Book predicts decreasing birth rate will lead to disaster

What to Expect When No One’s Expecting: America’s Coming Demographic Disaster by Jonathan V. Last, Encounter Books, 2013. 

After years of hearing that we have too many people on this planet and that we have to decrease our population, here comes Jonathan V. Last to tell us that if we don’t start having more children, we’re in trouble. We’ll have a population of old people with no young ones to support them. Other authors tell us the exact opposite. Whom should we believe? This book is a slow read, a scholarly compilation of statistics that show the birth rate going down below replacement level in most first-world countries. Last blames it on many factors of modern life, including the cost of raising children, women going to college and having careers instead of babies, the decline of marriage and religion and the general belief that having children will take all the fun out of life. He details the efforts, mostly unsuccessful, that have been made to encourage people to have more children and makes suggestions for how to encourage more births. Last has a strong conservative bias and occasionally laces this footnote-fest with sarcasm, but there’s a lot of interesting information here, and it certainly provides food for thought. 

There’s no doubt the birth rate has been going down. In some countries, such as Germany and Japan, the population is shrinking at a rapid rate. The question is whether this is a problem. I had this book with me at the doctor’s office a couple days ago. When I showed my doctor the cover, she exclaimed that a smaller population is a good thing, that this world has too many people in it. That’s what most people think. Just visit any large American city at rush hour. Wouldn’t fewer people and more open space be good? Yes, we’d have to work out how to manage things like Social Security with fewer workers contributing to it, but wouldn’t it even out in time? 

And how does this affect our individual decisions on whether or not to have children? Certainly overpopulation is often cited by the childfree crowd as a good reason not to have kids. If we’re to believe Jonathan V. Last, anyone who has more than two children should be rewarded with tax breaks and other incentives. But Laura Carroll maintains in The Baby Matrix, reviewed here in February, that couples should be given tax breaks for NOT having children. 

So what’s the answer? I think if you want to have children, you should have them, and if you don’t want them, don’t have them. The population will sort itself out. 

What do you think?  

Book review: The Baby Matrix

The Baby Matrix: Why Freeing Our Minds from Outmoded Thinking About Parenthood & Reproduction Will Create a BetterWorld by Laura Carroll, Live True Books, 2012.

Laura Carroll, who previously published Families of Two, about couples living happily childfree, has put together an absolute encyclopedia about why the “pronatalist” viewpoint that tells us that everyone should have children is no longer valid. We don’t all need to have children, especially in a world suffering from overpopulation, she says. Although I disagree with some of her points, I have to admire this well-written and deeply researched book that I will keep handy as a reference from now on. Carroll challenges common assumptions such as the idea that people need to have children to be fulfilled, mature, happy, and cared for in their old age. Furthermore, she says that parenting should be a privilege for which people must prove they are qualified. People should be rewarded for not having kids instead of getting tax breaks for having them. Maybe, maybe not, but there is so much information here. Want to know how many childless women there are in Finland? It’s here. Want to know what sociology texts tell college students about marriage and children? It’s here.

Will this book help you if you’re in a childless-by-marriage situation? I don’t know. Carroll does not specifically say anything about couples where one wants children and the other is unable or unwilling to have them. But if it’s looking like you are probably not going to have kids, this book may make you feel a lot better about it.

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?

Read about the "Silent Sorority" of barren women

Have you read Silent Sorority? I can’t put it down. In this memoir, author Pamela Mahoney Tsigninos tells the story of her struggle to get pregnant, trying all the techniques that modern science has to offer, before realizing she will have to accept her childless state as permanent. Yes, she is struggling with infertility while many of us are fertile but don’t have a partner who wants to make babies with us, but many of the challenges she faces, especially in the second half of the book, are the same. Indeed, her title echoes what most of us know: people don’t talk about this stuff much.

Tsigdinos writes with such a free-flowing easy style that I have already gotten halfway through the book in half a day. You can read about her and her book at www.silentsorority.com.

While I was blog-hopping yesterday, I came across Laura Carroll’s blog, called La Vie Childfree. Carroll is the author of Families of Two, which tells the stories of 15 married couples who have decided not to have children. She has published a fascinating post this week on the increasing number of Gen Xers who are not having children.

I also found http://gateway-women.com, a UK blog by psychotherapist Jody Day for the one in five women who don’t have kids. She calls us “nomos,” short for “not-mother.” You’ll find some good reading here, too.

Cheers.