BreakPoint: The Western Baby Bust

Who Will the Leaders Lead?

European leaders are begging their fellow citizens to have children. But it seems like a “Do as we say, not as we do,” kind of message.

A recurring topic here at BreakPoint is the demographic challenge—“crisis” isn’t too strong a word—facing the industrialized world. From Tokyo to London, people are having fewer and fewer children: In some cases, they’re having barely half as many kids as are needed to maintain a stable population without relying on mass immigration.

This “birth dearth,” as it’s called, poses economic and social challenges to much of Europe, as well as Japan, South Korea, and even China.

The impact of this “birth dearth” is not lost on European leaders and their counterparts in Asia. They’ve gone to extreme, and even comical lengths, to reverse the trend. Last year, we told you about the Danish government’s “Do it for Denmark” ad campaign. Russia offered women who had a second child not only money but also “cars, refrigerators, and other prizes.”

Singapore even went so far as to establish a government-run dating service in a bid to increase one of the lowest fertility rates in the developed world.

Not surprisingly, few, if any, of these measures met with much success. It could scarcely be otherwise since, especially in Europe, the message from leaders seems to be, “do as we say, not as we do.”

As George Weigel noted in First Things magazine, the leaders of four of Europe’s five largest economies are childless: Germany’s Angela Merkel, Britain’s Theresa May, France’s Emmanuel Macron, and Italy’s Paolo Gentiloni. The sole exception is Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy, who has an increasingly un-European two children.

This childlessness isn’t limited to Europe’s “Big 5.”  The leaders of the Netherlands, Sweden, and Luxemburg are also childless, as is the President of the European Union.

This spate of childlessness among European leaders brings to mind something Oscar Wilde’s character Lady Bracknell once said: “To lose one parent may be regarded as a misfortune; to lose both looks like carelessness.”

Similarly, while it’s not unheard of for a political leader to be childless—for instance, George Washington—when an entire generation of leaders is childless, something else is probably going on.

As Weigel tells us, the “childlessness in this elite cohort certainly has different causes, given the diverse personalities involved.” For some of them, their “their childlessness [is] a sorrow—although none seems to have taken the option of adopting children.”

But for the other leaders, their childlessness is a “stark illustration” of what Weigel calls “Europe’s demographic suicide.” According to the historian Niall Ferguson, Europe’s low birth rates have put it on track for “the greatest sustained reduction in European population since the Black Death in the fourteenth century.”

Yet not even Europe’s leaders seem concerned enough about the looming catastrophe to have children themselves.

Weigel, taking his cue from Pope John Paul II, draws a line between Europe’s “self-chosen sterility” and its “rapidly accelerating embrace of euthanasia.” Both manifestations of what John Paul II called the “culture of death” represent what Weigel calls a “a colossal evangelical failure.”

By “evangelical failure,” Weigel, a Catholic, means a failure to preach the Gospel and unapologetically proclaim what Christianity has to say about what human beings should aspire to: self-giving, not self-aggrandizement.

Only this proclamation stands any chance of inspiring Europeans “to reject demographic suicide and rediscover the joy of creating the future through having children.” Without it, all the future holds is leaders with no one to follow them.

 

The Western Baby Bust: Who Will the Leaders Lead?

Selflessness is a fading virtue, not only in Europe but in America as well, and fewer children is a result. Read more about Europe’s “birth dearth” in George Weigel’s insightful article on this disturbing trend, linked here.

Resources

Catholic Lite and Europe’s Demographic Suicide
  • George Weigel | First Things | May 24, 2017

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  • Phoenix1977

    “As Weigel tells us, the “childlessness in this elite cohort certainly has different causes, given the diverse personalities involved.” For some of them, their “their childlessness [is] a sorrow—although none seems to have taken the option of adopting children.””
    Now I don’t know in the US but in Europe you need to meet some serious conditions. In order to be accepted on the waiting list in order to be vetted whether or not you are suitable to adopt you have to have a home of at least 120 square meters with 3 seperate bedrooms (adopted children are not allowed to share a room with siblings but are required to have their own personal space). Beside that both adoptive parents are required to earn at least 45.000 euro a year (meaning the combined income must be at least 90.000 euro a year) but both adoptive parents are not allowed to work more than 4 days a week each. And if you meet those criteria European adoption agencies are allowed to examine whether or not you are suitable to adopt a child. And, as you can see, the leader of a government can simply never meet the “max 4 days a week” criterium.

    “few, if any, of these measures met with much success.”
    Of course not. People don’t like it when the government tells them what to do in the bedroom. But, more importantly, people have other priorities, like their carreers. And employers don’t like pregnant women because they cause a hole in the schedule which has to be filled, which costs money. Not to mention other collaegues, who will be responsible for training the temporary collaegues, are getting tired of having to deal with pregnant coworkers. Especially the male coworkers are getting quite tired of pregnant collaegues (or collaegues who just become mothers) because most men tend to get a little uncomfortable when all conversations are about ultrasounds, nurseries and the joy of breast feeding.
    Personally I don’t think the demographical suicide will be that big of a deal. After all, half of Europe will be under water before the turn of the century anyway if we don’t do something about climate change. So I think humanity has bigger worries than a low birth rate at the moment.

    • Steve

      The weather people cannot even predict what it is going to be like tomorrow and you believe that half of Europe will be underwater?
      “male workers are getting tired of having to deal with pregnant co-workers.” Ask any woman the difficulties of being pregnant before you talk about men being “tired.”

      • Phoenix1977

        If you predict rain in Western-Europe you’re right about 80% of the time.

        And getting pregnant was the women’s own choice. Being forced to step because coworkers want children is not the choice of those who don’t have or want kids.

        • Steve

          Your comments reveal selfishness. You expect everyone to make way for what you believe in and do but want to make no sacrifices for others.
          It is hard to have a society when there is not give and take.

          • Phoenix1977

            “Your comments reveal selfishness.”
            Perhaps.

            “You expect everyone to make way for what you believe in and do but want to make no sacrifices for others. ”
            No, I expect people to be responsible for their own choices and people to be treated equally. For example, did you know, in medicine in Europe, until recently women were favored over men to get into residency? In pretty much all selections the outcome was 70% women, 30% men, in order to level the scale. And then the hospitals and training programs discovered women can get pregnant, causing huge gaps in the schedules in hospitals. Who do you think were asked to fill those gaps? The same men who were rejected for residency in favor of the women. But those men refused to pick up the crumbs left for them so their female competitors could go on maternity leave and come back afterwards, sending the guys who did their jobs packing. So hospitals no longer favor female residents but started to favor the men again, simply to maintain a steady number of available residents.

            “It is hard to have a society when there is not give and take.”
            Quite possibly. However, when giving is demanded instead of done willingly, it’s not giving at all. It’s stealing.

          • Steve

            Why was it that it was 70% women and 30% men? That seems like a percentage split that is significantly skewed? Perhaps there was some social engineering involved in that decision to favor women? Looks like artificially adjusting rates of acceptance backfired on them, just as artificially setting quotas due to a particular race, gender, orientation etc will backfire in a professional setting instead of using a hierarchy of competence. In the US, there has naturally been a skewing of women into residencies that are more “family friendly” or able to allow for maternity leave. This is not mandated but it is chosen by women more often.
            I never encountered any significant issues in surgery training even though there were some, but fewer, women than men.
            It is difficult to figure your position out. Sometimes you sound like an authoritarian when you say that people “have to conform” to X, Y or Z and sometimes you sound like a libertarian when you say, “when giving is demanded instead of done willingly, it’s not giving at all. It’s stealing.”
            I think you either have to make the choice for individual liberty being the hallmark of a society or authoritarianism.
            Which one do you choose?

          • Phoenix1977

            “Perhaps there was some social engineering involved in that decision to favor women?”
            Indeed there was, but not issued by governments but decided on by the medical professions themselves. And they most definately are done with that now.

            “Looks like artificially adjusting rates of acceptance backfired on them, just as artificially setting quotas due to a particular race, gender, orientation etc will backfire in a professional setting instead of using a hierarchy of competence.”
            That depends. If a quota is issued by the government, written down in law, there is very little that can be done about it and than any professions will simply have to comply. That’s, for example, what is happening in Europe at the moment where the EU has issued a quota of a minimum of 15% of all top positions in corporations to be female.

            “I think you either have to make the choice for individual liberty being the hallmark of a society or authoritarianism.
            Which one do you choose?”
            Why would I have to choose? A person can think differently in different situations. Why would I have to limit myself?
            And besides, I like to be unpredictable.

          • Steve

            So you are in favor of authoritarianism in some cases?

          • Phoenix1977

            Yes, I am. Especially in case civil rights. If there is one thing (recent) history had taught us it is that an authoritarian approach is the only way the guarantee those rights.

          • gladys1071

            I think you are rights auhoritarian is good for society in some cases, but not in others. I think we need a balance, and that is difficult to achieve. Too much individual freedom is bad and to much control is too. Striking the balance is the hard part.

          • Phoenix1977

            “Striking the balance is the hard part.”
            Virtually impossible, I think. A good example of that is the discussion we had previously on LGBT rights vs. religious liberty. A balance between those is impossible to find, especially since both sides are convinced they are right and are unwilling to compromise.

          • Steve

            Striking the balance is what occurs in free societies, not authoritarian societies.
            Interesting how those nowadays who call for more government influence and even authoritarian states are those who likely have never lived under the boot of totalitarianism or even read about it.
            Phoenix, have you read the Gulag Archipelago by Solzhenitsyn?

          • Phoenix1977

            “Striking the balance is what occurs in free societies, not authoritarian societies.”
            Than please explain to me how LGBT could be oppressed for centuries until very recently?

          • Steve

            LGBT people are still oppressed in many countries. Real oppression is getting killed for your sexual orientation or imprisoned. Hard to compare that oppression to the inability to force someone to bake you a cake for your wedding when there are plenty of people who will do so.
            Have you read the Gulag Archipelago? There Solzhenitsyn describes true oppression and the murderous result of totalitarianism.

          • Phoenix1977

            “LGBT people are still oppressed in many countries. Real oppression is getting killed for your sexual orientation or imprisoned.”
            You mean like in Auckland, New Zealand? At least, if minister Logan Robertson has any say in it: https://youtu.be/SQX36TqfgCQ

          • Steve

            Authoritarianism is a form of government characterized by strong central power and limited political freedoms.
            Be careful what you ask for.
            You may think you are on the side in favor of the strong central power, but that may change.
            Case in point: many Communist party members in the Soviet Union who thought they were protected found themselves thrown into the work camps or executed when the authoritarians decided they should be.
            When you allow this sort of government to develop there is no recourse.

          • Phoenix1977

            “When you allow this sort of government to develop there is no recourse.”
            At the same time a strong government gets things done. A weak government get nothing done. A good point of that is the European Parliament: 750 members with a rulebook for decisionmaking a Chinese puzzle master would not understand, making sure they can’t even decide what time to break for lunch, let alone to make actual decisions. And even if the European Parliament reaches concensus both the European Committee and all individual memberstates need to approve the measure as well.

          • Steve

            A strong government. Hmmm, just how strong? Maoist China? Soviet Union? Muslim Saudi Arabia? Again, be careful what you ask for…

    • Joel Stucki

      I don’t know a lot about the qualifications for adoption in the US as regards income and things like that, but I do know that the process of adoption here is very long and very expensive, sometimes as much as $40,000 when it’s all said and done. It’s very difficult to adopt.

  • ah.1960

    Secularists and unfortunately the culture at large has presented children as a problem to be dealt with rather than a blessing.

    Environmentalists see people as the cause of all (real and imagined) environmental problems. The message is that having children contributes to these problems so don’t do it. Even though, Paul Ehrlich’s book, the Population Bomb was proven wrong in every single prediction it made, it still forms the basis for much of the thinking today around the question of having children.

    Those who promote abortion and contraception for singles tell us that “every child should be a wanted child,” discouraging childbirth unless the circumstances are perfect. The mounting pressure on parents to provide every luxury (not necessity) for their children from prestigious preschools and extra-curricular activities to fully paying for their college undergraduate and graduate programs also deters parents from wanting to have children.

    Even within the church itself, how often do we tell our young people to wait for marriage and having children until they have completed college, until both spouses have established their careers and until they have purchased a house and/or built up a decent nest egg? The result is that many are waiting until their late 20’s to get married and are well into their 30’s before considering childbirth at which point a not insignificant number of women have difficulty conceiving a child.

    Within the church we need to herald the message that children are a blessing from the Lord. (They are tomorrow’s preachers, missionaries and lay leaders.)

    Within the culture, we need to herald the message that children are a boon to society. (They are the future taxpayers, future political, business, and community leaders, and the future caregivers for the elderly, including their parents and grandparents.)

    • Zarm

      Agreed; well said. We live in a culture where career is king, and where the idea of giving up ‘me time’ for kids is a foreign concept; when taken in combo with a cultural chilling on the idea of having children, how could we not have a low birth rate? The fact that children are a blessing is something the church really does need to be doing a better job of reminding its congregations; He will call whom He chooses to be parents, but being open and listening for that call is something that the culture is not going to advocate. That’s up to us to teach and remind the church body.

  • thinkingabovemypaygrade

    There are some groups with high fertility rates in Europe.
    When their children reach voting age…watch for those groups to drastically conquer Europe…by legal ballot.

    War…of the Womb…