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  • Writer's pictureDean Dwyer

Faith and families

Amid our modern demographic winter people of faith continue to raise families, trusting that God will provide through all the calamities of a fallen world. Christians celebrate the birth of a child at Christmas – a child who changed the course of history. Each birth is a sign of hope, but due to rapidly declining fertility driven by the loss of faith, there are fewer signs of hope with each passing year.

Any discussion of demographics begins with the number 2.1 – also known as replacement-level fertility. That’s the number of children the average woman must have in her lifetime to maintain population equilibrium. No industrialised nation is having enough children to replace its current population. The worldwide fertility rate has fallen by almost half (from 4.7 births per woman to 2.4) since 1950. The fertility rate for the European Union as a whole is 1.5. The United States isn't far behind: its fertility rate fell from a post-war high of 3.5 to 1.64 in 2020, its lowest figure since 1909. Elon Musk – just named Time Magazine’s Person of the Year and one of the few leaders to think about demographics – says, “If people don’t have more children, civilisation is going to crumble.”

From the Age of Exploration to the Industrial Revolution to the Computer Age and the Space Age, every advance in history has been accompanied by robust population growth. The population growth in Britain during the late 18th and early 19th centuries spurred the Industrial Revolution; America’s booming population after the Civil War resulted in the transfer of industrial leadership to the United States; the post-World War 2 baby boom set the stage for prosperity through the 1980s.

Then we changed gears. Suddenly, children became inconvenient. The Pill became available in 1960, and with “The Population Bomb” - published in 1968 – we began worrying about what was called 'over- population.' Roe v. Wade was a milestone in advancing the anti-life ethic. In 1973 Roe was the plaintiff in the pivotal United States Supreme Court decision to legalise abortion across the country, which became a touchstone for 50 years of conflict between the pro-life and pro-choice movements. Instead of filling cradles with babies, abortion clinics filled trash cans with foetal remains. Since that date, the death toll has been 63 million in the US alone. Falling fertility will soon lead to shrinking populations and an end to prosperity – permanently.

Healthy economies depend on young workers. In the United States, the proportion of youth to elderly continues to decline: the 52 million seniors of 2018 is projected to become 95 million by 2060. By then, there will be more citizens over 65 than under 18. Social Security and Medicare will be long gone. The challenge will be finding the workers to man assembly lines, deliver goods and services, act as first responders and caregivers and fill the thousand and one other functions which make society work. There's no need to wait 40 years to see the effects of a demographic winter; so many businesses right now are begging for help. We've blamed the worker shortage on Governments paying people not to work and that Covid-19 has caused us to become agoraphobes (people with an abnormal fear of public places or open spaces), but although there’s truth in that line of thought there’s also a shrinking pool of young workers due to the much lower birth rate.

So what’s the root cause of the flight from procreation? Urbanisation, the rising cost of raising children and the failure of family formation have all played a role, but the simple answer is so many in their childbearing years don’t want children. Look at who are having large families: only traditional Catholics, Orthodox Jews, Mormons and evangelicals. It’s rare to find a family without a strong religious orientation that has more than two children, with a Pew Research Poll – whose results were released in November – showing that 44% of Americans aged between 18 and 49 who don’t have children are unlikely to ever have them. One shouldn't be surprised if Australia had a similar percentage.

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