Consequences of declining family formation and falling birth rates
by Arthur Goldberg | February 12, 2019
Family formation patterns in developed countries over the past half-century have radically decreased. Marriage and birth rates have dramatically fallen throughout the developed world, which, if not addressed, will significantly reduce national populations and change the underlying culture of each affected country. Needing workers to support the growth of individual country economies, most developed countries have chosen to increase immigration as a means to offset their low reproduction rates. On the other hand, the Hungarian government and others from former Soviet Bloc countries have chosen a series of policies, consistent with traditional religious values, to support large, stable families as an antidote to progressive policies employed by most of the developed world.
In wondering how we got to this point, I recalled it was not many years ago when progressives in American culture claimed that the world was in the process of a “population explosion” and that the increased population would reduce our planet’s capacity to support human life. They postulated that this overpopulation would cause major societal upheavals and predicted that our “dying planet” would experience mass starvation.
In the late 1960s and early 1970s, liberal groups such as the Sierra Club also argued that population growth was the primary factor causing the decline of our civilization. They believed that the world’s resources were so limited that if we did not start promoting domestic and international family planning activities, eventually we would be unable to support our food, energy, and space needs.
In 1968, the Sierra Club published Paul R. Ehrlich’s The Population Bomb which advocated a series of coercive measures to reduce population. The results of these dire predictions triggered a wave of repression around the world. Whether in direct response or not, China began enforcing a two-child policy in 1969 and a decade later restricted the freedom of couples even further by creating a one child policy. Many other countries responded by adopting liberalized access to contraception devices and abortions on demand. Global population increases peaked in the 1960s at 2.09%. Since then the trend shows consistent yearly decreases of growth and by 2018, it was only 1.09%.
Within America, these population alarmists produced a cultural climate in which restrictions against abortion were eliminated. Since Roe v. Wade in 1973, more than 60 million U.S. babies have been aborted.
Feminists jumped on the bandwagon. Advances in contraception and the advent of legal abortion resulted in women delaying marriage and childbirth along with demanding greater self-expression and personal fulfillment. They more heavily “invested in careers through education, job training and staying in paid work.”
Fast forward to today where we encounter the consequences of the ill-conceived liberal policy of limiting population growth. Fewer American babies are born today than 50 years ago. The number of people in the prime working ages (between 25 and 54) has not grown in over a decade. One critical factor in the declining birth rate is the increase in the average age at which couples now marry as well as the increasing number of those who do not marry at all. The proportion of 40 something childless women, the age at which fertility rapidly decreases, doubled between 1976 and 2000.
“Doom loop of liberalism”
Western countries’ demographic decline caused them to import workers. However, an unintended consequence of combining mass migration with low birth rates in these developed countries has been a populist cultural response which Derek Thompson, writing in the Atlantic in 2017, refers to as a “doom loop of liberalism.“ Liberals support increasing immigration rates as the way to expand the number of workers in the economy; however, in turn, this policy creates a populist backlash, particularly because (a) the difficulty of integrating so many adults from different cultures into the culture of the host country and (b) the liberals’ opposition to assimilation by embracing “identity politics.” Although immigration provides additional workers to maintain the developed countries’ economy, such immigration “cannot prop up the indigenous cultures in the host countries. … Demographic calculations show that the indigenous populations and cultures will vanish.”
The ever-increasing migration to Europe and the difference in fertility rates between European citizens and immigrants suggests, according to demographic assessments by economist Charles Gave, the disappearance of a dominant European national culture within 40 years. Citing his native France as an example, Gave calculates that France will have a Muslim majority by 2057.
For those eager to retain the distinctive cultures of their country, longer term population estimates by the United Nations are even more pessimistic. They estimate that by 2300, about half of the European countries would lose 95% of their native population. Italy with its fertility rate of 1.4 is a good example. By 2300, they estimate only 1% of Italian citizens would be left. Imagine the outcry of progressive environmentalists if any wildlife animal population was facing such a decrease. They would seek emergency measures, including breeding programs. However, the silence of the same people concerning the loss of national identity is deafening. To them, globalism should replace nationalism.
In response to the precipitous decline of fertility rates in Germany, Angela Merkel assumed that an influx of migrants would overcome their country’s worker shortage. However, opposition to mass migration is steadily growing in Europe and thus the “doom loop” found fertile ground in Germany and most other EU countries where migrants moved.
Hungarian family building policies
In contrast, and antithetical, to the liberal orthodoxy, the Hungarian government under President Viktor Orban (and other former Eastern bloc countries such as Russia and Poland) seek to reverse declining birth rates by establishing strong pro-family policies. Beginning in 1981 and continuing for several years thereafter, deaths outnumbered births in Hungary. It lost approximately one million people from its 1980 peak population of 9.8 million. Orban’s policies reversed the declining population trend by increasing stable family units with higher birth rates. The Hungarian experience is relevant to other societies which seek to reestablish families as the building block of society.
Katalin Novak, state secretary for Families and Youth in Hungary believes that her country can be strong only if it is based upon strong families. Thus, her government answered demographic challenges by neither importing outsiders nor encouraging immigration, but rather strengthening their own internal resources. In 2011, her government promulgated a Fundamental Law affirming state support for “the family as the basis of the survival of the nation.”
The several and varied pro-family policies implemented by the Orban government have produced remarkable results. During the seven year period from 2010 when the pro-family policies were initially introduced to 2017, abortions dropped by more than a third, from 40,449 to 28,500, divorces fell from 23, 873 to 18,600, and the marriage rate increased by a remarkable 42 percent.
Hungary spends a little more than 3% of its GDP to financially support families as compared to other EU states whose percentage of GDP on these issues is only 2.2%. To encourage families, the government provides a wide variety of benefits, including maternity support, paid childcare leave, and family tax benefits. In 2010, Hungary introduced a family-friendly personal income tax system providing significant income tax relief based on the number of children within the family unit. In addition, they provided families with housing allowances, incentives for young couples to marry, no-charge holiday camps for children, subsidized textbooks for schooling and decreased family utility costs. In the period from 2010 to 2013, Hungary also offered tax incentives to employers to hire mothers with small children and enacted a Child Home Care Allowance. To induce families to have a third child, in 2016, they provided them with subsidies approximating $37,000 for newly constructed homes while providing preferential loans and exemptions from value-added taxes. Expanding the program in 2018, they extended benefits to purchasing older dwellings.
Dr. Zoltan Kovics, official spokesman for Prime Minister Viktor Orban’s Cabinet Office, summarizes “While Brussels bureaucrats and the European liberal, pro-migration mainstream see immigration as the necessary and unavoidable solution, the Hungarian government stands committed to the idea of increasing the birth rate through more effective family support measures.”
Hungarian abortion policies
During this same time frame, Hungary also attacked the widespread practice of abortion. Although Hungary’s new constitution commits it to protect the unborn as a means of increasing the birth rate, the country did not take an “all or nothing” approach, recognizing that “the introduction of a sweeping abortion law in Hungary would be political suicide.” Instead they “chipped away” at the previous prevalent communist culture which considered abortion a primary means of birth control. For example, they limited abortion on demand to the first 12 weeks and only in the case of “severe disability” permitted it up to 24 weeks. Moreover, extra governmental support for adoption services and counseling for expectant mothers not only brought down the abortion rate but increased the fertility rate. The government instituted a three day waiting period between an abortion request and termination enabling women to reflect on their decision to abort.
Interestingly, Hungary also reduced the number of hospitals where women can have abortions. They contracted with two religiously affiliated hospitals already opposed to legalizing abortion, one managed by the Hungarian Catholic Church and the other maintained by the Hungarian Reformed Church under which the hospitals will each receive a generous grant of approximately $27.5 million to not perform abortions while providing other obstetric services.
It is ironic that formerly atheistic communist countries would become leading actors in supporting families. In the Communist Manifesto, Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels called for the abolition of marriage and family, which they viewed as oppressive institutions. They tolerated its existence only as a “transitive social arrangement” on the path to “communal utopia.” This communist ideology does not significantly differ from today’s liberal agenda.
In response to the “liberalism doom loop” scenario, NY Times columnist Ross Douthat suggests a common sense alternative to avoid populist backlash, “the culture of liberalism would probably need to become more accommodating of religious conservatives, and more open especially to revisiting the sexual revolution and considering a third way between permissiveness and patriarchy. “
But such accommodation for religious conservatism and revisiting the sexual revolution will encounter fierce resistance. After all, recent changes in American and European culture directly challenge traditional Judeo-Christian values concerning family life. “People with no religious preference are less likely to marry, more likely to divorce, less likely to remarry after divorce, and tend to have smaller families than members of the varying religious groups.”
The earliest parts of the Bible (Genesis 1:28, 2:18, & 2:24) set forth G-d’s encouragement for families to populate the earth. Orthodox Jews, Catholics, Evangelicals and The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints are examples of religious groups which follow these Biblical commandments and tend to place a high priority on the importance of family and children.
Rabbi Shimon Cowen explains this belief system of traditional faiths is in stark contrast to the contemporary ethic of secular progressive belief which states that individuals should be free to unite sexually with whomever they want, provided no “exploitation” occurs. The world-view of secularism is a self-sufficient, Creator-less nature and soul-less human being, characterized by subjective relativism and amenability to a utilitarian calculus of pleasure and pain. Secularism corrodes one’s personal moral and ethical values based upon moral absolutes provided by G-d. It also corrupts ethical social organizations in the realms of justice, economics, and protection of life.
While the concept of family within society and its religious communities is at the center of G-d’s plan for happiness, the religion of secularism disagrees, competing with the Abrahamic faiths in order to shape contemporary social policy. The heterosexual union of a man and a woman—marriage—is the norm of human sexuality under the Noahide law which lies at the root of the three Abrahamic faiths (Judaism, Christianity, and Islam). In the mindset of many liberals, however, marriage has gone “from expected, mandatory, and mutually beneficial to unnecessary, optional, and potentially complicating.” To reverse this thought-process, it is essential to reaffirm the importance of marriage and family.
Arthur Goldberg is Co-Director of the American based Jewish Institute for Global Awareness, former Co-Director of JONAH, Inc. JIFGA sponsors www.fundingmorality.com, a crowd-funding site for those committed to Biblical values. He has authored Light in the Closet: Torah, Homosexuality, and the Power to Change. You can contact him at Arthur@jifga.org.