Why? People probably ask them that question twenty times a day, seven days a week. And given a chance, thousands of others would ask it, too. Why?
On July 21, 1984, Michelle Ruark married James Robert Duggar. Now 26 years later, they have nineteen children and a TLC network hit, Nineteen Kids and Counting. By anyone’s count that’s a lot of kids, not to mention a lot of time and expense. It was not what the Duggars had originally had in mind. So the obvious question gets asked: Why do you have nineteen children? They have an answer, and they’re happy to share it.
The world’s population is 6,878,674,944, and counting. Overpopulation? Some think so. Their thoughts are nothing new. Nineteenth century scholar Thomas Robert Malthus believed that population growth was a leading cause of poverty and social ill. He advocated eugenics to check the poor and so check overpopulation. Malthus had his adherents. One was Margaret Sanger, who founded what is now known as Planned Parenthood. Another was Adolph Hitler. Enough said. In the 60’s, Paul Ehrlich wrote Population Bomb, a book that fueled the ZPG, or the zero population growth movement of the 70’s, a movement that viewed people as pollution. And still does.
Now some 40 years later, there is strong evidence of a frightening turn of events. Large sections of the developed world are under-populating. For a society to replace itself, its birth rate must hold at 2.1. No European nation reproduces at that rate. Most are below 1.6; Italy and Spain are at 1.2. Some demographers suggest that Europe’s population decline cannot be stopped. Japan’s birth rate is 1.2, and the 2010 census will show a population drop expected to deepen. The Russian rate is 1.2, and Russia’s population drop is severe. China has mandated under-population through its one-child policy. Here at home, only Hispanics are replacing themselves.
Serious problems come with under-population. As the populations countries age, there are fewer young people to support them. The weighty financial burdens on the young will become even heavier as governments try to fund care for the elderly. The inability to raise enough taxes will lead to pressure to reduce the numbers of elderly. For many, rationed care will mean no care. As for the young, they grow without the socialization normally provided by brothers and sisters. Today kids often grow up surrounded by adults rather than other children. Many children become the center of attention and do not develop a proper sense of duty to others. China’s one-child policy has led to a generation of “little emperors.” Overprotected children, kids not forced to develop good judgment and common sense, fall short at critical times. These are not good things.
Why are we having an under-population problem? In the end, there are a couple reasons. For one, we are stuck on ourselves. Personal desire and self-fulfillment are cultural hallmarks. We marry later in life, which reduces women’s childbearing years. In the choice between careers and children, many couples choose careers or at least have delayed having children. Having more children often takes a back seat to having more stuff. Artificial contraception is promoted as a personal and social good. Our contraception culture has morphed into an abortion culture. There have been 52 million abortions here since 1973, up to 46 million annually worldwide. As Venerable John Paul II said, a nation that kills its own children is a nation without a future.
But there are many, many people who would love to have more children. For them, it is not about self. It is about the fear that they will not be able to feed, clothe, house, and educate them. These people ask whether they will be able to raise more children and still have anything left for their own real needs.
It all leads back to the Duggars. Believe it or not, Michelle and Jim Bob started their marriage on the pill. They were on and off it over their first years. They planned to have only two or three children. But they were devastated to learn that a child conceived while on the pill was miscarried because of the pill. Changing course, the Duggars decided to trust in God’s decisions, not their own. A few months later, Michelle became pregnant with twins. Their faith and trust has allowed their family to bloom.
During a severe drought, God told Elijah that a woman would provide him with food. She was a widow with a son. She had handful of flour in a jar with which she planned to feed herself and son, and then die. Do not be afraid, Elijah told her, for the Lord will provide. All three ate from the jar. It did not go empty until the drought ended. God is like that. We are His greatest creation. He has set no limit on us. And He will provide for us. The children He gives the world may well be the solution to the problems we fear the most, whether overpopulation or anything else.
In her simple but profound way, Blessed Theresa of Calcutta put it best: saying we have too many children is like saying we have too many flowers. Why do the Duggars have nineteen kids? They understand that each one is a gift of God. They would love to have more! We are not all called to have nineteen children. But we are all called to see new each child is a sign of God’s continuing love for us.
If we do, our flour jar will never go empty.
Paul V. Esposito is a Catholic lawyer who writes on a variety of pro-life topics. He and his wife Kathy live in Elmhurst, Illinois, where they raise their six kids.
© Paul V. Esposito 2010. Culture of Life. Permission to copy and distribute for pro-life purposes is granted. Comments? Visit us at http://www.the-culture-of-life.com/