After decades of low birth rates, Japan’s population just went into absolute decline. Public figures have started to call on the Japanese to breed like rabbits. I shouldn’t laugh because of that, but I do.
Like most Western countries, the Japanese haven’t been having children at the replacement rate for years, but only now has the Japanese population got old enough that its actually shrinking. Most of the West is still a few years away from actual population declines, but is getting close. The United States has the highest birth rate among Western nations. It is exactly at 2.1, the replacement rate. By way of comparison, the UK is at 1.7, France is at 1.8, Russia is at 1.3, China is at 1.7, India is at 2.8, Brazil is at 1.9, Turkey is at 1.9, Egypt is at 2.9, Morocco is at 2.7, Yemen is at 6.7. The United States birthrate is a little misleading, however. Much of the fertility is due to births among immigrants (this is also true for other Western countries). Not all American-born groups are failing to replace themselves, however. While non-Hispanic whites have a fertility rate of 1.8, African-Americans have a rate of 2.2 and Utahns (which I’m using as a stand-in for Mormons, since I’m unable to find Mormon-specific data (but see here)) have a fertility rate of 2.6 children per woman , declining from a rate of 3.3 during the 1970s and the high of 4.3 in the early 1960s.
But the essential fact is this. The West has thougth a long time now that its populations were still growing, and is now becoming aware that the opposite will soon be the case. What to make of it? Mark Steyn thinks that the lack of births among westerners is ominous, given Islam’s fecundity. I recommend the article, and the numerous letters it sparked, pro and con.
If demography is a problem, what’s the solution? Some time in the next couple of days, I will do a post on possible pro-family, pro-birth rate policies (so please save your comments on those topics until then).
But what I’ve been thinking about recently is on my own individual responsibility to have children, to keep my marital covenant ‘to multipy and replenish the earth.” How much, I’ve wondered, does that responsibility vary depending on the birth rates of the people around me? Do I have a greater obligation when the people around me live in childlessness?
Here’s what I would like to know–
(1) to what extent is your understanding of the appropriate family size influenced by the birth rates of others? In other words, if you believe that ‘multiply and replenish’ can mean something less than having all the children you’re capable of having, would you feel some obligation to adjust upward the number of children you would have if you live in the middle of a birth dearth? If you believe that the number of children you have is a matter of prayer, do you think that declining birth rates are something you would consider in your prayers, or something God would consider in guiding you? Conversely, if you believe that ‘multiply and replenish’ means having as many children as possible, how would the (hypothetical) knowledge that others around you are breeding at an unsustainable rate affect your decisions?
(2) if your own births can be affected by the birth rates of others, who are the relevant others? Do declining birth rates only become important when the entire world population begins to decline (currently projected not to happen until late in the century)? When your culture or nation begins to decline? When your family line starts to die out?
Per the Faulconer-Huff proposal, I will be moderating off-topic comments until the conversation is fairly well-established.