31 Jul Birth Dearth: The Family is a ‘Natural Good for Economic Development’
The Family is a ‘Natural Good for Economic Development’
July 31, 2007
The World Congress of Families IV, held in Poland this spring, concluded with the “Warsaw Declaration” – a statement calling upon various groups in the world to collaborate to assure the preservation of the natural family. Prior to this declaration, the Congress addressed the world’s “birth dearth” — declining fertility rates threatening to cause a “demographic winter.” In nearly every corner of the world, the population is top-heavy with adults who are having fewer and fewer children. Replacement fertility level has dropped significantly below the 2.1 children per woman average needed to sustain nations. This presents serious problems for the family and the future of the world.
Gauging the Problem
Dr. Phillip Longman, the Schwartz Senior Fellow at the New America Foundation, told WCF IV that world population is still growing, but the world supply of children is shrinking:
Nearly 70 nations, representing more than half the world’s population, have below-replacement fertility rates. There are not enough people being born to support their economies and to provide for their aging populations.
• Worldwide, the absolute number of children age four and under is 6 million lower now than it was in 1990.
• In Europe, there are 36 percent fewer children under age 5 than there were in 1960. In Italy, there are only half as many women of childbearing age as there were in 1960.
• In China, Taiwan, Japan and South Korea, birth rates have dropped so low that “ 4-2-1 societies” have emerged. These are societies in which single-child families are the norm, and each single child eventually becomes responsible for supporting two parents and four grandparents.
• The southern provinces of India are reproducing at well below replacement levels.
• The median ages in Latin America and the Caribbean are rising as birth rates plummet.
Dr. Steven Mosher, president of the Population Research Institute, told WCF IV that no country whose birthrate has fallen significantly below replacement level has ever succeeded in regaining replacement rate fertility. Once the birth rate falls to what the U.N. Population Division calls “low low fertility,” no combination of government policies and subsidies appears sufficient to re-boost the birthrate.
Proponents of Declining Population
Dr. Mosher said pro-family/pro-natal policies are facing strenuous objections from three overlapping groups: radical environmentalists, population controllers and radical feminists.
Radical feminists want to completely re-fashion human society into a gender-neutral collection of individuals, Mosher said. They want to re-define the family so broadly that, in all practicality, it ceases to exist as a functional social unit. Gender-neutral policies undermine the complementarity at the heart of successful marriages and suppress fertility.
Modern socialist welfare states provide abortion on demand, state-funded contraception and sterilization. Each contributes to the fracturing of the intergenerational dependency of the family.
Environmental activists and anti-life organizations claim the Earth is overpopulated and population threatens government stability in developing countries. Many of them rationalize that the over-population serves as justification for abortion. That sentiment is also found in developed nations. The Sierra Club, for example, in 1969 endorsed a zero population growth policy and abortion on demand in the United States.
Social security systems around the world provide huge incentives to people to remain childless. According to Dr. Mosher, g overnment-funded contraception and sterilization programs—holdovers from the days of the population bomb scares — deliberately suppress the birth rate and prevent the formation of human capital.
Another important factor in declining birth rates is urbanization. Half the world’s population now lives in urban areas, where children offer little or no economic benefit to their parents.
• Adults know that it is expensive to raise children. The U.S. Department of Agriculture estimates the cost of raising a child born in 2005 at around $200,000 over 20 years.
Thomas Christensen, a member of UFI’s governing board and veteran observer of the annual International Conference on Population and Development, at the U.N., offered further perspective on the “birth dearth”:
Decades of legalized abortion and comprehensive “safe-sex” education in developed nations have had a devastating impact on families and fertility rates. In Spain , for example, as mothers encouraged by such policy have left the home, avoided childbearing or terminated their pregnancies, the population is cut in half every generation. Many nations, in response to a culture more deadly than the Black Plague, have opted for tax and financial incentives to encourage childbearing and bigger families, but these measures are too little, too late. The family infrastructure centered upon enduring marriages between a man and a woman, with the hope of children, is largely gone.
The UN does a pretty good job of building modern abortion clinics, but a poor job of providing basic health care services and immunizations. As a result, pregnant mothers are subject to high rates of abortion-related deaths and complications in addition to high maternal mortality rates. These women do not need more clinics to kill their babies. The impoverished, diseased woman who is provided abortion services today is still poor and diseased tomorrow, but with the added physiological and psychological scars of abortion, some of which she will carry for the remainder of her life. Her child is not provided a better life or opportunity to succeed — he or she is simply terminated.
Promoting and Potecting the Family
Some economists contest the notion that population numbers equal poverty. Dr. Maria Sophia Aguirre, from the Department of Economics and Business at Catholic University, said during the World Congress of Families IV that healthy families are essential for poverty reduction because they have a direct impact on the quality of human, moral and social capital, and therefore, on the resources and the purpose of economic activity and structures. She said, “Resources are used inefficiently when they are directed towards initiatives that weaken families and divert resources from initiatives that will address effectively weak social and economic structures. This, in turn, hampers real economic growth and perpetuates poverty.”
Access to family planning increases underage sexual activity. Children develop best within a functional family with biological parents. The breakdown of the family damages the economy and the society since human and social capital is reduced and social costs increased.
Dr. Aguirre said: “The family is a necessary good for economic development: it should be promoted and protected if poverty reduction wants to be achieved.”
In some nations, governments offer financial incentives for women to give birth to children. None of these policies have succeeded in recovering the birth rate to replacement level. The ideal is for parents to have the freedom to create a family of their preferred size, not simply having one more child, as some government programs recommend.
While some organizations advocate for tax modifications and incentives to boost fertility rates, we must engender a healthy respect for families, the sanctity of life and the social and economic benefits of healthy, intact families. If we can accomplish that, we stand a better chance of converting demographic winter into “springtime” for civilization.