Falling Fertility and Pro-Family Policies

June 1st, 2018

This month, federal officials reported that, for the second year in a row, the fertility rate in the United States of America fell to a record low, down three-percent from 2016. Despite an improved economy since the Great Recession in 2008 when the fertility rate naturally dipped, it has not rebounded and continues to decline to 60.2 births per 1000 women. Demographic balance is important in a society, and for a little while, the decline in fertility rate in the USA has been offset by immigration.

One of the questions facing demographers who study this issue is, “Why?” There are a growing number of women of childbearing age, and we’re no longer in a recession. Another question that is perplexing to demographers is whether this is just a periodic dip or if it is a long-term trend due to major social changes. As women pursue further education and establish careers, even becoming the primary breadwinner in their households, many push back marriage and childbearing. Nearly one-in-five births are now to women 35 or older.

While this news might lead many people to wring their hands about abortions or selfish women who prioritize their careers over family, the harsh reality is that the US is a tough place to raise a family despite all of the pro-family rhetoric. Watching my friends start to raise children and struggle with navigating family leave policies, daycare, and the cost of giving birth, it is no wonder that many couples would choose to opt out of it. The US is only one of four countries with no government-subsidized maternity leave. With our economy increasingly reliant on contract laborers, many families do not even have access to corporate benefits.

My generation and the generations behind me will also be dealing with massive student loan and credit card debt and increasingly expensive childcare, not to mention the threat of climate change and the fear of school-based gun violence. If having children is as much of a struggle as it seems to be for my peers who are highly educated and who have economic and family support, how much more difficult is it for those without those things?

Even in the best of situations, raising children is difficult and challenging work, despite its numerous rewards. But in our country, we have made it almost an untenable situation. Regardless of the demographics, the church should enthusiastically welcome new life into our midst, supporting couples in their desire to bring children into the world and be nurtured in the knowledge and love of the Lord. This is also a justice issue; having children should not be a luxury reserved for the top one-percent.

What role does the church have in addressing these issues that keep families from living into their fullest potential? As much as some churches might hesitate in getting involved in issues that they view as political, there is a need for churches to advocate for policies that are truly pro-family. At the same time, churches can be a benchmark for pro-family policies by offering paid family leave for mothers and fathers and considering a ministry of providing affordable childcare. Too often, churches are just as bad or worse at accommodating the needs of parents who work for them as the corporate world, which is hardly a pro-family witness.

Most importantly, churches need to see being pro-family as more than just welcoming children into worship. There are systemic political and economic factors that are prohibiting people from raising the children that they might desperately want. The joys and challenges of growing one’s family should not be reserved only for those with certain kinds of jobs or access to particular benefits, and, as part of its call to envision a just world where all kinds of families can flourish, the church should proclaim and live out policies that are truly pro-family.

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