Last updated on January 12th, 2022 at 08:26 pm
The West, particularly Europe, is experiencing a birth dearth. Indeed, one study has estimated that Europe will lose 26% of its population (or roughly 200 million people) over the next 80 years. Central and Eastern Europe will be hit the hardest; Central Europe is expected to lose 54% of its population while Eastern Europe is projected to lose 34% of its population. Some countries will be especially devastated. For example, Bulgaria is projected to lose 63% of its population, Ukraine 61%, Poland 60%, Spain 51%, and Italy 50%. Not even one European country has a replacement fertility rate that would stabilize its population. (2.1 children per woman is the fertility rate needed to exactly replace a population; in Europe, the average rate is 1.61.) It is important to note that the above numbers would have been even worse for Europe but for the expected inflow of migrants from the developing world.
The situation is no better in the United States and Canada. The United States currently has a fertility rate of 1.64, the lowest on record; indeed, since 1971 the United States has generally had a fertility rate below replacement level. The situation in Canada is even worse; its fertility rate is a mere 1.4, also a record low. But for massive immigration, both countries would be rapidly shrinking.
These population trends have not been lost on Pope Francis. In his general audience on January 5th, the pontiff addressed head on what he believes is the root cause of the crisis: selfishness. Pope Francis declared:
Today…there is a certain selfishness. The other day, I spoke about the demographic winter there is nowadays, in which we see that people do not want to have children, or just one and no more. And many, many couples do not have children because they do not want to, or they have just one–but they have two dogs, two cats… Yes, dogs and cats take the place of children. Yes, it’s funny, I understand, but it is the reality.
And when we prefer pets to children, the pope continued, men, women, and all of society are diminished:
And this denial of fatherhood or motherhood diminishes us, it takes away our humanity. And in this way civilization becomes aged and without humanity, because it loses the richness of fatherhood and motherhood. And our homeland suffers, as it does not have children…It is a risk, yes: having a child is always a risk, either naturally or by adoption. But it is riskier not to have them. It is riskier to deny fatherhood, or to deny motherhood, be it real or spiritual. But denial, a man or woman who do not develop the sense of fatherhood or motherhood, they are lacking something, something fundamental, something important.
This is clearly not a message that many in the West will want to hear. With the cult of materialism and hedonism dominating much of Europe, America, and the rest of the developed world, having a pet seems a better option than a having a child as pets demand less of our time, treasure, and talent. Pets allow people to continue in their indulgent lifestyles; having to raise a child would take too much away from our focus on ourselves.
But having and raising children is one of the most rewarding—if not the most rewarding—experiences in life. Yes, raising a child will entail much sacrifice and there often will be periods of pain and heartbreak—but raising a child also brings untold joy and love into the lives of parents. Indeed, the love of a mother and father that brings a child into the world is an icon of the love among the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. The natural family brings a little bit of heaven to earth.
Pope Francis is giving a bold witness to the truth: many people in the West are having fewer—or maybe even zero—children because of selfishness. While this a truth that many in the West will not want to hear, it is truth that we can no longer ignore. Indeed, the continued existence of our countries literally depends on how we respond to it.