What do abortion, women voting, the industrial food chain, and our knowledge based economy have in common? They are leading factors in the decline of the American birth rates. This is one small piece of the puzzle highlighted in “Demographics and the Culture War” an article written By Stanley Kurtz and published in the Hoover Institutions’s Policy Review, which I first saw mentioned here.
The article summerizes four books that speak to the issue of the declining birth rates around the world: The Empty Cradle: How Falling Birthrates Threaten World Prosperity and What to Do About It, by Phillip Longman; Fewer: How the New Demography of Depopulation Will Shape Our Future, by Ben Wattenberg; The Coming Generational Storm: What You Need to Know About America’s Economic Future, by Laurence J. Kotlikoff and Scott Burns; and Running On Empty: How the Democratic and Republican Parties Are Bankrupting Our Future and What Americans Can Do About It, by Peter G. Peterson.
There are many aspects of this article to consider and reading the full piece is highly recommended. I have pulled the section on social life which speaks to our move away from an agrarian foundation coupled with our rejection of God’s plan in regards to the roles of men and women.
Why does modern social life translate into the lower birth rates that spark all those wider implications? Urbanization is one major factor. In a traditional agricultural society, children are put to work early. They also inherit family land, using its fruits to care for aging parents. In a modern urban economy, on the other hand, children represent a tremendous expense, and one increasingly unlikely to be returned to parents in the form of wealth or care. With the growth of a consumer economy, potential parents are increasingly presented with a zero-sum choice between children and more consumer goods and services for themselves.
Along with urbanization, the other important factor depressing world fertility is the movement of women into the workforce – and the technological changes that have made that movement possible. By the time many professional women have completed their educations, their prime childbearing years have passed. Thus, a woman’s educational level is the best predictor of how many children she will have. As Wattenberg shows, worldwide, the correlation between falling female illiteracy and falling female fertility is nearly exact. And as work increasingly becomes an option for women, having a child means not only heavy new expenses, but also the loss of income that a mother might otherwise have gained through work.
Technological change also stands behind the movement of women into the workforce. In a modern, knowledge-based economy, women suffer no physical disadvantage. The ability of women to work in turn depends upon the capacity of modern contraception, along with abortion, to control fertility efficiently. The sheer breadth and rapidity of world fertility decline implies that contraceptive technology has been a necessary condition of the change. Before fertility could be reliably controlled through medical technology, marriage and accompanying strictures against out-of-wedlock births were the key check on a society’s birth rate. Economic decline meant delayed marriage, and thus lower fertility. But contraceptive technology now makes it possible to efficiently control fertility within marriage. This turns motherhood into a choice. And what demographic decline truly shows is that when childbearing has become a matter of sheer choice, it has become less frequent.
The movement of population from tightly knit rural communities into cities, along with contraception, abortion, and the related entry of women into the workforce, explain many of the core cultural changes of the postmodern world. Secularism, individualism, and feminism are tied to a social system that discourages fertility. If a low-fertility world is unsustainable, then these cultural trends may be unsustainable as well. Alternatively, if these cultural trends cannot be modified or counterbalanced, human population appears on course to shrink ever more swiftly.