Is population control a good reason not to have babies?

The world’s population has reached seven billion and is still growing. In her new book, The Baby Matrix, Laura Carroll insists that if our culture keeps encouraging people to have babies we will destroy the planet. People who care will not have children, or if they must, they will have only one biological child. If that’s not enough, they will adopt additional children. The overriding theme of this book is that our “pronatalist” society’s belief that having children is the right and natural thing to do is wrong, wrong, wrong.

For baby boomers like me, Paul R. Ehrlich’s The Population Bomb, published in 1968, was required high school reading. In it, he predicted that if we didn’t do something about our ever-increasing population, the world would become so overpopulated it would self-destruct. This book became the bible for the Zero Population Growth movement. It started about the same time as birth control and abortion became legal for most people in the U.S., so people really did start having fewer kids. The average family produced two children instead of three, six or a dozen.

Still, Carroll says we need to cut back even more. When I talk to people who are childless by choice, many mention overpopulation as one of the reasons not to have kids. It’s rarely their main reason, but it’s one of them.

All of this makes me uncomfortable. Weren’t our bodies designed to make babies?

I was happy to find some articles that report the population has started decreasing, that maybe we’re not headed for disaster. This one from Slate, “About That Overpopulation Problem,” explains that some countries, such as Germany, have already lowered the birthrate so much that the overall population is going down.

With couples waiting until they’re older to have kids, with birth control being available to most people, and more and more choosing not to have children at all, it would seem likely that our population would stop growing. If not, I suppose the natural methods of population control that work with non-humans–predators, natural disasters, lack of food–would eventually balance out the numbers.

What do you think? Do you believe we should limit births to keep the population down? Has anyone in your life suggested this as a good reason not to have kids?

What would have happened without The Pill?

Birth control pills became legal for unmarried women in 1972, the year I lost my virginity. I realized this last night as I was reading a new book called The Baby Matrix, written by Laura Carroll, who also wrote Families of Two. I’ll write more about this book when I finish reading it, but the section on birth control is the most complete I’ve ever seen. I was shocked when I suddenly understood the chronology. In the 1960s, birth control became legal for married couples, but it wasn’t until I was in college that women who were not married had an effective means, aside from abstinence, to prevent unwanted pregnancies. This blows my mind.

I was a late bloomer when it comes to dating and sex. My mother said “don’t” and I didn’t until I was 20. It was only when I met the man who became my first husband that I finally learned how much fun sex could be. The first few months that we dated, he kept pressuring me to “do it.” I knew that he’d dump me pretty soon if I kept saying no. After I finally gave in, he hustled me to the San Jose State University health center, where I got my first birth control prescription. The pills made me sick and fat, but they kept me from getting pregnant. After we got married, I switched to a diaphragm, a rubber disk full of spermicidal cream that I inserted just before intercourse. That’s what I used until several years after our divorce, when I met Fred, who had had a vasectomy. With him, I no longer needed birth control. Conception was impossible.
I got those first pills in 1972, hiding them so my parents would never know. A year earlier, the pills would not have been available. Nor would the diaphragm. We might have used condoms, but the chances were good that I would have joined the many women who are pregnant on their wedding day. In the old days, lots of women got married to men they might not otherwise have married simply because they were pregnant. To have a child outside of marriage was a scandal to be avoided. God help the unmarried pregnant woman and her illegitimate child.
Today, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention , 40.8 percent of babies born in the U.S. are born to unmarried women. Today they have a choice, and they choose to become single mothers while their sisters may decide not to become mothers at all. But before I was 20 years old, we didn’t have these choices. Even then, it took a while for attitudes to catch up with legalities.
Without birth control, it would be a lot harder to choose a life without children unless you also chose a life without intercourse. It would also be a considerably more difficult for a spouse who doesn’t want children to keep from having them anyway. Many of us who are childless by marriage would not be if this were 1963 instead of 2013.
Makes you think, doesn’t it?