“Children are the worst investments you will ever make.” Jonathan V. Last’s book, What to Expect When No One’s Expecting, gives clear, statistical data that shows the above statement to be quite accurate. While this is true, monetarily speaking (and thus the least of all values), this is only true for an individual couple. It is far from the case when it comes to the stability and success of a nation.
What would be wise for the Reformed Conservative to grasp is, as Adam Smith stated in The Wealth of Nations, “the most decisive mark of prosperity of any country is the increase of the number of its inhabitants.” It is no wonder that Last points out that, “The child-free life is championed with vigor and conviction of the early Marxists.” Our spiritual, material, and intellectual heritage is with our children. It is a great responsibility and indeed humbling when the good of the nation is held within the tiny grasp of a newborn babe.
Paul Ehrlich’s doom and gloom claim that the world is overpopulated and will not be able to produce enough food to go around (in the 1970’s) is still making its rounds. It has whittled its way into the emotions of millions. The result of Ehrlich’s fear-mongering claim is a stigma that having more than a few children is a bad thing. In reality, it is those children that bring the wealth of nations. When there are more dying people than working people, a nation does not have much of a chance to recover. How much has the world changed from the 1970s? The world’s fertility rate went from 6.0 children in 1979 to 2.52 in 2010. The population bulges, gets small again, and nations disappear. Look at Rome and Greece.
You don’t have to legislate a particular belief in order to get results. America has created its own “one child policy” without legislation and, like other countries, it would take more than legislation to fix the looming population crisis. Gallup polls from 1936 show what Americans believed about what the “ideal family size” would be. In that year, 64% said three or more. By 1973, 43% said three or more were ideal. In 2013, 33% say that three or more is ideal.
Since monocausal explanations fail to suffice, here are some reasons, according to the demographic work of Jonathan Last, that fertility rates decreased in the US: Birth control was legalized; abortion was legalized; low mortality rates of infants; women went off to higher education; more women in career fields; marriage decreased and divorce increased; rising cost of raising children; car seat laws; and housing architecture changed.
By definition, it is difficult to know unintended consequences beforehand. While education is wonderful, is it worth the drop in fertility? Low mortality rates among infants is such a blessing, but we have forgotten just how precious and fragile life is! Car seats have saved the lives of countless children, but did we ever think it would lead to people saying, “We shouldn’t have a fourth kid because then we would have to get a bigger car too?” Unfortunately, at the root of the decline in fertility is the lack of desire in fertility. Because let’s face it, children are an inconvenience. Can I please look at Facebook for 3 minutes in peace and quiet? Could I just have an extra $5.00 to go and get another coffee at Starbucks? Where did my freedom go?
Having a lot of children is hard.
However, this decline in fertility is not new to the 21st Century. Polybius, a Greek historian circa 150 B.C., details the same problem laying it at the feet of men, “For this evil grew upon us rapidly, and without attracting attention, by our men becoming perverted to a passion for show and money and the pleasures of an idle life.” The men in that time either refused to care for children born (if they married at all) and if they reared a small number, they wanted those children to be raised with luxury and an extravagant lifestyle. This, some say, was the true downfall of Rome and Greece. Their fertility was not high enough to replenish the population. In spite of this, it doesn’t seem like attitudes have changed today, for, children are seen again as impediments instead of blessings.
So here we have the problem: countries across the entire world are facing an impending population crisis. “If Italy, Spain, Germany, and Greece maintain their current fertility levels and do not import a lot of immigrants, then by the end of the century, their populations will shrink by 86 percent, 85 percent, 83 percent, and 74 percent, respectively.”
Right now in Japan, adult diapers are sold more often than baby diapers. They have 3.3 workers for every retiree and, due to the lack of immigrants coming into the country, by 2050, the estimate is 1.3 workers for every retiree.
When countries look ahead to the future, they see a threat. Not a threat of outside invaders dismantling their country, but a threat from within. A threat of not being able to sustain the population and a country losing their culture, their civilization simply by not having more children.
And tragically, there is no stopping this.
In countries like Japan and Russia, where the fertility rate is national suicide and the immigration rate does not compensate for the loss of reproduction, the countries cannot even pay their women to have children. There doesn’t seem to be enough incentive to get women to have more babies. Money, medals, bonuses for housing, work allowances, paid leave, tax incentives, tax increases, and robot babies have proved insufficient in raising the fertility rate. President Putin, in 2006 bribed his Russian women to have a second baby to the tune of an average year’s salary. Russia’s fertility is still at 1.54! A rate of 2.1 babies per woman will sustain a population.
As Last observed, a consistent fertility of 1.5 and below can’t be recovered from–the nation is destined to die at that point. But even if national recovery was possible, trying to bribe with short term measures won’t work and when it comes to material benefits, people can’t be bribed into having babies.
As Teddy Roosevelt said,
There are many good people who are denied the supreme blessing of children, and for these we have the respect and sympathy always due to those who, from no fault of their own, are denied any of the other great blessings of life. But the man or woman who deliberately foregoes these blessings, whether from viciousness, coldness, shallow-heartedness, self-indulgence, or mere failure to appreciate aright the difference between the all-important and the unimportant—why, such a creature merits contempt as hearty as any visited upon the soldier who runs away in battle, or upon the man who refuses to work for the support of those dependent upon him, and who though able-bodied is yet content to eat in idleness the bread which others provide.
Citations & References
 Jonathan V. Last, What to Expect When No One’s Expecting: America’s Coming Demographic Disaster (New York: Encounter Books, 2013), p. 32.
 Last, What to Expect When No One’s Expecting, p. 103.
For Further Discussion:
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