Where Have All the Children Gone?

    In her novel, THE CHILDREN OF MEN, P. D. James describes a world in which no children have been born for several decades. As you would expect, the disappearance of children has profound cultural, political, and psychological effects on humanity. Well, it turns out the British author's opus may not have been so fanciful, after all. And while James never told her readers who was responsible for humanity's predicament, in real life the reasons are a lot clearer. For several decades, the political and scientific elites have been telling us that human overpopulation is responsible for much of the misery in the world -- poverty, disease, underdevelopment. They've told us that a 250 percent increase in the world's population during the last century was an environmental disaster, as well. Thus, "stabilizing" the rate of population growth has been a top priority worldwide for these cultural elites. And, according to the latest figures, it's working. While global population is still growing, it's expected to peak by the middle of this century, and then decline indefinitely. Nearly half of the countries of the world, eighty- three in all, are no longer reproducing at a rate that will maintain their present population -- what demographers call their "replacement level." Europe and Japan have such low birth rates that, absent unprecedented levels of immigration, they will lose significant amounts of their population within this century. Even areas whose fertility rates are currently at replacement levels, like Africa and the Middle East, are in the midst of a steep decline in reproduction. The result is what Nicholas Eberstadt of the American Enterprise Institute calls a "baby bust." Even if the consequences of today's baby bust may not be as dramatic as the one in P. D. James's novel, it should concern us. Fewer births means fewer workers and lower productivity. It means an aging population, with fewer young people to take care of them and pay the taxes that support their retirement benefits. Eberstadt argues that the baby bust isn't just a threat to prosperity, it threatens to disrupt political and social structures, and even "set back the progress of human development." As often happens, this setback is self-inflicted. It's the product of a worldview that, instead of seeing children as blessings to be cared for, sees them as liabilities and burdens to be minimized. This view, called "anti-natalism," views pregnancy and childbirth as obstacles to material and social well- being. Progress is impossible, so it's said, unless women are set free from the burdens imposed by childbirth. If this sounds familiar, it's because this is the same worldview that animates the abortion rights movement. Every time someone talks about giving women control over their bodies they're saying that child- bearing is what stands between a woman and her full potential. Well, as Eberstadt reminds us, we ought to be careful what we wish for. For more than eighty years, intellectuals have been pushing the anti-natalist agenda. Now we're about to discover the hidden costs it brings. It's a price we all have to pay, so I hope you'll listen over the next few days as I tell you more about it. Christians, in particular, need to know that ideas have consequences -- especially bad ones. For further reading: Eberstadt, Nicholas, "The Population Implosion," Foreign Policy Magazine, March-April 2001. [Also see further resources linked at the end of the article.] Specter, Michael. "Population Implosion Worries a Graying Europe." The New York Times, July 10, 1998. The Acton Institute's population resource page.


Chuck Colson


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