Where Have All the Children Gone?

For nearly 1,000 years, the people of Latvia have maintained a distinct identity, despite being dominated by their neighbors. Nearly one-third of Latvia’s population was killed by the Nazis and the Soviets between 1940 and 1954. Yet Latvia survived.

But, today, Latvia’s existence is threatened; only now, the threat is home-grown.

Latvia’s population has shrunk from 2.7 million in 1989 to about 2.2 million today. Part of that, of course, is emigration. But most of the problem is the result of low birthrates: Between 1989 and 2003, the number of Latvians under the age of 18 declined by 29 percent.

The International Monetary Fund calls the “fall in the population . . . quite worrisome.” It threatens Latvia’s economic well-being, which, in turn, encourages more emigration.

But the threat is far more than economic. According to Inese Slesere, a member of the Latvian Parliament, low birthrates threaten “the very survival of the Latvian nation.”

The precipitous drop in birthrates, Slesere says, stems from a “radically individualistic philosophy” that diminishes “virtue, character, and respect for others” within society.

The result is what she calls a “culture of rejection and death,” where “divorce, abortions, cohabitation, single-parent households, and out-of-wedlock births” are commonplace.

This culture, hardly unique to Latvia, has resulted in what is called a “demographic winter.” That is also the name of a must-see documentary on the causes and effects of the “ongoing global decline in human birthrates.” Visit our website for information about the movie. As the word global suggests, the phenomenon is not limited to the industrialized West: At least 40 nations have below-replacement level birthrates.

According to Philip Longman, the author of The Empty Cradle, this decline is “the single most powerful force affecting the fate of nations and the future of society in the 21st century.”

This probably does come as a surprise to you. Because, for nearly 40 years, we have been told that there are too many people, and that many of the world’s problems are the result of overpopulation. “People are the enemy,” we are told by radical environmentalists.

But, while technology has provided solutions to the economic and environmental challenges of a growing population, there are no such fixes for declining ones. Technology cannot produce more Latvians if Latvians do not want to have more children.

Financial incentives do not work, either. The Russian government pays families a bonus equal to roughly twice the average annual wage for every child after the firstborn. Russia’s population is expected to be cut in half by the end of this century.

The problem-you see-is cultural, and the solution must be cultural. Government policies can encourage virtuous behavior, but the antidote to the “radical individualism” that created demographic winter lies elsewhere. The only real answer is Christianity and the worldview it produces.

For the next few days, I am going to tell you more about the challenges posed by the demographic winter. It is a grave threat to all of us, so stay tuned.

Human beings and the societies they create are resilient, but if we embrace “rejection and death,” then winter is what we can expect.

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