Having children is a good thing, despite what the “enlightened” in our world think. OSV photo/Bob Roller

Toddling off the population cliff

  • February 8, 2024

Saying the family is the basic building block of society was once a “motherhood and apple pie” sentiment. Motherhood and apple pie, being, of course, a cliché alluding to all that is both normal and good. We need a new cliché. Today motherhood itself is no longer “motherhood and apple pie.” 

On Jan. 31, Statistics Canada reported that Canada’s Total Fertility Rate (TFR) in 2022 was 1.3, which is the lowest on record — down from 1.4 the year before. “1.3 is a very low rate. About a third of a child per woman lower than the U.S., despite very similar stated preferences,” demographer and Cardus Senior Fellow Lyman Stone tells me, “suggesting Canada is perhaps a more challenging environment for family formation.”

A challenging environment for so many reasons. For my nearly two decades examining family policy, declining fertility has been known but few talked about it.  Demographic Winter, a documentary with the subtitle The Decline of the Human Family came out in 2008. When John Ibbitson and Darrell Bricker wrote Empty Planet, The Shock of Global Population Decline about 10 years later, it still made few ripples. The Century Initiative, which aims to grow Canada’s population to 100 million by 2100 studiously avoids discussions of one of the known causes of population growth — that of Canadians having babies.

It can feel like a blame game, I realize, or at very least feel like pressure on women, as if women have children alone. One need not be a feminist ideologue to hear this in calls for more babies. But that itself is a sign of our times: Settling down, marrying and having kids is not what our modern lives are about.

Rather, the modern family, I say factually and without derision, is about spending decades finding oneself (both men and women) while avoiding or ending pregnancies, only to turn around and spend hundreds of thousands of dollars on artificial technologies intended to create babies at the last minute.

Talk of having babies is problematic enough. But I wouldn’t be writing for a Catholic publication if I didn’t point out that the really precipitous drop in fertility began in 1960 when the Federal Drug Administration approved the birth control pill for widespread use. Author and commentator Mary Eberstadt has capably pointed out the ways in which Humanae Vitae was a prophetic document; the decision of the Roman Catholic Church not to sanction artificial birth control was sound. That said, the technological shock of the birth control pill is a bell that will not be unrung. Neither are many Catholics being taught particularly well about the deep philosophical reasons why using it is not in keeping with the Church’s teaching.

So here we are, countering the problems of that technology with other, newer technologies, like IVF and egg freezing. The former’s success rate is low and dwindles with age and egg freezing as a fertility enhancing tool is counterintuitive to say the least. It encourages delayed childbearing, which is something of a factor in remaining childless. We could all use a little urgency here.

I actually see the Pill, IVF and egg freezing on the same continuum of fear — fear of having children, fear of not having children. And fear is not terribly empowering. I’m no fan of naysayers constantly talking about women’s fertility falling off a cliff after a certain age. At the same time, inevitably those of us who manage to have one child in our 40s simply learn that we wish we could have had more. Indeed, a Cardus survey asking Canadian women about their fertility desires revealed that half of us wish we have more children than we do. Instead, Canada’s fertility rate is dwindling.

Many propose solutions that sound a bit like bringing fists to a gun fight, talking as we do about State funding of reproductive technologies and/or public, free child-care systems, the latter being an example of child-care policy designed by and for wealthy Western nations that have ceased having kids.

The vicious circle is that the fewer children we have, the less likely we are to find a way to have more. Having kids, seeing them grow, knowing them closely — these things beget the idea that having children is a good thing, without any funding attached.

Bring a toddler to work day, anyone?

(Andrea Mrozek is Senior Fellow at Cardus Family.)

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