American poet Carl Sandburg once wrote, “A baby is God’s opinion that the world should go on.”
However, this view is not shared by doomsayers in the United States and Western countries who push “depopulation,” believing the world is overpopulated. Their response to this “crisis” is to advocate for unhindered access to birth control and abortion. But some people, like business leader and billionaire Elon Musk, are raising the alarm about population collapse, saying that it poses a greater threat to civilization than climate change. Needless to say, this view is controversial. However, one needn’t agree with Musk’s prognosis to notice that something seismic is happening in our world.
Across the developed world, birth rates are plummeting. They have been for decades. They have dropped below replacement level, and still aren’t leveling out. In some cases, populations are already beginning to collapse.
Japan is perhaps the most extreme example. In 2022, Japan’s population dropped by over half a million people, marking the twelfth consecutive year of population decrease. All signs point to an irreversible process—one that is only likely to accelerate with each passing year.
In a recent speech on the subject, Prime Minister Kishida Fumio arguably out-matched Musk in his apocalypticism. Japan, he said, is at “the brink of not being able to maintain a functioning society.” Something dramatic must be done, he said, to increase birth rates.
This past year, China announced that its population decreased for the first time in decades. Italy’s birth rate is so low that there are real fears that it is en route to disappearing as a nation.
Some retort, of course, that, far from an apocalypse, these demographic trends should be welcomed. As Petula Dvorak argued in The Washington Post a few years back, the cause of the birth dearth can be summarized in one word: “choices.” That is, for the first time in history women can control their fertility, choosing to welcome as many children as they want (or don’t want). Job well done!
The only problem with this argument is that it’s not true. Women aren’t welcoming as many children as they want.
A growing body of data resoundingly affirms that all across the developed world women are having far fewer children than they would like to have. Demographers refer to this as the “fertility gap.” In America, for instance, whereas women say that ideally, they would like to have 2.5 children (above the replacement rate), on average they are having 1.64 (well below the replacement rate!).
Importantly, research has also found that women who have fewer children than they want, are less likely to say they are “very happy.” The effect is modest, but consistent enough to be taken seriously.
However, there is a tragic irony here. In my role as the leader of an international pro-life organization, I have travelled widely in the developing world. In many developing nations, roadways are lined with billboards advertising the latest, most-effective contraceptive methods. Television and radio ads pound home the message that welcoming fewer children produces greater happiness.
Typically, these ads are sponsored by Western-funded development organizations, e.g., the United Nations Population Fund, Planned Parenthood, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, etc.
In other words, at the very same moment where there is alarm in the West over a demographic collapse, and Western women are confessing themselves unhappy due to a failure to meet their reproductive ideals, Western nations are spending billions of dollars imposing their “ideals” of fertility on the developing world.
Perhaps some women in the developing world welcome this “aid.” But, in my experience, many women are angry that wealthy, powerful foreign agencies, and “philanthropists” view their fertility primarily as a problem to be “solved.”
In his monumental 1995 encyclical Evangelium vitae, Pope St. John Paul II compared these efforts to those of Pharaoh, who desired to control the Israelites by killing their first-born sons. Wealthy westerners, he said, “are haunted by the current demographic growth.” They are afraid of the fertility of poor countries, which represents “a threat for the well-being and peace of their own countries.”
So, the United States and other wealthy countries resort to what Pope Francis has called “ideological colonization.” That is, we impose our “values” on the developing world. Sometimes, we resort to outright bribery. Financial aid packages are made contingent on nations adopting population control policies, or promoting the values of the sexual revolution, whether they want it or not.
Such practices should universally be decried as appallingly condescending, at best. Instead, this Mother’s Day, perhaps we should stop treating healthy women’s bodies as a threat and pause and listen to what many women say they really want: to be mothers.
Not only is there nothing wrong with that, but in creating the conditions in which women feel confident enough to welcome as many children as they say they would like, we are creating the conditions not only for happier women, but also for a healthier society with a bright future.
(Human Life International is the only US-based authority on global life issues, including abortion, contraception, and end-of-life concerns. Human Life International is engaged in providing aid, training, and advocacy around the world and is the largest global pro-life and family organization, active in more than 100 countries on six continents. Human Life International provides resources and education on life issues from a Catholic perspective, while providing assistance around the globe, and prepares those training for and those active in ministry to address these matters in their vocation. For more information, visit hli.org.)
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As a woman and a mother I think this article gives a one sided portrayal of the issue. There is no nobility in poverty and having children you cannot afford to raise is what makes women really stressed and unhappy. I’m happy for the church to engage on these issues but they do have to include both sides of the story. I think the report would have been more accurate if it stated women wished they had enough time, money and resources to have more children. This starts with equal employment rights and economic justice, not less choices.
I tried to post a comment to this article earlier & hopefully it will show up eventually but the primary reason our birthrates are falling is that more women are delaying marriage & postponing childbearing until it’s almost too late. And marriage itself is a choice fewer people are making currently. Even face to face relationships are scarcer these days.
The Amish marry in their early 20’s & they’re the fastest growing Christian denomination in North America. They have a population doubling every generation. Both Amish & Mennonite families encourage social events where young people can meet. Marriage & family are valued over social or economic status.
Women in developed nations who adopt the values of the prevailing culture will continue to prioritize advanced education & financial position.
I agree with you 100%. What you brought up is the elephant in the room that the Church is ignoring. The only reason I decided to read this article is: How much does a celibate priest know about “What women really want.”
Perhaps because celibate priests (and I know married priests who would agree with this essay) have mothers, some have sisters, and (gasp) some priests talk to women and listen to/read what they have to say. Or are you suggesting that women are incapable of communicating what they want? Or that only woman can talk about women want (in which case, why are you commenting)? Or do you believe that only men who have sexual relations with women can know what women want? So many elephants, so little space.
How much do any professionals know about their fields? No medical specialist or psychologist is required to have suffered from the symptoms they treat.
Priests hear confessions, work with families, marriage preparation, and have intimate knowledge of what we experience.
Celibacy really doesn’t signify in this. But since my original comment dissapeared into cyberspace I’ll say here that I don’t think surveys always signify either. Actions speak louder than words and people often answer surveys in ways that seem more acceptable.
My wife and I have been married 33 years. We were always open to life; whenever God sent us a child was OK with us. At first, there was nothing for two years. Then, we had seven in a row. Our kids have had Catholic school educations, private music lessons, and trips to Europe. We have plenty to eat, and we have never been late on a bill. All this has been on one, five-figure paycheck. How did we do it? We didn’t; God did. It was “the loaves and the fishes.” We trusted, and He did the rest. It wasn’t always easy, but we are all better for it. Oddly enough, when we see families with 10 kids or more, seven doesn’t seem like all that many.
Women all over the world are having fewer children as their economic prospects improve. I cannot believe this reflects anything other than the fact that many women do not want more than a couple of children and that quite a few women want none. It was simply not viable before oral birth control for women to do so. I also look at so many primary sources that indicate that many women before the mid-twentieth century had children and then tried to have as little to do with them as possible. Anyone that could afford it had a nanny to do most of the child raising and those that could afford it also sent their children away to school. Low fertility is a problem, but I don’t think it is principally a modern problem.
Most young women I meet seem to want everything, yet it’s obvious they are heading for nothing. The brainwashing has succeeded. Sad times ahead for those who believed the message.
Worldly secular people are too focused on money, rather than Jesus, to have children. It is the poor people, who focus on Jesus, who have the children, but then live in poverty. I figure that a tithe on 2 billion Christians would be a trillion dollars a year. A trillion dollars a year from Pope Francis and Christ’s Church, to the poor, would go a long way on helping the poor who are having children. Just saying.
Matthew 25:31 The Judgment of the Nations.
“When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, he will sit upon his glorious throne, and all the nations will be assembled before him. And he will separate them one from another, as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. He will place the sheep on his right and the goats on his left. Then the king will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father. Inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, a stranger and you welcomed me, naked and you clothed me, ill and you cared for me, in prison and you visited me.’ Then the righteous* will answer him and say, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you drink? When did we see you a stranger and welcome you, or naked and clothe you? When did we see you ill or in prison, and visit you?’ And the king will say to them in reply, ‘Amen, I say to you, whatever you did for one of these least brothers of mine, you did for me.’ Then he will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you accursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. For I was hungry and you gave me no food, I was thirsty and you gave me no drink, a stranger and you gave me no welcome, naked and you gave me no clothing, ill and in prison, and you did not care for me.’ Then they will answer and say, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or ill or in prison, and not minister to your needs?’ He will answer them, ‘Amen, I say to you, what you did not do for one of these least ones, you did not do for me.’ And these will go off to eternal punishment, but the righteous to eternal life.”
I am a woman with a Masters Degree and worked a few years in my profession. Big whoop. What i wanted was to be home raising children. We were unable to conceive and therefore adopted two children. The best years of my life. I had several friends in my neighborhood who were doctors, lawyers or otherwise professional. To a person, all said it was EASIER to go to work were you dressed well, had a calm lovely lunch and spoke to other adults all day.
Many women have made the calculation that they come first, period. Raising kids requires personal sacrifice of many sorts, of time, energy, economy and others. They have selected their path . In my opinion they will one day come to regret it.
“Sometimes, we resort to outright bribery. Financial aid packages are made contingent on nations adopting population control policies, or promoting the values of the sexual revolution, whether they want it or not.”
This is (almost) certainly evil.
There is a crisis in vocations to motherhood just as there is a crisis in vocations to the priesthood. You really can’t have one without the other. God doesn’t stop calling, we just stop answering.
I must have done something wrong trying to post my original comment yesterday but I’ll just repeat that I wanted to thank Father Boquet for his hard work and HLI’s global prolife witness. Ive supported HLI for decades. May God continue to bless their mission.