Jonathan V. Last, editor of the Weekly Standard and author of the forthcoming book, What to Expect When No One's Expecting (Encounter, 2013), comments in his e-letter today about the recent report from the Pew Research Center about falling fertility rates in the U.S.:
Last week the general public had a momentary freak-out when it was reported that U.S. fertility rates had hit their lowest point since 1920. The news made it into the front pages of the Washington Post and USA Today and it was as if, for a moment, mainstream America awoke to the fact that our demographics are terrible. And getting worse.
But then the moment passed and everyone went back to worrying about the
fiscal cliff and the royal pregnancy. Such is the nature of media.
It's worth looking into the new numbers in a little more depth, though,
because they give you a reasonably good sense as to what's happening in
So here's the top-line: Between 2007 and 2010, the U.S. birthrate
dropped 8 percent, to the level of 64 births for every 1,000 women. The
preliminary data for 2011 shows it sliding still more, to 63.2. This is
as barren as America has ever been. For some contrast: During the Great
Depressionwhen it really collapsedthe birth rate bottomed out in the
high 70s. In the 1970swhen fertility rates all across the Western world
entered a death spiralthe birth rate never dipped much lower than 65.
Our birth rate is now lower than it was both during the greatest
economic calamity, and the greatest social upheaval, in modern American
One striking (and sobering) aspect, Last notes,
is that the birth rates among immigrants are not just falling, but are
When you unpack that top-line number, you see two other trends. While
the average birth rate dropped by 8 percent, the rate of decline for
native-born women was actually smaller: just 5 percent. What moved the
average then? A giant drop in births from immigrants. Among immigrant
women in general, the birth rate dropped 13 percent. Among immigrants of
Mexican descent, the decline was 23 percent.
Look at the trajectories for these two classesnative-born Americans and
immigrantsand it's clearly possible that within another 20 years or
so, our recent immigrants will be having kids at basically the same
extremely low rate that the natives are.
That's the raw power of assimilation at work, because the changes aren't
an artifact of the population’s age structurethey’re behavioral
Exactly right. There are a lot of factors
involved, but one of them is that having a culture of death eventually
leads to the death of the culture. Part of that culture is the widely
accepted lie that we, as Americans, can have it all: money, careers,
leisure, spare time, andoh yeah!a family of 1.2 children, slipped in
somewhere amid all of the consuming and obtaining and doing and being
successful. In addition, we've been told that all of this can be happily
and easily regulated using contraceptives, having recourse to abortion
when "necessary", putting off or ignoring marriage altogether, and
having a lax approach to divorce. Alas, it isn't working out so well,
and the increasingly infertile present is quickly turning into a barren
In the long run, this is a somewhat unpleasant development for America.
In the United States we’ve often looked at our not-horrible fertility
rate, compared it to the rates in places like Italy, Japan, and Germany,
and thought, Hey, there’s American exceptionalism for you. We won't
fall into the low-fertility trap that they have in other industrialized
But our demographic "exceptionalism" was really being held aloft by the
elevated fertility rates of our immigrants. If immigrant fertility
merges with native fertility, then all of a sudden America’s demographic
structure starts to look a lot more like Europe’s. And not very
exceptional at all.
Eventually, the mainstream won’t be able to ignore this demographic
stuff because it threatens everything that everyone holds sacred. The
left will realize that you can’t have big government when there aren’t
enough taxpayers being born to fund it. The right will realize that the
free market breaks down when labor shortages run into a population with a
skewed age profile. And everyone in the middle will realize that the
most elemental aspect of "sustainability" isn’t having recycled material
in their running shoes or fair-trade organic coffeeit's having enough
people to make the world as you know it function.
Here is Bl. John Paul II, writing in 1995:
Contraception, sterilization and abortion are
certainly part of the reason why in some cases there is a sharp decline in the
birthrate. It is not difficult to be tempted to use the same methods and
attacks against life also where there is a situation of "demographic explosion".
The Pharaoh of old, haunted by the presence and
increase of the children of Israel, submitted them to every kind of oppression
and ordered that every male child born of the Hebrew women was to be killed
(cf. Ex 1:7-22). Today not a few of the powerful of the earth act in the same
way. They too are haunted by the current demographic growth, and fear that the
most prolific and poorest peoples represent a threat for the well-being and
peace of their own countries. Consequently, rather than wishing to face and
solve these serious problems with respect for the dignity of individuals and
families and for every person's inviolable right to life, they prefer to
promote and impose by whatever means a massive programme of birth control. Even
the economic help which they would be ready to give is unjustly made
conditional on the acceptance of an anti-birth policy.
Read more from "Evangelium vitae".