Replacement fertility rates are 2.1 children per woman in developed nations. No nation in Europe can claim that rate, and most fall under 1.6. At those levels, each generation is barely half the number of the preceding one. The working-age population is reduced by 30 percent in just 20 years, having a devastating impact on economies. Today, European Union and United Nations experts are sufficiently alarmed to call councils to address the population crisis. The irony is that this is a crisis of their making.
In the 1960s, futurists painted a dire picture of population explosion and its concomitant depletion of resources. As recently as ten years ago, the UN's own Millennium Summit Declaration insisted, "We must spare no effort to free all of humanity, and above all our children and grandchildren from the threat of living on a planet irredeemably spoilt by human activities, and whose resources would no longer be sufficient for their needs" (22).
Global policy planners set about crafting a means to curb world fertility. Contraception and abortion as social policy necessarily pitted planners against Christian teaching and traditional families. Predictably, these policies led to tacit devaluation of marriage and the acceptance of divorce, cohabitation, and single parenthood in the developed nations. Worse, a militant secularization of Western culture deprived two generations of the foundational reasons for family formation. Sociological tinkering as part of the Human Potential Movement sought to detach people from "religious superstitions" and apply scientific methods to the management of human beings. Their mistake was a crucial misunderstanding of the nature of family: Is there an inherent, ontological basis for families, or can the nature of a "family" be recast at the whim of international governing bodies?
In March, the United Nations Economic Commission for Europe (UNECE) released the "Policy Brief on Ageing #5," which stated, "Populations in the UNECE region are ageing rapidly. To maintain economic growth and standard of living, people would need to work longer before they can retire." Left unsaid is the root cause: "Because we have aborted or contracepted a large percentage of our future generation, the current aging generation can expect less support in old age from the children they did not have who cannot now contribute to the GDP, thereby threatening our standard of living."
Yet another effort to address the European crisis is the cheery sounding formal paper "The Happiness Commonality: Fertility decisions in a low fertility setting." The paper gushes with false hope and a bald assertion that children are a valuable consumer commodity:
The main idea of this article is that the quest for happiness, and the compatibility between happiness and childbearing, is the "commonality" that may bring an understanding of fertility differences in contemporary advanced societies in Europe and North America. . . . In this framework, the decision to marry, to divorce or to have a (nother) child is taken when we expect to be in a better position (in other words, happier) when comparing the status after this decision (to have a child) has been taken with the current status. If children are considered as "consumption goods", we have children because we derive utility from having them.
Despite semi-hysterical attempts to reassure the remaining European population that having children could lead to greater happiness, there are very powerful social and political forces that cannot be turned around quickly enough.
First is the addiction to the oft-stated "standard of living." Child credits or family-friendly economic policies are insufficient -- around 4 percent of GDP in the best case, Denmark. Tax or direct credits are less in other nations, and in any case the incentives have not proven effective: It has become a strong cultural norm to have fewer children, and monetary assistance is simply not enticing. Italy's "Bambini bonus" did not result in a measureable uptick in birth rates. Simply stated, even where the nation is willing to make the social and economic investment in the next generation, its individual citizens often are not. Why is this? Read more