Declining birthrates are a major threat for many industrialized societies. And the solution won’t be found in new government policies.
The most unlikely public service advertisement urges people to “Do It for Denmark.” Now the “It” is to go on vacation abroad and have lots of, well, marital relations. Why? Well, not just to create fond memories, but to actually create more Danes.
As Eric Metaxas and I have told you on BreakPoint, nearly the entire industrialized world, really everyone except Australia, is in the midst of a demographic downturn due to very low fertility levels.
In desperation, governments have tried almost everything to raise fertility rates. Everything, that is, except questioning the worldview that causes the problem in the first place.
A 2013 report described Denmark’s fertility rate as “dangerously low.” At current levels, there won’t be enough Danes to sustain the country’s welfare state, its economic growth, or even its existence as a nation.
In response, the Danes tried dating sites for those ready to have a baby now; free “date night” childcare for parents trying to have a second child; and the above-mentioned “Do It for Denmark” ad.
Perhaps the greatest evidence of Denmark’s concern is that it recently modified its sex education curriculum. As the director of the organization responsible for the curriculum told the New York Times, “For many, many years, we’ve only talked about safe sex, how to prevent getting pregnant . . . Suddenly we just thought, maybe we should actually also tell them how to get pregnant.” And so they did.
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And it’s important to note that Denmark’s “dangerously low” fertility rate is still higher than most European countries. Italy’s is twenty percent lower, prompting its health minster to call it a “dying country” just a few months ago.
Still, efforts like Denmark’s will almost certainly fail. After all, far-less individualistic East Asian nations like Singapore and Japan, whose fertility rates are even lower than Italy’s, have already tried these sort of strategies with little or no success.
That’s because, at heart, the fertility problem isn’t one of policy but of worldview. In a recent article about the voluntarily childless, Damon Linker called people who are “childless by choice” “hedonists.”
Now Linker isn’t a social conservative, and he wasn’t using “hedonist” in a disparaging way. He simply meant that they are seeking “material rewards along with the self-satisfaction that follows from achieving high social status through career advancement.” In other words, they want to enjoy “the fruits of their labor without the constraints, sacrifices, and trade-offs that come with raising kids.” Or, to say it a different way, the sort of life that’s sold to us in most sitcoms, advertisements, and commercials.
Linker, in fact, sounds a lot like Pope Francis, who recently criticized what he called a “culture of well-being” that led people to prefer travel and vacations to parenthood.
This analysis by Linker and Francis isn’t limited to the voluntarily childless. Low fertility rates throughout the West can be traced to the pursuit of “material rewards” and “self-satisfaction.” Having children is something you do after you arrange your life to maximize your potential well-being.
And until that mindset changes, no amount of policy-jiggering or ad campaigns will make much of a difference—at least not until we stop choosing “material rewards” and “self-satisfaction” at the expense of future generations.
The real antidote to our Western shortsightedness is faith which enables us to transcend the dungeon of our desires. Not surprisingly, fertility and religious observance are strongly correlated.
As Chuck Colson always said, worldview matters. How people view marriage, how they view children, and what they think the “good life” is, have practical consequences not just for individuals, but for entire societies.
Or as another theologian rightly points out, “the future belongs to the fertile. It belongs to those who show up.” And the people of Denmark are beginning to realize that a childless future is no future at all.
LifeNews Note: John Stonestreet writes for BreakPoint.org