In the face of falling birthrates in much of the developed world, Pope Francis and Christian leader James Dobson have sounded the alarm of global under-population, calling on families to reevaluate the gift of children and larger families.
In his new letter on marriage and family, Amoris Laetitia (“The Joy of Love”), Pope Francis warns that falling birthrates in much of the world could lead to serious economic hardship, while pointing a finger at a misguided “world politics” of population control under the guise of “reproductive health.”
Francis states that “the decline in population, due to a mentality against having children and promoted by the world politics of reproductive health, creates not only a situation in which the relationship between generations is no longer ensured but also the danger that, over time, this decline will lead to economic impoverishment and a loss of hope in the future.”
Noted evangelist and family advocate Dr. James Dobson has also weighed in on the question, pointing to the fragility of the world’s fertility rate, which in many countries is in steep decline, and noting that this phenomenon “has serious consequences for the common good.”
Throughout the 1960s and 1970s, the world was awash in apocalyptic theories of a global overpopulation crisis. In his 1968 bestseller The Population Bomb, biologist Paul Ehrlich forecast a worldwide catastrophe of pandemic starvation, depleted natural resources, and skyrocketing commodity-prices as the world was overrun by hordes of desperate humans. Many others jumped onto Ehrlich’s alarmist theories, propagating horror stories of mass starvation and a dying planet.
Even though history have shown such doomsday predictions to be spectacularly wrong, the myth of overpopulation has endured, and many still today believe that overpopulation—rather than under-population—is a greater danger for the contemporary world.
The facts say otherwise. Almost all European countries are suffering from unsustainably low birthrates, meaning that new generations will be unable to pay for current welfare systems. Shrinking European populations are creating a vicious circle of higher taxes on the working young, resulting in still fewer children because of economic factors.
A precipitating birthrate is a problem not only in old Europe, however. In China, the government is desperately trying to undo the demographic effects of its draconian one-child policy by encouraging larger families, and even in the United States the population would be in decline were it not for immigration.
“Our problem is not too many people but a plummeting birthrate,” writes Dobson. “There are more single women today than those who are married, and the birthrate has been declining steadily. If it were not for immigration, this nation would be below zero population growth.”
Pope Francis suggest that a decline in population also puts a strain on intergenerational relations, making older persons feel like a weight on family and society.
“In highly industrialized societies,” he states, “where the number of elderly persons is growing even as the birth rate declines, they can be regarded as a burden.”
The problem is not only economic or intergenerational, however. Smaller families also mean that fewer and fewer children have the experience of brothers and sisters, which, the Pope suggests, means a weakening of an understanding of human brotherhood.
“Growing up with brothers and sisters,” Francis says, “makes for a beautiful experience of caring for and helping one another” and is a “true school of socialization.” He contends that “having a brother or a sister who loves you is a profound, precious and unique experience,” one that is being lost in countries “where it has become quite common to have only one child.”
This has an effect on the individual, Francis states, but also on society itself, since “the family itself introduces fraternity into the world.”
From this initial experience of fraternity, he argues, “the style of fraternity radiates like a promise upon the whole of society.”
While reminding parents of their freedom to limit family size, Francis encourages them to consider the beauty of having more children.
“Large families are a joy for the Church,” he said. “They are an expression of the fruitfulness of love.”
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