in the general 50% drop being seen in sperm the counts of men today.

  2. Victress Jenkins on March 4, 2024 at 1:25 PM

    The lack of children has affected the Social Security fund in that fewer people are contributing. It also didn’t help the system because congress had taken from the fund back in the 1960’s and never repaid social security.

  3. Fr. David F. Wilkening on March 4, 2024 at 1:22 PM

    Like always I enjoyed your article and would like to share the message with others. I’m sure there must be a way to down load and save and forward your articles, but being nearly illiterate is such matters I don’t know how. Could you somehow include a forward button like in an email to make it easy to share your articles? I think that if you could, if you would then your insightful articles could spread around much more easily. Just a thought. Rev. David F. Wilkening, a financial supporter of HLI

Leave a Comment