How Church teaching could help turn around birth rates

The birthrate in America has so slowed that we are no longer making enough babies to replace ourselves, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention announced in a report Jan. 10.

And while the fertility rate has been on the decline for many years, the 2017 numbers, which represent the most recent data, show the largest drop in recent history. To sustain our population, a rate of 2,100 births per 1,000 women is needed. In 2017, there were 1,765.5 births per 1,000 women.

Anytime I see such data on the reproduction — or lack thereof — of Americans, I can’t help but think of TIME magazine’s 2013 article, “The Childfree Life: When having it all means not having children.” In the article, Laura Scott, a main subject of the piece, said: “My main motive not to have kids was that I loved my life the way it was.” A corresponding online poll attached to the article found that 94 percent of respondents (numbering more than 20,000) asserted that people are not being selfish when they choose not to have children. Only 17 percent of respondents of the same poll said that having children brings happiness. In fact, 46.7 percent of respondents said that having kids brings unhappiness, and 37 percent said having children brings less happiness in the short term but more fulfillment in the long term. You may have to re-read those numbers. I sure did.

The recent CDC report didn’t give any reasons for the declining birthrate, but looking at that data set, it’s no wonder. We also know that more women are delaying marriage and children while they focus on their careers. And we also know that, even among Catholics, contraception use is widespread.

To this last point, we cannot overlook the role that our faith plays when it comes to a healthy understanding of family life. As a Church, we are not only pro-life, we are pro being open to life. The Church teaches that children are gifts from God — that we have neither the right to use unethical means to “procure” them, nor do we have the right to shut ourselves off to the potential of welcoming them. When family life is looked at through the proper lens of vocation, rather than one of obligation or choice, a natural shift occurs — a shift away from self and toward the good of others. And that shift is what helps lead us to heaven.

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I am by no means saying that an openness to children and family life is the easy path. As a working mother, I feel the tensions that affect so many working women. I am often torn between office and home. I am more tired. I am more anxious. I do a lot more second guessing. But I also laugh a lot more. I wonder a lot more. I marvel a lot more. I get sticky hugs and germy kisses, and I wouldn’t trade them for anything else in the world.

The Church’s wisdom on family life is a gift, and I can’t help believing that if more people were open to it, we’d be reading a lot less about population decline.

Gretchen R. Crowe is editor-in-chief of OSV Newsweekly. Follow her on Twitter @GretchenOSV.