The Cultural Roots of Demographic Winter

The Cultural Roots of Demographic Winter

A Speech by Don Feder, PR Director for World Congress of Families, delivered at the 10th Rhodes Forum

Over the past five years, I’ve spoken on demographic winter in the United States, Canada, the Caribbean, Nigeria, London, Amsterdam, Madrid, Moscow, Ulyanovsk, Melbourne and Sydney.

I feel passionately about this issue because I believe that nothing will have a more profound impact on this century than declining fertility.

I’m also a father and a grandfather. I believe in the family for without it civilization can not survive. I believe in children for without them there is no future. The world of tomorrow can be found in the cradle and the nursery of today. Tragically, the cradle and nursery are increasingly empty.

We are facing a global catastrophe:

Worldwide, the Total Fertility Rate (TFR) – the number of children the average woman will have during her lifetime -- fell from 5 in the early 1960s to 2.7 today, a decline of almost 50%.

59 countries with 44% of the world’s population now have below replacement fertility; in most cases, well-below replacement. The rest are headed that way. A fertility rate of 2.1 is needed just to replace current population. For the European Union as a whole, the rate is 1.5.

Demographers tell us that, all else being equal, with a fertility rate of 1.3, a country will lose half of its population every 45 years. Greece has a TFR of 1.3, which has made it impossible for tax revenue to keep pace with growing pensions and the salaries of government workers.

Developed nations are aging rapidly. Japan’s over-60 population went from 11.6% of the total in 1989 to 21.2% in 2011. In developed nations, seniors are 20% of the population today, the highest proportion in recorded history. That’s expected to rise to 32% by 2050. Then, these nations will have two elderly for every child.

Economies aren’t driven by declining fertility and aging populations. In the 1990s, the Japanese stock market fell 80% from its all-time high. In the United States, as we move from the Baby-Boom Generation (81 million) to Generation X (46 million), the impact on the housing market and our economy generally is profound.

While the world’s population continues to grow (for the present), the number of children is declining. The United Nations projects that by the year 2050 the world will hold 248 million fewer children under 5 than it does today.

Nothing happens in a vacuum. All over the world, individuals, governments and societies have embraced certain assumptions or attitudes that have led inexorably to rapidly falling fertility.

There are six cultural causes of demographic winter:

First: Atomistic Individualism, or a Culture of Selfishness – The hallmark of modern man is self-absorption, bordering on self-obsession. Many act as if their emotions are the most important things about the world around them. As the idea of God receded in our consciousness, self became the center of our universe. Youth are taught, by the culture in general -- and Hollywood in particular -- that their primary responsibility is to themselves and that happiness should be their highest priority.

While other generations sacrificed for their children, today, children are valued primarily in the context of parental desires. Many adults are too busy being children to bother having children.

Second: The decline of marriage. One of the distinguishing characteristics of our era is the failure to form families. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, in America, between 2009 and 2010, there was a 13% increase in what are called “cohabiting couples” -- those who, instead of becoming husbands and wives, become roommates and bedmates.

In France, for the first time in 2010, more couples began living together than married.

In much of the Western world, marriage has become optional -- a ceremony to mark a legal relationship, rather than a lifelong commitment, a promise before God and man “for as long as we both shall live.”

Today, we marry because we choose to, not because we ought to – which is why fewer and fewer of us do, with obvious implications for fertility.

For married couples, divorce looms large. In America, 40% of all marriages now end in divorce. The unspoken vow is: “My relationship with you is tentative. You must continue to earn my love. When love – or romantic infatuation -- ends, so will our union.”

The impermanence of marriage has a huge impact on childbearing. At least subconsciously, a woman with two children is probably wondering: “If my husband leaves me, how could I possibly support another child?”

Men and women who do marry are marrying later and later in life – which also reduces the number of children. After age 35, it becomes progressively harder for women to conceive. The ability of men to father children also declines with age.

Third: Devaluing children – Modern life conspires against childbearing. We live in what can only be called an anti-child culture. Children are seen as a burden, rather than a joy and a blessing. We are told that children are an obstacle to life’s primary goals – pleasure and self-fulfillment.

We are constantly reminded of the cost of children to society – in educational, medical and law enforcement expenditures.

What’s often overlooked is that the children of today are the workers, producers, consumers, innovators, care-givers and taxpayers of tomorrow – those whose payments keep pension plans solvent, who care for patients in the nursing homes, keep the streets safe, safeguard the nation, operate factories and farms and keep lights on all over the world.

Fourth: Feminism – It’s ironic that a dogma which asks women to deny their essential nature is called “feminism.” According to this doctrine, women will never be truly free as long as they are tied to husbands, households and children, and that the path to self-fulfillment leads through universities and corporate offices.

Feminism has contributed significantly to the failure to form families, the rise of divorce and a culture that depicts stay-at-home moms as brainless, breeding machines. Recall the comment of a Democratic consultant that Ann Romney, wife of presidential candidate Mitt, who raised five sons, “never worked a day in her life,” because she never got a paycheck. On the same basis, one would have to say that Mother Teresa “never worked a day in her life,” because she never received compensation for her heroic humanitarian endeavors.

From 1990 to 2000, the percentage of Spanish women who are childless at age 30, increased from 30% to 60%. Worldwide, more and more women are opting to have fewer and fewer children, or none at all.

Fifth: Secularism or the waning of faith – Nietzsche notwithstanding, God isn’t quite dead. It’s just that He’s irrelevant to the lives of all too many of us.

There is a direct correlation between birth rates and belief. It’s no coincidence that Europe, the most secular continent, also has the lowest fertility.

Religion teaches that our own lives aren’t the sum total of human existence, that there’s something higher – a grand scheme that tells us both who we are and why we are.

There is a very simple formula to determine who’s having large families and who isn’t. Those who have faith in the future have children. Those who don’t, don’t. Where does faith in the future come from? It comes from faith, or belief.

Sixth: The war on procreation. Worldwide, by 2015, $17.2 billion will be spent annually on birth control. For the first time in history, just over half of all people of child-bearing age use some form of contraception.

There are 42 million abortions each year worldwide. Morality aside, from a demographic perspective, we’re not just losing 42 million lives each year, but those of their children, grand-children, great-grandchildren and so on down through the ages.

Medical science, which for generations was dedicated to extending human life, now is committed to preventing it or ending it in the womb.

From Thomas Malthus to Paul Ehrlich, to Planned Parenthood, overpopulation demagogues have been selling a monumental lie: That there are too many of us and any more will sink the planet. They warn of worldwide starvation or global warming to scare us into embracing an anti-life mentality.

Western governments and international agencies spend billions each year to convince developing countries to commit national suicide through what’s euphemistically called “family planning.”

The West also invests heavily in promoting contraception and abortion at home. Never before in history have a people financed their own destruction – and done so in the name of humanity.

But our salvation lies in having more children, not fewer.

The population explosion of the past 200 years has fueled every advance from the industrial revolution to the computer age. The same period saw phenomenal advances in science, technology, health and material well-being.

But what happens when more and more becomes less and less?

Civilization depends on population growth. How will we maintain an advanced industrial civilization with fewer and fewer workers, producers, consumers, innovators and caregivers, and a growing elderly population?

Unless the catastrophic trend of declining fertility is halted and reversed, the mighty industrial engine we’ve built over the past two centuries will grind to a halt and slowly rust.

I am often asked how we can forestall demographic winter. What can governments do? What can society do?

While there is a role for government to play, ultimately, the answer lies with us. We must change hearts and we must change minds.

Especially among young adults, we need to recapture the joy and the wonder – the absolute miracle – of having children. There is no work of art as beautiful as a child’s face.

In the act of procreation, we both imitate God and touch eternity.