Elon Musk and Pope Francis may not have much in common, but they’re right about this: The world needs more children.
On Monday, Musk, the billionaire entrepreneur, tweeted, “We should be much more worried about population collapse.” This wasn’t the first time he opined on the subject. “If people don’t have more children, civilization is going to crumble. Mark my words,” he said in December.
Two weeks ago, Pope Francis echoed similar themes. Today, there is a “demographic winter,” he warned. “People do not want to have children, or just one and no more. And many, many couples do not have children because they do not want to, or they have just one — but they have two dogs, two cats.”
The ear-catching part of his remarks was the dichotomy he drew between children and pets. While you may agree or think that’s an overly broad generalization, he’s right that today’s families are smaller.
In 1970, 37 percent of U.S. households had four or more people, per Statistia. In 2020, that number had dropped to 22 percent. In 1970, 11 percent of households had six or more people. In 2020, it was just 3.5 percent.
Many variables, including increases in divorce and single-parenthood, influence that. But the driving cause is simple. Our country’s birth rate plummeted.
In the 1960s, the U.S. fertility rate was 118 live births per 1,000 women between 15 and 44. In 2020, the fertility rate was 55.8 births. Again, there are many factors here, with birth control and abortion topping the list.
The United States is hardly alone. Across the developed world, the fertility rate is frequently below replacement levels. The Census Bureau projects Japan’s population to go from 127.8 million in 2008 to under 73 million in 2100. Spain’s population is expected to peak in the early 2040s at around 48 million before dropping by 10 million people before 2100.
If you think labor shortages are bad now, just wait a couple of decades.
That’s only partially a joke. Gone are the days when families produced most of their necessities from farming and keeping animals. In the modern economy, we depend on other people growing, packaging, delivering and selling everything from food to luxuries. As we are currently experiencing, a shrunken labor force hurts everyone and the economy more broadly.
Then there are our legalized Ponzi schemes. You may know them as Social Security and Medicare. A lack of younger workers means benefits cuts, higher taxes or both. Or runaway inflation as the government prints ever-more money.
Things would look worse if it weren’t for immigration. New arrivals from foreign nations are why the U.S. population is expected to grow, instead of shrivel.
There’s no easy solution. European countries have tried financial benefits with, at best, mixed success. It’s likely any turnaround will be cultural, not political.
People often wonder what they can do to help the country. Here’s a tangible suggestion. Have one more kid. If you’re past that stage of life, see if you can offer practical support, like babysitting or tutoring, that would help another family expand.
Here’s one thing to remember about children: Civilization can’t survive without them.
Contact Victor Joecks at firstname.lastname@example.org or 702-383-4698. Follow @victorjoecks on Twitter.