It’s no secret that certain parts of the world have been losing population for some time. The tightly-controlled Chinese birthrate is the first thing that comes to most minds regarding this topic. However, large parts of Asia, Europe and now even the United States are beginning to see clear danger signs when it comes to economies and low birth rates.
Taiwan’s birthrate is “dropping like a stone…” says an editorial in the Taipei Times. The majority of people realize there is a demographic problem. It could hardly be otherwise, since the total fertility rate—the number of children per woman—is an anemic 0.9. Few are motivated to do anything about it, however. Taiwan is now heavily urbanized, and city folk tend to have very small families. When asked, younger Taiwanese say that they are not interested in having children because they cost too much money, or take too much time. Women are more motivated to get a college degree and seek professional employment than to marry and have children. In this highly secularized society, children are not seen not as a blessing, but as a burden tying down the women who bear them. Goodbye, Taiwan.
While we Americans may simply shrug at such news, we are in nearly the same spot. One could simply replace “Taiwanese” in the above paragraph with “younger Americans say that they are not interested in having children…” and be spot on. The U.S. is in the midst of an all-contraception-abortifacients-all-the-time battle, courtesy of government mandate and a fanciful “war on women”. We narrowly missed having Sandra Fluke as Time’s Person of the Year, although Kathryn Jean Lopez believes she should be:
Fluke represents a debate we ought to be having out in the open. Her Time cover status would highlight a claim that permeated the just-concluded political campaign and became for some a cultural mantra of the year: That the Republican Party and the Catholic Church leaders who oppose the Department and Health and Human Services mandate somehow are waging a “war on women.” The assumption behind it is that women will never be free unless they can medicate their fertility away….
But what she was advocating was to equate “women’s health” with the full panoply of reproductive drugs and services. What she was advocating was a bureaucratic regulation that treats pregnancy as a disease, and fertility as a condition to be suppressed. What she was advocating was a coercive, punitive policy that represents a dramatic narrowing of our understanding of religious liberty.
Let’s be clear: this is not a debate simply about religious liberty and who pays for birth control. It’s about the future of our world’s economies. As younger, more populous nations burgeon, countries that were once economically stable but now face dwindling birth rates will begin to crumble…and that time is not so far away. Look at Greece if you need proof.
Acton’s Samuel Gregg, Director of Research, sums up this demographic data: “denial“. And Europe leads the way:
…dwindling European populations imply not only reduced demand but also higher tax burdens on those who are young and working. The resulting shrinkage of disposable income discourages those of child-bearing years from having more children. This in turn gradually narrows the dependency ratio, thereby creating even greater strains on Europe’s already-tottering welfare states and over-loaded tax base.
So while deficit-reduction and welfare reform matters, perhaps the biggest long-term test for Europe is to break the vicious cycle fueled by population aging and decline that could worsen the already-bleak fiscal future for young Europeans.
It is time to take a very serious look at how children, families and population are viewed and valued, not only here in the U.S., but around the world. For decades, we’ve been shoving birth control pills down women’s throats as quickly as they could swallow. And the pills typically worked. Now what?
(Samuel Gregg is the author of the soon-to-be-released and available for pre-order Becoming Europe: Economic Decline, Culture, and How America Can Avoid a European Future Encounter Books, January 2013.)