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Author’s Note: This is the second article in a two-part series on chosen childlessness, the economic problems of fewer children, and the relevance of Gods first commandment to multiply and replenish. Read part one here, and please respond with your comments.
We wrote last week about the growing trend to have a dog instead of a child and the growing tendency within the Church to have the default switch on having a child set to “off” unless inspired otherwise. We also talked about the declining birthrates in most of the developed world and about some of the economic problems that having “fewer children” is already causing. Please review that article if you have time to put todays article in context.
Today we want to look a little deeper. How much have birthrates changed? What are the trends across the world? How do trends within the Church compare? How much does it really cost to have a child (and to raise one)? What do “more children” do to the stability and happiness of a family? What is the best way to decide whether to have another child?
First of all, a personal story: We had our first baby on our first anniversary. We were still in graduate school and living in a tiny student housing apartment in Boston. The word got out that we were planning to have another child fairly soon, and we got some hate messages from anonymous persons asking us if we didn’t understand that the world was overpopulated and that we would be consuming more than our share of its resources.
A few years later, living in Washington DC, we had three under four, and got dirty looks walking through grocery stores with two babies in the shopping cart and a toddler in tow. A couple of years later, living in London as we started our Mission Presidency, we had four, and then two more were born there. When we were with all six kids, Londoners asked if we were a school.
Zero population growth was the popular mantra, and we clearly didn’t get the memo!
Well, things have changed. Far from being worried about population growth and high birthrates, most developed countries in the world are now losing population, with a birthrate below the replacement level of 2.1 births per woman, and the resulting economic problems are significant and getting worse. It’s not hard to understand how the fast-growing over-65 segment of the population will not be able to be supported by the declining workforce. The classic “inverted pyramid” of more and more oldsters and fewer and fewer youngsters is already a reality.
And with more and more chosen childlessness, more and more single children by choice, and less siblings and cousins, the social dynamic changes, as does the emotional resilience of kids.
The interesting question for Church members is that, in addition to the economic, social and emotional problems of fewer kids, there also may be a spiritual problem. After all, we believe in a pre-mortal place where spirit children of God are awaiting their turn at mortality. Do they wait longer and longer as people have fewer children? Is the divine timetable threatened?
Trends are hard to buck, but shouldn’t members of the Church be setting their own trends rather than following the trends of the world? If you look at national graphs charting the decline of birthrates or the older age of first pregnancies or the perceived ideal number of children we see all the lines going steeply down. And the distressing thing is that when you look at the same graphs for Church members, our lines are a bit behind the national ones but heading in exactly the same directions.
The larger institutions of the public and private sectors are not helping. The front-page headline in this past week’s Salt Lake Tribune read, “Tax cuts leave out large families” and reported that, “Congress in 2017 eliminated the $3,038 per dependent child state tax exemption.” And stared that the Utah Legislatures tax decisions will mean that “larger families will get hit harder, while childless benefit.” (SL Tribune, April 9, page 1)
While the downward trends in having kids are the most dramatic in the history of the world, most people are not noticing them and are unaware of how profoundly they will affect everyone.
In the second chapter of our recent book The Turning we try to communicate some of the problems that happen when people choose against having children. Here are some quotes from that chapter:
“In England, a majority of women of childbearing age say they would rather buy a house than have a child, and one-third say they do not ever want children. In some Asian countries, there are now more women between twenty and forty who say they do not want children than who say they do.5
“In many major world cities, there are now more households that are occupied by one single individual than households in- habited by any kind of family.4
“In 2014, for the first time, more than one-half of the nations on the planet (116 of the earth’s 224 recognized sovereign states and countries) have birthrates below the replacement rate of 2.1 children per woman and now must either encourage more births or count on in-migration to maintain their work forces.
“As the Pew Research Center has observed, “Social institutions that have been around for thousands of years generally change slowly, when they change at all, but that’s not the way things have been playing out with marriage and family since the middle of the twentieth century. Some scholars argue that, in the past five decades, the basic architecture of these age-old institutions has changed as rapidly as at any time in human history.”
Then we try to tie the attitudes and trends to the warnings of scripture:
“The sharpest, most foreboding language in all of scripture comes in the Old Testament verse mentioned earlier, and it refers to what will happen to this whole earth if families fail. Prophesying of our time, the prophet Malachi warned that if families lose their cohesion— if the hearts of parents are not turned to their children and the hearts of children to parents, God will “smite the earth with a curse.“
“In the New Testament, the same strong language recurs . . . of turning the hearts of fathers to children (Luke 1:17). Still other scripture admonishes that our hearts must be with our families (Quran 55:82) and warns that if the hearts of parents are not turned to their children and the hearts of children to their parents “the whole earth will be utterly wasted“ (Doctrine and Covenants 2:3)
“Is there anything more fundamental than where our hearts are turned? Is there any unit more basic than the family? Is there any macro aspect of our world of which the family is not the essential micro? Is there any large institution that is not made up of and dependent on the most basic institution? Our economy? Our culture? Our political infrastructure? Our whole society? Don’t they all ultimately depend, for their survival on households, on families?
“Is it any wonder that wrong-turned hearts could dam our happiness and “curse” or “waste” our world?”
The problem, of course, is that family is no longer thought of by most of the world as the “basic institution.” Collectively, we seem to think most of individual rights, not family rights; individual freedoms, not family sacrifice and commitment; individual concerns more than family concerns.
But in the Church we should know better! We know that the Celestial Kingdom is a family kingdom and that the Familial order is the very government of God. We know that an individual is not a perfectible entity and that it is eternally married couples and families that will inherit the top level of heaven. We know that all will have the chance to marry and to have children either here or in the Spirit World to follow.
Yet we still shy away from talking as much as we should about marriage and procreation and the stewardship of children—in a weird form of Mormon “political correctness” we don’t want to talk about these things in a Church where half of adult members are single. Actually, isn’t this a reason that we should talk more about it?
We are taught in D&C 9 and other places that decisions should be made with careful study and that they can be confirmed by the Spirit. And the implication of our doctrine is that we follow commandments and pray for answers on things perhaps not adequately or specifically covered by God’s laws. Based on this, would not the prudent course for married couples be to seek to follow the commandment to multiply and replenish, and to only not have a child (or another child) when we receive an answer not to (or to delay.) In other words, shouldn’t the default switch be “on” until we receive inspiration to turn it off; rather than being “off” until we receive inspiration to turn it on?
As we emphasized last week, there should be very individual and unique answers for each family. There is no one-size-fits-all approach. Each family and each parent and each child has a particular set of needs and capacities. And of course, we are so aware of the many couples and single individuals who desperately want children (or more children) but who don’t have the opportunity for that right now. And the sole purpose of both of these articles is not to give answers, but to help stimulate and motivate the right questions—asked in prayer by each unique individual in each unique situation.
Let us give you two challenges: First, we challenge you to think about this issue on the macro—what is happening in the world to families, and why does it matter to us? Read our book The Turning: Why the State of the Family Matters and What the World can Do About It. (You can get it for half price with free shipping at www.Familius.com/eyrespecial. Or if you don’t want to buy it, go to Amazon and get a free sample.
And secondly: We challenge you to discuss this topic with members of your own family. Are we sucked in by the trends of the world? Are we thinking of this through the Gospel perspective? How will lower birthrates in developed countries and higher ones in Africa and other third world places affect the world? Do you know families who wish they had had one less child? Do you know families who wish they could have (or had chosen to have) more? Should the default switch be on or off? Does an additional child place economic hardships on a family? Are there children waiting to come into your family? Have you found your own individual answer through deep thought and prayer?
Bless you in your own pursuit!