The empty crib: Poll reveals a neglected global scourge: the number of would-be parents who have fewer children than they want—or none at all


*Our poll shows that the ideal family in Asia’s three largest countries (China, India and Indonesia) is now smaller than the ideal family in Britain or America. We also find that access to birth control is seldom much of an issue. Few young people will have more children than they want because reliable contraception was not available to them. The poll also signals a global shift. Judging by the collective desires of parents and would-be parents, more suffering is caused by having too few babies than too many.
Story at The Economist


I read/heard the birth rate in US is 60/1000 women? Wow! What are we doing to ourselves???


It’s all here in this book:


Contrary to popular belief, it does not cost a fortune to raise children. It does take a lot of time and patience.

I see large differences in people who have one or two children and people who have more.( I’m not talking about everyone, just most that I know) The parents who have more than two children are more likely to be selfless, well-rounded and intelligent. I think having more children fosters these qualities.

Why wouldn’t stereotypical intellectuals want to have more than one or two children? I think it’s because some are afraid to grow, afraid to mature, more interested in studying life than living it.


I agree it doesn’t cost a fortune, but I don’t think that means it’s cheap. There are people, friends of mine included, who for a time ate rice and vegetables for months. 100$ monthly food budget. On a Medi-share program. That kind of thing. (I looked into one, but it was more expensive than what we currently have, and they don’t cover things like asthma or whatever. So that put us out.) So yes, it’s true it doesn’t cost as much as we think it should, but the rubber does hit the road somewhere.

I’d adopt a bucket of kids, if we could afford that too.

Point is, though, I think our mentalities have made child-rearing more expensive and more difficult than it has to be, and things are getting tougher with Social Services breathing down necks. That reality also makes finances a concern.


I suppose we can file this under anecdote, but I know that among my non-Catholic male friends I never hear people talk about marriage or children unless its to say how they don’t really care about being married or about how they really don’t want children. I should say we’re in our mid-twenties so this is definitely around the time when you’d expect people would be looking to start a family.

Within my Catholic social circles, I hear some Catholic women express a desire for children but rarely Catholic men. In my experience, when a Catholic young man talks about a vocation to marriage he is probably thinking about a committed sexual relationship acceptable to God rather than having children. Admittedly this could be me projecting and the couples I know who have been married tend to have a child relatively quickly.

I wonder how much of that is coming from smaller families. As an only child I have zero childcare experience and the thought of razing a child is terrifying. Actually even the thought of working with children is my greatest concern as a soon-to-be healthcare professional. I know I’m not alone in that regard.

And finally, and likely to contribute to the worst stereotypes about millennials, I have to say that in many ways I feel like a child myself. I’ll (finally) be finishing school next year and off to a (hopefully) successful professional career. Most of the people I know who are working tend to be in very low-end jobs (e.g., landscaping) and are still trying to break into an actual career. Housing prices are so high in the area that many people I know no longer expect to own a home or property (Southern Ontario, Canada). Throw on the fact that many in our age group are deficient in life skills and things get rather tricky.


Interesting article. While it wasn’t written from a Catholic world view (as it says things like “reliable contraception is important”) this article definitely brings up points that secular society often disregards when it comes to family planning. Secular culture basically takes fertility for granted, but the painful reality is that people sometimes cannot have children, even when they want them. This article addresses that, and while I don’t agree with some of the author’s viewpoint, I am encouraged that an economic magazine is willing to address the problems of demographics that large scale use of contraception has brought upon the world.

From the article: ‘Judging by the collective desires of parents and would-be parents, more suffering is caused by having too few babies than too many.’ The suffering caused by having “too few babies” is both personal and societal. We see the personal suffering expressed by those who share about their unwanted infertility problems, although not everyone who faces infertility or secondary shares about their situation. We also see the personal suffering expressed by parents who wish they could have more children but who can’t for some reason, such as the feeling that they can’t afford more. Suffering is caused on the larger scale as well. Countries that do not replace their population face decline.

“The people who fretted about an exploding population half a century ago made two mistakes. They failed to imagine that agriculture could become far more productive. They also failed to predict that birth rates would fall so sharply. That is to their discredit…”


It is easy for me to say you shouldn’t worry about the disruption in your life that children would bring, or the immaturity which you feel disqualifies you.

Trust me, you will mature very quickly once a child arrives. It’s in our nature to do that if we want children at all. There is no “good time” because there are always competing interests, objectives and demands.

I genuinely believe some people are intended to be parents and some are not. I always knew, from the time I was a child, that not only did I want to be a parent, but that I would be a parent. So your belief about Catholic men is not entirely accurate. But all the same, my maturity level wasn’t equal to it when our first was born and our economic situation most assuredly was not.

But one adapts, and young men are not exceptional in that regard. One “re-centers” his life. Certainly mothers do, but fathers do too. And both pay a price for it in terms of freedom and occupational achievement. Women do more than men, but men do too. It isn’t possible for a man to be as dedicated to his occupation as he might otherwise be if he has a child or children.

The economics work out, or at least it did for us. We rented until we found an old house a banker wanted to get rid of. I told him we would buy it if he loaned us 100% of the cost plus some money for paint, wallpaper, a new roof, and sanding equipment. He did because he was desperate to get rid of the house. I spent days and days and days and weeks and months (in the evening and on weekends) renovating the house. But while I would never have thought myself interested or capable of doing that sort of thing, I rather enjoyed it. We were so poor our first child’s crib was the drawer of a dresser we bought at an estate sale and I had refinished by hand. When that child grew up, we gave her the dresser.

As strange as it may sound, one even gets used to a decrease in one’s standard of living. One can make up for it later, but one cannot have a family too late in the game. I am firmly convinced that people are designed to have children when they’re fairly young. Maybe the very immaturity is an aid to adaptability.

I don’t know what kind of healthcare professional you’re studying to be. My wife is an RN and completed her studies before we even married. She went years without practicing, but then got into it readily enough when our children were bigger. My daughter-in-law’s sister graduated from medical school with two small children. She does practice medicine now, but only part time. I have a daughter who is a lawyer with two small children. She got on as an assistant prosecutor, part-time. Could she be more successful as a lawyer if she didn’t have children? Sure. But as between the two things, she chose motherhood now, not somewhere down the road that might not even happen if she waited too long. The litigants will still be out there when her children are older.

It can be bumpy, but if you’re meant to have children, it’s best to get on with it, in my opinion. The older one gets, the more one gets set in his/her ways.

But I don’t think everybody is meant to be a parent. I have a sister who never married. She could have, but just didn’t want a family. She has her own world, and it’s sufficient for her. I think she would have been a disaster as a mother, but she’s quite a good aunt.


Your anecdote is not alone. My own experience has been somewhat similar. Obviously I’m not Catholic, and a large number of my friends are not as well. But my experience has been that a large number of them similarly do not speak about having kids unless it’s to say they don’t want them (if they don’t already have them). Otherwise of those that have had kids, all had kids after 30. And among those that have had kids, it was typically the women who were driving it, not the men. (My wife and I are an exception, but then we were married 7 years, and together 14 years before we had a kid).

And smaller families may be driving it to some extent, I’ve seen some minor examples of that in my own life. But I think broken families may also be driving it to an even greater extent. I mean a great many of my friends and family come from homes that were broken to some extent. Divorce among their parents does seem to be the norm, not the exception. Which I’m sure colors the desire for their own kids to some degree (both among those that don’t want any, and those that have had some). I mean for all the talk about the “potential damage” same sex marriages can do to the family unit, I’d argue that traditional marriage and its increasing failure has already done catastrophic damage the family unit in the last 50 years.


Does it seem to anyone else that there is a sort of “depression” going on out there? Yes, I do believe we’re in an economic depression, and have been for quite awhile. After all, if not for welfare, today’s soup lines would be longer than those in 1936. We’re “borrowing ourselves rich” and the piper will want his payment before too long.

But I think it’s more than that. I live in a place where jobs go begging. It’s a low-cost part of the country. But while there is population growth, it’s pretty much all locally-generated. People from the coasts, I’m told, just won’t move here. Rather sit in their parents’ basements I guess. That makes no sense to me. Why would anyone do that when they could move and actually start a life? Why would a young man not be excited to take his young wife and live with one foot “on the grid” and one foot off?

And the “downer” about having children. I don’t get it, I really don’t. Do people really want to die without having more than replaced themselves for their own joy, for the good of the populace and for God, who loves people?

I don’t get it. Why are people so sad about life that they don’t want to bring children into it?

Divorce really is a bad business, but I do wonder how peoples’ minds got formed that they think it’s even a possibility for them? Do people really expect some kind of life improvement from it? I honestly don’t think they achieve it.

I’m sorry. I don’t want to be a smart aleck here. But I truly am baffled by all of this.


This is why I jumped at the chance with my now husband. He blatantly said he always wanted children, and always thought he’d be a father. He also saw through all the funk about contraception. He came to that conclusion on his own, despite not being Catholic. He said it just didn’t make sense. And he offered all this information before I asked him about it, so he didn’t know how to tailor his response. “Who are you, and where did you come from,” I couldn’t help wondering.


But someone needs to care for the child and many of us would be unable to give up one of our incomes. This isn’t about selfishness, it’s about economic insecurity. I’m honestly not sure what we will do if my wife gets pregnant. I’m assuming it will work out but there’s no guarantees.

I think it’s time to stop treating others as enemies. I see it all too often on what is supposed to be a Catholic message board. Assuming the worst about people is not a Christian response. Perhaps if you spoke to those that are choosing to have children later or have less children you’d see it’s not always about selfishness.


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