Population Decline Destroys the Future of Civilization

The 2006 film Children of Men, based upon a novel of the same name, imagines a world in which the entire human race has suffered from infertility for over two decades.

The result is a civilization utterly bereft of babies and children, and in which the youngest human is over twenty years old. The overarching mood of the human race, in the face of the prospect of extinction, is one of futility and despair. The result is that the globe is riven by warfare and violence.

Into this darkness, however, comes a miracle: a pregnant woman—the only known pregnant woman on the globe. Suddenly, there is light. There is hope. There is something worth living for…something worth fighting for.

father holding baby in church

While the movie is a dystopian fantasy, through exaggeration it draws our attention to the often-unappreciated miracle of the coming of a new human life, and the impact that this event has not just upon the woman expecting the child, but upon everyone around her, and the whole of society.

It is instructive to observe a new mother as she carries her newborn baby around. If the baby is in a stroller in the streets, even total strangers will stop and take the baby’s little finger in their hands, and beam at it, and talk baby talk. A new mother walking down the aisle at church is likely to grab the rapt attention of half the congregation, some of whom will wave quietly at the baby, trying to get a reaction.

Older folks sometimes feel as if they have become ten years younger when they first learn that they are to become grandparents. Suddenly, it is not just the decline of old age that they have to look forward to, but rather the love that they can shower upon a grandchild, and a kind of re-living of their own years of youth and parenthood (but without all the responsibility!).

Such is the joy that a baby can bring. And such, it seems, is the joy on which our entire civilization has turned its back.


U.S. Birth Rates Fall to Lowest Ever

A few days ago, the U.S. Center for Disease Control (CDC) released data on births in 2023. The report reveals that the U.S. birth rate has fallen to its lowest rate, in history.

The drop is disappointing, given the temporary bump that occurred in 2021 and 2022. This temporary increase had been the first increase since 2014. However, in 2023, the decades-long drop in fertility rates renewed its relentless course.

The CDC found that in 2023 the overall fertility rate fell to just over 1.6 babies born per woman, well below the replacement fertility rate of 2.1.

I’ve covered this topic many times in the past. And yet, every time I return to it, I find that ever more countries are reporting ever more dramatic records in terms of how fast and how low birth rates are falling. Greece, for instance, recently reported the lowest number of births in ninety-two years! In response, the government is panicking, seeking something, anything that they can do to reverse this trend.

In a recent feature-length article in Bloomberg, historian Niall Ferguson analyzes many of the consequences of this global decline.

One point that he makes stands out for its importance. Ferguson notes that all the projections indicate that sometime within this century, the human population will peak, and then will begin to fall. However, Ferguson notes, the rates of population collapse will not be the gentle, gradual fall that some people might expect.

“Most pundits struggle to grasp that, when the human population begins to fall, it will do so not gradually, but almost as steeply as it once rose,” he writes.

Ferguson quotes Dean Spears, who wrote in the New York Times, “Humanity will not reach a plateau and then stabilize. It will begin an unprecedented decline … If the world’s fertility rate [after 2100] were the same as in the United States today, then the global population would fall from a peak of around 10 billion to [less than] 2 billion about 300 years later, over perhaps 10 generations. And if family sizes remained small, we would continue declining.”

In other words, while we won’t necessarily face the kind of scenario envisioned in Children of Men, the world will face a monumental change, with monumental consequences. In the space of a few generations, buildings built to house a population many times the size, will be emptied. As is already happening in Japan, whole towns will be abandoned, houses mouldering into ruins. Schools will be shut down.

It’s difficult to fathom.


Fr. Marx Predicted This

In the article in Bloomberg, Ferguson observes, “Not many people foresaw the global fertility collapse. Nor did just about anyone expect it to happen everywhere.”

That may be true. In the wake of the publication of The Population Bomb and other scaremongering, neo-Malthusian tracts making apocalyptic predictions about the impact of over-population, most people’s attention was wholly focused upon the supposed urgent need to reduce fertility rates.

After decades of pro-contraception, pro-sterilization, and pro-abortion government propaganda and policies, funded to the tune of countless billions of dollars, the realization that we may be facing a potentially cataclysmic reduction in global population is dawning suddenly, and seemingly far too late to change course.

Among the few who did predict and warn about the dangers of global fertility collapse were a few pro-life and pro-family activists. Activists like Human Life International Founder Fr. Paul Marx understood that when a civilization makes war with its future by casting fertility as a “disease” to be cured, there will be more far-reaching consequences than any of the population controllers anticipated.

As Ferguson notes, many countries have reacted with alarm to the magnitude of the drop in fertility and have attempted to counteract this drop by offering various incentives to couples to welcome children. However, he notes, “there are no examples I know of in which pro-natal policies have really worked.”

He gives the example of Russia, where Putin has strongly urged couples to have more children. Putin is so determined to increase the birth rate that he has even given couples a day off work with the expressly stated goal of encouraging them to use the time to try to conceive. And yet, despite going to such absurd lengths, Russia has failed to turn the tide. The Russian fertility rate currently sits at 1.5 children born per woman and is falling.

One Greek minister recently expressed the common sentiment among the many governments that have attempted to reverse birth trends. “If I were to tell you that any given minister at any given ministry … can reverse the trend, it would be a lie,” Sofia Zacharaki, Greece’s minister for social cohesion and family affairs, told Reuters. But, she added, “We need to keep trying.”

Ferguson concludes his piece with a stark prediction. The world is marching towards a sub-replacement level fertility rate and rapid population declines, he says. “It is coming. And there is nothing we can do to stop it.”

population decline concept


Couples Don’t Want to Have Kids

Of course, there are no certain outcomes when it comes to human behavior. It is entirely possible for humans to reverse course.

However, in gauging whether or not this is probable, we have to acknowledge that there are many reasons to believe that, barring a radical conversion of heart or some unforeseen event, the human race will continue to choose the path towards ever greater infertility.

For decades now, governments have poured billions of dollars into promoting abortion, contraception, and sterilization. This was defended in the name of “feminism” and an ideology of radical “freedom.” Most Western nations are so tethered to this anti-life worldview that even in the face of potentially catastrophic birth declines, they don’t dare even suggest that perhaps there is good cause to disincentivize abortion and sterility.

Such is the case in France, which recently added access to abortion to its national Constitution. This, at the same time as French President Emmanuel Macron is warning that France needs to take dramatic measures to increase its birth rate. Such a contradiction is nothing short of perverse.

Furthermore, the gradual reduction in family sizes, in conjunction with rapid increases in global wealth, has utterly reshaped standards and expectations about child-rearing. As Ferguson notes in his report, one of the commonest reasons given by couples for not having children is financial hardship. “To have a family these days, you need to become a hero,” one Greek dad told Reuters. “To have a second child, more money must come into the house.”

While one hesitates to dismiss the legitimate financial hardships that many couples are facing, this attitude strikes me as fundamentally absurd. For millennia, couples have welcomed children into the world in far, far more difficult circumstances that anything faced by couples in affluent Western nations. However, many couples’ expectations about standard of living and financial security are so high, that it is viewed as an act of “heroism” to have a single child in a developed Western nation with publicly funded health care and education!

This, unfortunately, is the new standard espoused by many young people. Getting married and welcoming children is no longer viewed as a normal part of a meaningful life, but rather an extraordinary step to be taken only when circumstances are “perfect” and financial security is assured. In the face of such unrealistic standards, no couple would ever have a child! And indeed, many aren’t.


Building Hope in an Anti-Family World

One of the saddest sentences I’ve ever read is found in the Reuters report on the demographic decline in Greece. “We used to gather at weddings, at baptisms. Now we meet at funerals,” said 61-year-old Chrysoula Ioannidos, a resident of Greece. “There are very few births.”

This is the reality in so many affluent Western and Asian nations. The reduction of births in many nations is so significant, that many communities simply have no meaningful number of babies/children. Villages are emptied out. Their schools are closed.

Indeed, the lived reality in certain parts of the globe is beginning to resemble the dystopian world of Children of Men.

Reuters reports that there are Greek villages that haven’t seen a single birth in years. One school that serves 17 villages has only four children in first grade. A Greek speech therapist told Reuters that he is having to deal with developmental issues caused by the fact that there are fewer numbers of children, who are socially isolated from other children. One thirteen-year-old boy told Reuters that he spends his weekend playing video games inside because there aren’t any children his age to play with.

What a sad, sad world the fear-mongering population controllers have created for us. A hopeless, desultory, mirthless, joyless world, in which young couples lack the courage and hope to do the most normal thing in the world: start a family.

It is up to us, then, to joyfully proclaim the Gospel of Life: not only with our words, but also with our actions. Be open to life! Be generous and welcome children! Show the world how much you enjoy your children! Encourage your own children to be open to begetting children and help them in any way that you can. Shower your grandchildren with love and affection.

Because of our generous donors, HLI missionaries helped heal this family, Nyasha’s parents have a relationship with their granddaughter.

The failure of government interventions clearly shows that we cannot depend upon technocratic solutions to this problem. Anxiety in the face of life seems to be inherited. It is being passed down through generations. Parents who only have a few children, due to fear, spread this fear to their children, who in turn have even fewer children.

We must counteract this anti-life bias by creating a Culture of Life within our own families: an enthusiasm for life that is infectious and that spreads to our own children and through our families to our neighbors, communities, and so on outwards. Cultural renewal is not the work of a year, or a decade, but rather of generations. Let us put our hands to the plow and nurture life in the midst of an anti-life generation.

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.

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  1. Sean Walsh on May 1, 2024 at 5:17 AM

    The greatest surviving work one’s life produces is children ! The only real fruit of one’s lifetime is love ! Together this fills Heaven

  2. Kate Dowling on April 29, 2024 at 2:24 PM

    I am an 81 year old female physician, board certified in 4 specialties, and still working full time. When I was in medical school and residency, the hours were draconian, and only 10% of my class was female. Expectations, personal and academic, were very high, and we knew that absolute devotion to the 120 hour weeks in internship and 110 hour weeks in residency would be mandatory for success, especially as females in medicine. My husband just wanted one son. I had 6 abortions during my early career.
    Those abortions were spontaneous, (miscarriages) not provoked, probably from the intensity of work and lack of sleep and nutrition. But we were fortunate enough to have seven children too, with the help of additional progesterone during three pregnancies, to support the ovaries. There are now 20 grandchildren.
    During my career, I’ve had several patients who had provoked abortions, and all carried the burden of the loss of those children into old age. The privilege of being a physician palls when placed against the privilege of being a mother….and then a grandmother. Society needs to recognize the existential importance of motherhood. No exalted profession or status will ever hold a candle to the importance of participating in the creation of a human being. (First thing I’m going to do if I make it to heaven is ask to see those 6 little ones we lost so early in their lives)
    Thank you so much for writing the above. It is spot on.

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