Big-think story: What does religion have to do with slumping global birth rates? – GetReligion

Posted By on December 1, 2019

The End of Babies.

That was the arresting headline on a hefty and significant lead article in The New York Times Sunday Review section for Nov. 17 about spreading international reproductive malaise, a.k.a what some are now calling the Baby Bust.

This is big stuff. Yes, there are religious implications here.

The Guy is old enough to remember apocalyptic journalism about a lethal population explosion heading our way. Now social analysts are issuing the opposite warning for some countries. Among other ills, when average ages rise this causes labor shortages, lack of children to care for aged parents and deficits in public and private pension funds with fewer younger wage-earners to carry the oldsters.

Government interventions to skew population can cause trouble.

China feared increasing hordes and long forced couples to have only one child. Combined with open abortion and gender favoritism, that has produced a dire shortage of marriageable women. David French of thedispatch.com notes the National Bureau of Economic Research found that Californias paid family leave, which youd think would encourage more births, apparently reduced childbearing.

To keep the population from shrinking, a nation needs an average of 2.1 births per woman resident. Numbers fall well below that in e.g. Taiwan (1.13), Japan (1.42), Thailand (1.52), China (1.6), the United States (an all-time low of 1.7) and numerous well-off European nations like Denmark (also 1.7).

Denmark is a major puzzle in the Times piece by Anna Louie Sussman, working in partnership with the Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting. Affluent Danes are better able to cover the costs of child-rearing than parents in many countries. Denmarks welfare state makes it as easy as possible to have children, with 12 months of family leave after birth, government funding for in vitrofertilization, and heavily subsidized day care.

So what gives?

Better career opportunities for women are one factor. A culture in which legalized abortion is a given is another.

Reflecting the socio-political Left, Sussman thinks the climate crisis and income inequality make many couples reluctant to bring children into this world. She says capitalist economies are the big driver, providing wealth that makes many prefer recreation to bothering with kids, and turning employees into workaholics who feel they lack the time and energy for parenting.

Journalists will consider that theres a major religious angle to focus on, as usually with societal trends. Couples without children feel less incentive to be active in religious congregations, which dwindle as a result. On the other hand, Sussman observes, declining religiosity generally means fewer births. Secularism fosters materialism fosters childlessness.

Some faiths are notably invested in producing children, for instance the Amish, Hasidic Jews and Latter-day Saints. Healthy birth rates are a major reason some demographers predict Islam will surpass Christianity as the worlds largest religion later this century. Growing religious flocks tend to make converts, retain their young people and encourage families with multiple children. Do the math.

Fortunately for religion writers, the Times feature appears simultaneously with a vigorous pro-reproduction religious proclamation titled The Gift of Children. It was issued by 24 American thinkers in the Evangelicals and Catholics Together (ECT) project, which has produced a series of joint statements since 1994 expressing traditional Christian teachings on cultural and religious issues.

Some journalists will want to report how these Catholics and Protestants jointly treat news topics like birth control, abortion, same-sex marriage and artificial methods of human reproduction. But here The Guy will note only their slant on the birth dearth.

In the Bibles view, the statement notes, God says to be fruitful and multiply (Genesis 1:28), Moses admonishes Israelites to choose life that you and your descendants may live (Deuteronomy 30:19), and children are a heritage from the Lord and a reward (Psalm 127:3). ECT says that to have a child is to have a future through committing ourselves to renewing and caring for the forward-flowing stream of life.

ECT asserts that being a parent is natural and an act of faith even for non-believers, and fundamental to what it means to be human. For believers, it is nothing less than a divine commandment where possible. Deliberately to refuse the gift of children implicates us in a turn away from the living God, so much so that were told clergy should not perform weddings of couples that intend to be childless.

Yes, Christianity does uphold those who are single or who enter celibate church vocations. But for ECT that does not endorse the sterility of the present age. The chaste single life does not refuse the gift of children for the sake of present pleasures or out of anxieties about a future we cannot control. Singles can function as parents for the children in their families, churches and communities.

Much generation-shaping material here for writers and their sources to examine.

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Big-think story: What does religion have to do with slumping global birth rates? - GetReligion

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