Click the image above or click here to read this article about dropping US fertility.
First off, we must distinguish between fertility (the decision to have children) and fecundity (the ability to have children). Some Facebook comments were aimed at the latter and although there may be some contributions of the latter to the former, the problem is primarily one of human choice.
In a natural state, where libido is high and birth control and abortion are rare, fecundity and fertility are high. In non-urban settings where child labor can be translated into wealth and rights of children are secondary to their responsibilities to the family, fertility remains high.
In a world with efficient means of wasting tax revenues and unquestioned raising of the costs of living, economic factors erode confidence in the ability to raise children. In all so-called “developed nations” the replacement fertility of 2 people per 2 people is lacking. To the casual observer, it might appear that it all comes down to money. But not so fast…
Even in a world with more reasonable wealth distribution, I believe there are more powerful factors that are impacting fertility. I will list them in order of decreasing importance:
10) Selfishness – people don’t want to do the work of raising children
9) Lack of filial piety – children don’t respect their elders because the idea that they should seems archaic. Even in the Confucian cultures, raising one child has led to a generation of entitled, disrespectful “emperor kids”. Who wants that kind of thankless job?
8) Erosion of the marriage institution – people don’t believe their pair bond can or perhaps even should last a lifetime and the prospect of going it alone is daunting
7) Religion is taken less literally – religions, especially Mormonism and Orthodox Judaism are very pronatal. There is a trend towards people self-identifying as “spiritual” and shedding dogma, even within the American Catholic community that ostensible should have no access to birth control and abortion
6) Moral relativism – As belief in the institutions of lifelong marriage and religious dogma have eroded, so have the rigid ideas that there is one path to live a moral life. Having children just seems like an option or a lifestyle choice…not a moral good
5) General sense of entitlement – In my generation, women would actually feel guilty when parents badgered them to settle down and have grandchildren. Even the notion of doing something because a parent “guilts” you into it seems oddly quaint now for some reason
4) Break in the golden chain – media and culture has fed an incorrect narrative that these are the worst of times when in fact, they are the best of times. This pessimism suggests that the world is in peril and that it would somehow be a curse, not a blessing to continue humanity. We are not a plague on Mother Earth and resources are plentiful.
3) Objective materialism – people believe (especially those that have never lived with opulence) that money will make them happy and, perhaps even more absurd, that working hard will bring them money. Sadly, there is never a great time to start a family if you are trying to work your way up the tax brackets
2) Dehumaization – In screenwriting, the definition of a horror movie is one where people become animals or machines. Sadly, the dominant culture feeds into a notion that people are but animals and that their thought, beliefs, and actions are the product of triggers, not a dynamic, heart-centered interaction with the world and others.
1) Pessimism – Every cell, organ, person, group, society, and idea must see a future that is brighter to want to continue. When people wallow in their delusions and listen to their own negativity, they can actually choose to take their lives if a little sleep deprivation and impulsivity are added to the mix. But a modern woman (or even a committed couple), steeped in the pessimism of the dominant culture narrative of “carbon footprints”, Malthusian overpopulation myths, and the decline of civilization…why would someone even want to bring another life into a world that is deteriorating so rapidly?
Although you may quibble with the relative importance of my top ten list, I maintain that is is never just a simple economic decision. People still have plenty of “oops” pregnancies. In the past, social mores, optimism, and a very human belief in goodness, legacy, and morality compelled many to have children.
In many ways, it is the best of times but in many ways, it is the worst of times, as Charles Dickens wrote. What is missing is an accurate understanding of historical context and a deep gratitude for the sacrifices made by our ancestors.
I will close with an interesting Facebook query posted and the responses that illustrate my entire thesis. The person asked “If you could go back to Medieval times with any one thing, what would you bring back to ensure your wealth and happiness?”
Most people played along not realizing that having to live in a relatively ignorant time, even with power and influence, would be tantamount to plugging back into the Matrix.
In contrast, I said if I had a time machine, I replied that I would never go back but rather forward. The responses I got were that I must be a delusional optimist to think the world will be better or even exist!
And there you have it…I have faith, from understanding human nature and history, that the world will be better and that my children will play a part in that better world. The majority who play the time machine game on Facebook do not.
It is not that they don’t think they can survive single parenthood, the cost of child rearing, or will add to overpopulation and the carbon footprint. It is fundamentally that they have been convinced by a bunch of fear mongers that there is something wrong with human nature when in fact, there is only something wrong with some influential sociopaths that would “hurt all mankind just to save their own”.
Fear not, because even as Dickens described the horrors of mid 19th century Paris and London, the world did get better! Inexorably, we march forward to a better world because human nature, inexorably, is optimistic and good.
These days, I have been compelled to walk up to pregnant women and simply thank them. In the same way that strangers ask to touch a pregnant belly, I feel a sense of profound gratitude towards any people that have chosen to bring new life into the world.
Having children is the ultimate act of optimism. Stop listening to your TV and your own thoughts. The world is good, abundant, and getting better all the time. It feels like chaos because consciousness in rising and some don’t want it to.
Take any denizen of the past and bring them here in your time machine and they will be as happy as a pig in a poke. Even the richest, most influential, and revered would rather live in our time that languish in their own. Why? Netflix, air travel, lack of military conscription, freedom of thought, lifestyle choices, and the ability to read sonnets on an iPhone. Pull yourself together and just be grateful for what you have, for goodness sakes. Travel to Medieval times? Not unless there is a buffet, a jousting show, and I get to Uber home with my mead buzz.