2 is not Nearly Enough

From the First Things Blog in response to the call by an environmental organization that couples limit themselves to two children each:

First, as is well known, demographers say that for a constant population, the fertility rate averaged over all women should be 2.1 children per woman, not 2.0, since not all children survive to adulthood. Second, and much more important, there are many people who are unable to have children for one reason or another. About 15% of couples suffer from fertility problems; many people are unable to find a mate; and many who do find a mate marry too late to have children. Altogether about 19% of women in the United States in the 40-44 age bracket are still childless, which means that they will probably remain childless. This implies that in order to have a constant population, those women who are able and willing to have any children should have on average 2.6 children, not 2.0. If we also take into account the fact that many women who are able and willing to have a child are unable to have more than one, one finds that those women who are able and willing to have more than one child must actually average almost 3 children just to keep the population stable. Instead of the canonical "family of four" that has been held up for so long as the ideal, it should be the "family of five," or four and three-quarters, perhaps.

To put it another way, if no one had more than two children, as the green guru would want it, the fertility rate could probably not be gotten above 1.4. In twenty generations the world population would plunge to less than 2 million.
For the full post, see http://www.firstthings.com/blog/2009/02/02/green-guru/


Anonymous said...

Here's my comments: I think it's easy for people who don't have (or can't have) any children to say they think birth control measures should be avoided. I am christian, I know birth control shouldn't be used for "selfish" means, that is, to prevent pregnancy only. I personally feel that after having 3 children, a lost pregnancy, a nervous breakdown, it's not necessarily "selfish" to say "I shouldn't have any more children right now." When? I don't know, but it surely wouldn't benefit my fragile state, my current family or relationship with my husband to keep myself open to kids right now. Weakness of faith? probably, but that's for me and God to sort out, right?

Diogenes said...

You have my sympathy.

While you have not done so, others have jumped to conclusions about what is implied by what I have written on this topic, conclusions which are erroneous. I have been quite clear in the past that I believe that there are exigent circumstances which may justify the use of artificial contraception and that it is not my place to judge whether those circumstances exist in a particular couple's life. That is, I believe, a matter for each couple to prayerfully consider, seeking God's will and the advice of their pastor. I know many couples who have truly difficult situations which they believe justify their using contraception. I would just urge such couples to learn about the available options and to avoid any methods which are or have the potential to be abortifacient.

My wife and I are currently prayerfully considering whether to begin using NFP given our circumstances, which include our ages, the fact that we have four minor children already, and the fact that one of our children has a chromosomal abnormality which results in her having special needs that require a great deal of time and energy. We have also lost two children through miscarriages.

Having said that, the problem with sub-replacement fertility rates has not arisen because many couples have truly exigent circumstances which justify their use of contraception. Sub-replacement rate fertility has become widespread because the vast majority of couples have decided that more than two children is too great a burden to bear, rejecting the teaching of Scripture that children are a blessing. It simply cannot be that in our time and place, the hardships of rearing children have become so great that we cannot do what our far more impoverished ancestors did.

The pity is that Christians cannot seem to have a conversation on this topic without each side accusing the other of being either legalistic and judgmental (the charge leveled at those who uphold the historic Church teaching on this subject) or antinomian (the charge leveled at those who question the historic teaching). Those of us who uphold the historic teaching must be able to present the evidence for it without being accused on being unsympathetic for those who may in fact have good reasons to need to control their fertility. Indeed, as already noted, I don't merely have sympathy with such people, but empathy, as my wife and I too have difficult circumstances to consider in this regard, and I have close family members and friends who would dearly love to have more children but the threat to the wife's life is too great.

Yet, we must also recognize that most couples lack truly exigent circumstances to justify limiting themselves to two children. The hard cases which may justify using contraception no more justify its widespread use in our society than the hard cases in which the life of the mother is truly at risk justify the tens of millions of abortions which have occurred since 1973. And those who truly have hard cases which make them believe using contraception is justified should no more want their difficult circumstances to justify the indiscriminate use of contraception than those who had an abortion because of a true threat to maternal life should want their hard circumstance to justify abortions for no reason other than the fact that the unborn child is unwanted.

I am well aware that by speaking out on this subject, some will be offended. I can't help that. I wish it could be avoided, but silence is not, at least in my case, an option. And those with hard circumstances must realize that when addressing the issue on a publicly-accessible blog site, most readers will not face circumstances such as their own. Sadly, many Christians are not even aware that Protestants, Catholics and Orthodox Christians were uniform in their condemnation of birth control until less than a century ago and they are ignorant (through no fault of their own) of the basis for that teaching.

My goal in posting on this topic is not to pass judgment on anyone, but to make people aware of the Church's historic understanding of this matter and of the consequences which have resulted from our abadoning of that teaching.

May God bless you and give you comfort.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for the discussion. Too often I feel tugged one direction or another on this issue. I know God is working on my heart with this, and I know I need to learn to trust Him with all my cares. You have offered me some comfort, and I thank you. God bless you on your openness to listen.

Anonymous said...

I think what we must try to do is fight the anti-natalist mentality overtaking our national consciousness. This mentality mourns the conception of each child as an affront to the environment, aborts as many as possible, pushes sterile sexuality (gay marriage, porn and its accompaniment, masturbation), pushes education for women in a way that excludes motherhood, makes fun of motherhood in fact through proliferation of books and films that debase it, and writes school curricula that encourages women to delay first pregnancy as long as possible not through facts (for the facts show that early pregnancy is not only good for the economy, but good for the woman's health, since early pregnancy gives entirely positive health effects especially regarding breast cancer. So a person who may not be able to have another child at present nevertheless may fight these elements at work and in the media. And we must fight! Anti-natalism, as demographers call it, has "won" across Europe and Asia and now even in the face of vigorous government efforts (as in Sweden) women simply are refusing to reproduce. And the higher their level of education, the more pronounced is the effect, which breaks my heart--Catholic education over centuries educated women both in sciences and humanities and spiritually in their vocation as women.

I urge people reading this blog to not pass up any opportunity to protest any and all of the factors of anti-natalism, for the spritual good of our nation, but also for its economic health, since we will never pull out of this mess either natioally or globally without plumping our birth rate (we are consuming for all of Europe and Asia, also, and when we quit, they die). We have now seen, but are failing to process, that it is easy easy easy to teach women to contracept, and almost impossible to reverse it (check out the recent news on Iran, for example--they have gone from plentiful births to way too few in just one decade!)