The Case for Kids

November 14, 2022

The most significant thing happening in the world may very well be a thing that is not happening: Men and women are not having children. The biblical logic has been reversed, and the barren womb has said “Enough!” (Prov. 30:16). The paradigmatic affliction of the Old Testament is now the great desire of nations. If ­Rachel wanted children more than life itself (Gen. 30:1), our generation seems to have concluded that nothing gets in the way of life more than children.

True, human beings are reproducing—but in most countries, not fast enough to replace themselves. Measuring total fertility rate (TFR) is not an exact science, so the numbers vary from source to source, but the trends are undeniable. Outside of Africa, which is home to forty-one of the fifty most fertile nations, the planet faces a bleak demographic future. Many major European nations—such as Bulgaria, Greece, Hungary, Poland, Portugal, and Spain—have a TFR of 1.50 births per woman or lower, disastrously below the replacement rate of 2.1. Italy’s future is especially grim, as that country has one of the lowest TFRs in the world, just 1.22. Virtually every country in Europe—including the Netherlands, the United Kingdom, Germany, Belgium, Finland, and Denmark—has a TFR below 1.8. Only France, with a TFR of 2.03, comes close to the replacement rate. Decline is on its way. The Russian population is already contracting. Germany’s population is on pace to shrink from 83 million to around 70 million over the next thirty years. If trends do not reverse, Europe’s population will plummet from 750 million today to less than 500 million by the end of the century.

The numbers for East Asia are even worse. Hong Kong, Macau, Singapore, and Taiwan each have a TFR around 1.0; South Korea’s is 0.81. These countries make aging and shrinking Japan, with its TFR of 1.37, look almost vibrant. And whatever military and economic power resides in China, increasingly children do not. Despite the replacement of the notorious one-child policy by a two-child policy in 2016 and then a three-child policy in 2021, China’s birthrate has continued to tumble. As recently as 2019, the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences predicted that China’s population would peak in 2029. But the decline has already started. This year, for the first time since the Great Famine (1959–61), China’s population has shrunk, by just over 1 percent since 2021, according to the Shanghai Academy of Social Sciences.

For many years, the United States appeared to be an exception to the rule of declining birthrates in the industrialized world. In 2007 the United States had a TFR of 2.1, whereas the figure for the European Union was below 1.6. But since then, the U.S. birthrate has fallen by 20 percent, to as low as 1.73 according to some estimates. What looked like American exceptionalism less than a generation ago now looks like mere delay.

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