The Story: No one will blame you for being confused about Europe’s debt crisis. In short, several European countries have amassed unsustainable debt with no apparent means of paying it off. In order to avoid a larger crisis, more solvent European nations have invested in their troubled neighbors on the condition that they clean up their balance sheets and reform their ways. Megan McArdle, senior editor for The Atlantic, points out that these reforms aim to accelerate economic growth as a means of paying off debt for countries unwilling and unable to cut back their spending.
The Background: There’s just one problem, McArdle warns. You can’t grow an economy unless you’re growing children. In Italy, for example, the fertility rate is 1.4 children per women, short of the required 2.1 needed to avoid population loss.
“Not one country on the Continent has a fertility rate high enough to replace its current population,” McArdle warns. “Heavy debt and a shrinking population are a very bad combination.”
Social security programs have protected the aging from poverty, but they’ve also discouraged childbirth. Now the programs cannot be funded, because there aren’t enough young workers paying into the system with their taxes.
The United States is looking at a similar future. Population growth has slowed to levels not seen since the Great Depression, only 0.7 percent annually since 2009. The sputtering economy has led families to have fewer children or delay their conception. Recent debates over religious liberty and birth control have assumed that insurers will gladly cover contraceptives for free, since they cost much less than pregnancies. The long-term costs to society in the form of lower birthrates, however, have been largely ignored.
Why It Matters: God commanded man and woman in Genesis 1:28, “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it.” Like so many other divine orders, this one is increasingly ignored in the industrialized West. We don’t need children to care for us in old age; we have the state. We don’t need children to work with us around the home and on the farm; we have machinery. The popular rationale for childbearing today is personal fulfillment. But even as children bring you bursts of joy, they incur significant costs in terms of time, money, and energy. The cost/benefit analysis simply doesn’t add up for as many parents today.
Perhaps this economic crisis will change the calculation, once Westerners realize the cost of foregoing parenthood is the demise of civilization (or at least the lifestyle to which we’ve become accustomed). No children, no future. It’s plain to see in the first chapter of the Bible or the accountant’s ledger.