Pope Francis Warns of a ‘Demographic Winter’

On the Feast of the Holy Family, Pope Francis warned against a coming “demographic winter” brought on by declining birth rates.

Many couples in Italy, he lamented, are reticent about having children, or “prefer to have none, or to have just one.”

“It’s a tragedy,” he said, “which goes against our families, against our country, and against our future.”

He had previously warned about this back in 2015, noting projections that by 2024 in Italy, “there will be no money to pay pensioners because of the fall in population.”

Nor is Italy unique.

The late distinguished Catholic theologian, philosopher, and commentator Michael Novak warned similarly of a coming “demographic tsunami” here in America. Low birthrates, and “54 million abortions in the United States since 1973,” he wrote in 2013, have blasted “a gaping hole” in projected funding for Social Security and Medicare, and threaten future generations with insurmountable national debt.

China, after years of a brutal “one-child” population control policy that included forced abortions and sterilizations, is desperately trying to reverse its self-imposed “demographic suicide,” as China expert Steven Mosher terms it. It is now pursuing a “three-child policy,” necessary, it says, “to actively respond to the aging of the population.”

“That’s putting it mildly,” Mosher wrote last June. “China today is literally dying, filling more coffins than cradles each year.”

Global fertility rates are “dangerously low,” warns the World Bank. A chart in Newsmax magazine last June showed country after country, in every region of the world except Africa, with birth rates well below replacement levels.

“So many people, including smart people,” observes Tesla CEO Elon Musk, “think that the population is growing out of control. It’s completely the opposite. Please look at the numbers—if people don’t have more children, civilization is going to crumble.”

We are warned of what has been termed “an inverted population pyramid,” where the elderly outnumber working age people, who in turn outnumber children.

The result will be not enough working people to sustain social security, pension systems, or social services. Novak noted that Social Security and Medicare were based on a model of seven working people paying into those systems for every retired person taking benefits out. That ratio is now less than three workers for every retiree—and dropping precipitously as life expectancy increases and we baby boomers surge into retirement.

Governments are now scrambling to reverse the very de-population trends they helped set in motion. Some European nations are exploring various government benefits to incentivize childbirth. Self-proclaimed “Family-Friendly Hungary,” Newsmax reports, is providing free fertility treatments, “$30,000 loans to couples who promise to have babies, and lifetime tax exemptions for having four or more children.”

Here in the United States, some are pushing for mandatory paid family leave and universal childcare to encourage childbirth. Others, however, warn that such programs will entail inflationary government spending and intrusive government mandates on the private sector; that they will encourage single parent families and favor two-income families over those with a stay-at-home parent.

And of course, the prevailing belief of the last 50 years—that the earth has become dangerously overpopulated—is still held by many, who want a continuation of the population control policies that have brought us to this situation.

I do not lightly dismiss their concerns. But I reject the assertion that crises like world hunger and environmental degradation are simply the result of “too many people.”

Recall that Paul Ehrlich, in The Population Bomb—his 1968 doomsday book that jump-started much population control hysteriapredicted that a worldwide famine was imminent.

Yet just the opposite has happened. As Novak wrote in 2013, “Over the last 30 years we have reduced the number of poor in the world by over 1 billion persons.” Similarly with the environment: AOC’s protestations about the human “carbon footprint” notwithstanding, the United States is by all accounts more environmentally sound today than we were a half-century ago.

Yes, humans can be very wasteful, sometimes destructive exploiters of the earth’s resources. But human ingenuity can also—with God’s stewardship—be applied in extraordinary ways to sustain our planet and its population. And that is exactly what has happened over the last 50 years. Human innovation and technological advances spurred vast exponential increases in our food supply and great strides in environmental protection.

More such progress is needed, of course; but preventing the birth of future generations that can contribute to that progress is hardly the way to get there.

Our own country’s political and cultural propagandizing against motherhood and childbirth surely make it difficult now for the government to be taken seriously in promulgating the opposite message.

Instead, our governments—state and national—should begin by stopping their anti-family propagandizing; correcting whatever policies are in place that discourage couples from having children; working to strengthen the economy, so people are less fearful about being able to support children; and ending the abortion carnage that has deprived us of tens of millions of human beings who could now be in our workforce and communities, helping sustain us economically while making vital contributions to the culture according to their particular gifts and talents.

In short, if we want to encourage young couples to be open and welcoming to God’s gift of new life, the first thing we must do is stop dehumanizing humanity.

Published by Rick Hinshaw

I have spent the last three decades in primarily Catholic communications work: as a reporter, news editor, columnist, and for eight years editor of The Long Island Catholic; several years as co-host and co-producer of The Catholic Forum program on the diocesan Telecare channel; two stints as Director of Communications for the Catholic League for Religious and Civil Rights; and a year as Associate Director for Communications at the New York State Catholic Conference. I also served for three years as Public Information Officer for the late Nassau County District Attorney Denis Dillon, a staunchly Catholic and active pro-life leader. Over that more than 30-year career, I have gained an ever deeper understanding of and appreciation for the moral and social teachings of our Church. In my various roles I have lent my voice to articulating those teachings and their applicability to the critical issues of our time. That is what I intend to do with this blog. Moreover, at a time when our political and social disagreements seem to have degenerated into constant vitriol, vilification, verbal abuse and intolerance of those who hold differing opinions, I hope that this blog can contribute, in some small way, to a restoration of respectful debate and discussion, where we can defend our beliefs forcefully without demonizing any who disagree with us. As a Catholic commentator, that is what I have always striven to do--remembering that even as we are called to stand firmly in defense of our Church, her teachings, and our right to be heard in the public square, we are also called always to be the face of Christ to the world--most especially to those with whom we disagree.

3 thoughts on “Pope Francis Warns of a ‘Demographic Winter’

  1. An interesting aside to your observations is a parallel phenomenon that may have a reverse effect.

    Without getting into numbers and projections etc., the one group that is demonstrating a population increase is the proponents of Islam. An interesting item related that the Muslim population of France already exceeds fifty percent. They are currently not all of voting age but, that time will come. When that time comes, strict adherence to Sharia precepts will most likely ensure a population increase in that country. I understand that Britain and Italy may be in a similar, or soon to be similar, situation.

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    1. Excellent point, John, thank you. Recall that back in the days of St. John Paul II, the Vatican often found itself allied with Islamic nations at the UN, in opposing various attacks on life and the family, often in the context of coercive population control policies. But the rise of radical Islamic extremism, complete with its determination to impose Sharia law, has undermined that faith alliance that Catholicism and Islam were at times able to build upon certain shared moral values. So that the growing strength of Islam in Europe and America portends serious ramifications. Yet that strength in numbers has been magnified by the de-population policies pursued by most of Europe and North America–part of the “Suicide of the West” chronicled by Patrick Buchanan.

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  2. Thank you Rick for this thoughtful and thorough commentary on population. I also appreciate John’s point about the increasing Muslim population and influence in Europe. It is noticeable here as well and if it weren’t for the extremists they would be far more welcome.

    I’d like to add that hopefully all Americans would support lEGAL, MORAL (non-political) immigration which I think would also bolster our population. In turn the places from where people are fleeing would be forced to be friendlier to their people.

    Fr. Spitzer has recently spoken in detail of some of the innovations on the horizon that will multiply our resources to support an increasing population.

    Most of all I pray that the Church begins an education process that will reverse the faulty perception that most of us have embraced.

    Thanks again Rick!
    Walter Ruzek

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