Acton Institute Powerblog

The Limits of Policy

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“Be fruitful and multiply,” the Book of Genesis commands. Unfortunately, many modern nations are on the opposite track. Once worried about a phony “population bomb,” countries as diverse as Russia and South Korea are now wondering if they will shrink into irrelevance. Kevin Schmiesing looks at the cultural, religious and economic forces that produce healthy, hopeful societies.

Read Kevin’s commentary here.

Jonathan Spalink


  • Johnstone Ole Turana

    THe article is incisive and it lays bare the reasons for the drop in birth rates in the developed world.
    Unfortunaltely, the forces hace conspired to portray that developing countries’ poverty stems from rising population. Its astonishing how rising population is seen as a contributor to developing coutries poverty. The irony is Europe is experiencing low and in some cases below replacement level birth rates after concerted effort over the decades to demonise large families. With shrinking population the call, use of incentives to motivate people to give birth is on the rise. On the other hand a booming population in developing countries is anathema. Africa especially is being literally coerced to lower its population in the disguise of achieving economic prosperity. THe question is who will eventually provide incentives one we get to the current low population level experiencwed in developed countries? Already burdened with other issues like AIDS, Malaria where will these countries get the financial resources to dole out in order to have people give birth?

  • Leandro Lima

    This article is very interesting. I am a secular humanist and have seen fundamentalist religious friends have more than 5 children in the shortest amount of time. I always thought it was extreme and very religious-like of them. Personally I think that people have to have children responsibly. This encompass unplanned pregnancies and pregnancies for government financial support.

    After reading this article with the understanding that parts of Europe are not so bent on religion like the US, it makes me wonder on the role that religion plays on a societies birthrate. There is no doubt a connection, the question I ask myself is: If a society becomes mostly secular, does that tend to guarantee an inadequate birthrate?

    I’d like to learn more on reasons behind the low birthrates spoken about in this article.

    Leandro Lima
    Fort Lauderdale, FL

  • Kevin

    Thank you, Mr. Lima, for your thoughtful comment. We are agreed on the need for “responsible” parenthood, though ideas of “responsible” numbers of children will surely vary dramatically from person to person. This is one reason why it is probably better that we limit government attempts to manipulate birthrates, one way or the other.

    The question you end with is indeed an interesting one. I intimate that there may be something to the connection in my article, yet the evidence is not conclusive. For example, birthrates in the United States have plummeted since the 1950s, yet, by many measures at least, rates of religious belief and practice are only slightly lower now. An argument could be made such that a secular mindset with respect to childbearing has affected the thinking of religious Americans, even while they continue to believe in God and attend church; you can see, however, that the relationship between religion and birthrates thereby becomes more complicated.