Not As Many As There Used To Be

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In recent years, Canadian women have on average given birth to just 1.48 children each, yet Canada's birth rate is among the highest in the Western world. Demographers tell us that the "replacement rate" is 2.1 babies per woman, and that of all the Western democracies, only the United States' women at 2.11 are keeping pace with death. Nineteen of the world's 20 lowest birth rates are found in Europe, where the overall rate stands at 1.32. Russia stands at an abysmal 1.14.


Western North Carolina has some interesting folks tucked away in its mountains. One I always enjoyed seeing was a former World War II glider pilot named Cecil. Although he rarely talked about it, a lot of guns had gone off near Cecil's ears in those daring days of his youth. Whenever I went out to visit Cecil, sooner or later he would lament, "Ya know, thar aren't as many birds as thar used to be. Hardly ever hear a bird sing anymore." Of course, the problem was his hearing, but Cecil really believed there were fewer birds than there used to be.

I am older now, and am beginning to think Cecil was right about the birds. Maybe my hearing is not what it used to be, but my eyesight is just fine—and, in case you have not noticed, there just are not as many children as there used to be in Canada (where I live), or in most of the Western countries. Anecdotal and statistical evidence bear out the painful truth.

My father was one of 13 children born on a farm during the first quarter of the 20th century. His parents loved and valued him, just as they loved and valued every one of his brothers and sisters. Such a large family was not considered very unusual then, but today people often think there is something wrong with you if you have half as many children as he had brothers and sisters. People may even laugh at you if you have a large family; they shake their heads, make jokes, and wonder if you understand how these things happen. But the lack of children is not a laughing matter. A few thoughtful people are starting to wake up to a startling reality: no longer are the Western nations worried about a population explosion; the bomb we are facing is a population implosion. Not enough children are being born to prevent the nations' populations from declining.

In recent years, Canadian women have on average given birth to just 1.48 children each, yet Canada's birth rate is among the highest in the Western world. Demographers tell us that the "replacement rate" is 2.1 babies per woman, and that of all the Western democracies, only the United States' women at 2.11 are keeping pace with death. Nineteen of the world's 20 lowest birth rates are found in Europe, where the overall rate stands at 1.32. Russia stands at an abysmal 1.14.

Canada-born author Mark Steyn reports: "Seventeen European nations are now at what demographers call 'lowest-low' fertility: 1.3 births per woman. In theory, those countries will find their population halving every 35 years or so. In practice, it will be quicker than that, as the savvier youngsters figure there's no point sticking around a country that's turned into an undertaker's waiting room" (America Alone, p. 11). Steyn observes that nations who fail to value their own children will eventually be taken over by the children of their enemies. When a country is too bothered to produce its own children, the children of others will fill the void, bringing about the kinds of problems seen in last year's "youth riots" in France, and the tensions found elsewhere in Europe—clashes of civilizations, cultures, religions and ideas.

This is a disastrous trend, though the average Westerner seems unconcerned about the consequences. What will happen to the housing market when countries like Greece halve their population over the next 35 years? Who will support the ever-increasing army of the wrinkled retired? When energetic youth flee to greener pastures with lower taxes, how will this worsen the already critical problem of funding the government in heavily socialized countries? What will happen to cultures that replace their never-born babies with immigrant children of radically different cultures?

So why have children fallen out of favor with the present generation of Europeans, Canadians, Russians and Japanese? No single cause explains it. Our lust for the "good life"—defined by the acquisition of material things—has deceived us into becoming too busy, too self-absorbed and too self-occupied. In short, we have become too selfish to want to be tied down with "rug rats" and "ankle-biters." Today's adults have chosen their own toys over children and their toys. At the same time, radical feminism has contributed to a breakdown of traditional roles in marriage. Many women are more interested in fulfilling themselves in the workplace than in the nursery or on the playground. Newly married couples often finish college with huge debts, which they pay off with time-consuming career choices—until they learn that the biological clock has run out of sand, and it is too late, despite the amazing scientific interventions that seem to work for others.

Some believe they are fulfilling their patriotic or environmental duty by forgoing children or limiting their family to just one. The "pill" has reduced the number of "accidental" births, yet has also reduced people's fear of one potential consequence of fornication—pregnancy. This has led to a dramatic rise in sexually transmitted diseases, some of which cause sterility.

When parents do decide to have children, the little ones are reared in an environment quite unlike what my parents knew. Dr. Spock and the self-esteem movement have brought entirely new theories of permissive discipline. Many parents are afraid to discipline a disrespectful child; they hope a "time-out" will do the job—but what happens when this does not work? As someone who works with young people, I often see the result of the neglect that is now so common. Too many children are just not as high up on their parents' priority list as they ought to be—and the evidence of their lives bears this out.

Millennia ago, the Bible described what happens when a society rejects generations of sound child-rearing principles. "The people will be oppressed, every one by another and every one by his neighbor; the child will be insolent toward the elder, and the base toward the honorable.… As for My people, children are their oppressors…" (Isaiah 3:5, 12). Scripture also predicts accurately the attitudes of both parents and children at the end of this age. "But know this, that in the last days perilous times will come: For men will be lovers of themselves, lovers of money, boasters, proud, blasphemers, disobedient to parents, unthankful, unholy" (2 Timothy 3:1–2).

These and other social factors have caused children to fall in popularity. Many adults no longer see children as what they are: "a heritage from the Lord, the fruit of the womb is a reward. Like arrows in the hand of a warrior, so are the children of one's youth. Happy is the man who has his quiver full of them…" (Psalm 127:3–5). How sad! And how tragic the results will be for nations that no longer value their greatest natural resource and treasure!

Thankfully, there is good news! The Bible describes a time in the near future when marriage and family will be popular once again, when men and women will understand their roles, when children will be valued and when peace and tranquility will reign on earth. "Old men and old women shall again sit in the streets of Jerusalem, each one with his staff in his hand because of great age. The streets of the city shall be full of boys and girls playing in its streets" (Zechariah 8:4–5). That wonderful time is the very subject of this magazine, and is the true future hope for tomorrow's youth!

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