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 hysteria—predicted 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.