Thursday, June 29, 2023

It is Thursday, June 29th, 2023.

I’m Albert Mohler, and this is The Briefing, a daily analysis of news and events from a Christian worldview.

Part I

Falling Birth Rates, the Biggest Issue of Our Time: We Are Looking at a Looming Catastrophe — And Few Are Talking About It

What if I told you that the biggest issue of worldview significance that we face in our time is something that doesn’t actually get much attention and isn’t the subject of much conversation? What might you think would that challenge be? The challenge, I would argue, is the challenge of lowering, falling, descending, even cratering fertility rates, which means fewer and fewer babies.

There are a few issues that could come with such a dramatic and devastating demographic factor, but the reality is that Christians understand there’s a lot more to this than demographics. This is not just statistics. This is not just another number in a line of socially important numbers. This tells us, perhaps more than anything else we could talk about, where we currently are as a creature deep in confusion in our time.

Now, before we turn to the reason we’re discussing this today, and I’m doing so with a sense of urgency, I just want to remind us that the very first command that God gave to his human creatures, the very first command God gave to humanity was to the human creature made in his image, human beings made male and female, to be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth. The first order was be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth.

The very first command indicates the dramatic nature of this divine priority. God’s intention as creator is that his image bearers made in his image should reproduce such that the world is increasingly filled with image bearers of the creator. In the Bible, the promise of a birth or the birth of a child is an unalloyed, unconditional good. It is that which is the result of, first of all, the marital union and even the marital act.

It is also something that is a sign of absolute faithfulness and obedience to God’s command. It also indicates a confidence in the future and an understanding of the purpose for which human beings were made, made in general terms, just as image bearers, but made male and female and given this assignment specifically.

Now, the reason we’re talking about this today is that the dramatic fall off in the birth rate, the fertility rate when it comes to human beings all over the world, is now getting attention even among people who aren’t primarily concerned about this in worldview terms, certainly not in moral or in biblical terms. They’re concerned about this in social and specifically in economic terms, because as it turns out, a lower birth rate is going to mean severe strains on our economy. Not by accident, therefore, The Economist, that’s the most influential news magazine published in England, and it has vast influence on both sides of the Atlantic.

The Economist ran a front page cover story entitled, “The Baby Bust Economy, How Declining Birth Rates Will Change the World.” The dramatic art on the front of the magazine’s cover showed a playground slide that simply cut off midway. There is no lower portion. The fall off of the birth rate in this case is just about as catastrophic as that image can communicate.

The article in The Economist is date lined in Singapore, and the team that’s behind this article tells us some really interesting facts and every single one of them is quite alarming. There is basically no particularly hopeful fact or figure anywhere in this article other than the fact that the human birth rate hasn’t come to zero. But what has happened is that the birth rate, specifically demographers refer to it as the total fertility rate or TFR, the total fertility rate has been going down not only where it was in recent experience expected, but elsewhere also.

So this tells us that even as say 10 years ago, even five years ago, people were saying, “Well, you know, the birth rate’s really going down in advanced economies, but it’s not going down elsewhere in the world.” Well, guess what, the rest of the world is in this case following the very bad and sad example of the developed world. The article in The Economist begins with this, “Adam is a special child,” says the voiceover as the camera pans across abandoned classrooms and deserted maternity wards. “He’s the last child born in Italy.”

We’re then told, “The short film, ‘Made for Plasmon,’ an Italian brand of baby food owned by Kraft Heinz, a giant American firm, is set in the year 2050. It imagines in Italy where babies are a thing of the past. It is exaggerating for effect, of course, but not by as much as you might imagine,” says The Economist, “The number of births in Italy peaked at one million in 1964. By 2050 the United Nations projects it will have shrunk by almost two thirds to 346,000.”

So the birth of babies, the total fertility rate there in Italy has fallen from one million in 1964, to what’s projected to be less than 400,000, indeed less than 350,000 projected in the year 2050. Now, you look at that and you would say, “Well, some people might say that’s progress. After all, you had many people, particularly on the left, warning for the last several decades about a population explosion.” It turns out that not only were those prophecies fundamentally wrong, they were actually the opposite of what society really needed to fear.

The problem is not that we have an expanding population, by the way, it is expanding right now, but the expansion of the population right now is going to be overcome by a contraction of the population and it’s also going to come with increasing complexity. Because even as the birth rate is going down, the life term is going up, life expectancy is going up, and that means that you’re going to have more and more old people, including those now defined as the extremely old or the very old, and you’re going to have fewer and fewer young people.

Now, economically, you can understand why The Economist and many others are very alarmed about this, because every part of the economy depends upon having more people producing than those who are being produced for, those who are dependents. And it’s just a matter of fact in the human life that if you live long enough, you will start life as a dependent and you may well end life as a dependent.

 In any event, even if you do not end in a situation in which you have to have assisted care or something similar, the fact is that baked into the entire structure of life for most people, at least in the West, is the fact that one will eventually retire and leave the workforce, at least a part of the argument made for the last several decades has been that older people need to leave the workforce in order that younger people will have jobs coming in.

The problem right now is that older people are going to be retiring and no one’s going to be taking the jobs. The other problem is, again, simple math, the more people who are drawing on retirement, social security and other forms of funding, the fewer people who are contributing to it, well, you can see that’s a recipe for disaster. That’s what caused the French President, Emmanuel Macron, to move towards raising the age of completely covered retirement there by just a couple of years.

You would’ve thought he had just suggested trading off France for another country. But the French president simply didn’t have any choice because the math is plain, there is simply not enough money coming in from those who are workers and projected to be workers in the future, compared to those who are going to be drawing down by social security and retirement benefits. Eventually, the math tells you the story.

And it’s interesting, once again, that this appears in The Economist. The Economist is a magazine long associated with the London School of Economics. It’s one of the most influential periodicals of any kind in the world of economics, also culture, politics, but what has its attention right now is that playground slide that’s cut off halfway. There is a catastrophe looming. Some of it’s pretty close at hand, especially there in Europe.

Listen to this, “Italy and Japan in particular are the poster pensioners for demographic decline and economic consequences. In both countries, the fertility rate, the number of children a typical woman will have over her lifetime, fell below 2.1 in the 1970s. That level is known as the replacement rate since it keeps a population stable over time.” Remember that number 2.1: “Anything lower will eventually lead to a declining population.”

Something both Italy and Japan have suffered for about a decade. The median Italian is now age 47, the median Japanese age 49. Earlier this year, according to The Economist, Kishida Fumio, Japan’s Prime Minister, warned that the country is “on the brink of being unable to maintain social functions because of the baby bust.” Now, here again, you have the head of government, the Prime Minister in Japan saying, “We might not have a functional government, frankly sooner than you might think, simply because we’re not having enough babies.”

But people have been looking at Italy and Japan for a long time. The Economist tells us, however, Italy and Japan are no longer the most extreme examples of demographic decline. Instead, the magazine say, “in 2022, South Korea had a fertility rate of just 0.8.” Let’s just go back to that. The replacement rate to keep a population level is 2.1. In South Korea, the fertility rate was just 0.8. That is virtually unprecedented in recorded human history.

The magazine explains, “A rate below one means that the next generation will be less than half the size of its parents.” Again, just think of that. Think of that in terms of not just the United States or say a worldwide population. Don’t just think in terms of a country such as South Korea, what if that were true in your city, if the total fertility rate or the number of babies born fell off by more than half?

But it’s not just about South Korea, as The Economist says, “Demographic decline is becoming commonplace. In 2010, 98 countries and territories recorded fertility rates below 2.1. By 2021, the number had grown to 124, more than half of the places for which the United Nations collects data. By 2030, it expects the tally to reach 136.”

Okay, here’s where we need to step back and say The economist is likely to look for economic considerations. What are the economic factors, maybe even the economic causes? It has been noted for a long time that the declining total fertility rate has a lot to do with the attainment of increased education by women and the delay of marriage, especially when it comes to women, and the entry into the workforce of women.

Now, again, a Christian will look at that and say, “No thoughtful person should consider that those things would not come with consequences.” One of the consequences is just a radical reduction in the number of babies born. Also, a radical reduction in the number of babies women say they want to bear.

Those who look at the world with an entirely or predominantly economic eye will say, “Well, the reason for that must be explained by economics. It must be that people want stuff and they want social prestige and they want a job and they want to be functioning economic agents more than they want to be parents.” Or at least being a parent is lower on, say the list of those life attainments and goals, and so it’s not the job that’s going to go, it’s not the education that’s going to go, it’s not the expectations of lifestyle that are going to go. It’s the babies who are going to go.

Now, what The Economist really doesn’t want to say but basically makes very clear in this article is that this just won’t work it. It’s just not going to work. You can’t have more people who are retired than who are working. You simply can’t have an economy in which the consumer base begins to fall off so precipitously. You can’t have an economy when it comes to real estate, when it comes to consumer buying, when it comes to just every aspect of the economy in which there are simply more people who are leaving the economy than who are coming into it.

In this case, the crisis of the retirement system in France and the looming crisis of social security in the United States, it just points to the reality that even if you don’t operate from a worldview that takes this as something of deeper consequence, you have to at least understand this as an economic emergency. The Economist has done its best in this cover story, even not with just the editorial and the investigative report, but also even with the artwork on the cover to make the point, folks, we are looking at a looming catastrophe. Now, by the way, The Economist deals with a couple of other issues that we simply have to give some attention to. One is, you can’t fix this problem very quickly.

Now, just to make that point, The Economist actually includes these very interesting words, “In 2021, there were 782 million people aged between 21 and 30 in countries where fertility is below the replacement rate. By 2050, this group, in effect the potential number of home-grown entrants to the workforce is expected to have dropped by a fifth, to 619 million.” Now, this is where it gets really interesting and frankly, pretty scary, “This fall is not some subjective and questionable forecast. Most members of that generation have already been born and fertility rates do not tend to change rapidly.”

So what we’re looking at right now, just in terms of the math, is that much of this is going to happen even if people right now today started changing behavior and decided to have a lot more children, because the total fertility rate has been falling for such a long period of time that, well, let’s put it this way, you might decide that you’re going to have babies in the future, but you cannot give birth to an 18-year-old.

The Economist, again, let’s just underline this, puts this in economic terms, “Some of the consequences of these demographic shifts are well known, an ever grayer population will mean higher spending on public pensions and healthcare, but there will be fewer people of working age to pay the taxes required.” The article continues, “The rich world currently has about three people between 20 and 64 years old for everyone over 65. By 2050, this ratio will shrink to less than two to one.” Then comes this statement, “That will necessitate later, retirement ages, higher taxes, or both.”

Now folks, we already see this looming, not just in France, but in the United States. Neither party wants to be honest about the looming crisis in social security that is coming. The social security program, when it was put together, is basically built upon current and future workers paying so that past workers could receive the benefits. Even if the number of retirees and those receiving social security benefits stayed stable, if you have a reduced number of workers, by definition, they’re going to have to pay a larger percentage of their incomes just to keep the older generation in the benefits.

Part II

‘No One Owes It to Others to Bring Up Children’: The Astounding Argument Behind Falling Number of Births

But there are other perverse issues that come into play here. For one thing, people are living longer, which means they’re receiving benefits longer. Another aspect of this is that politically, it’s virtually impossible to say to current or immediate recipients that we’re going to be cutting your benefits.

Morally, and this is something that is very important to our Christian understanding of the bigger picture here, morally, the political system, given its rewards and its punishments, given the way the political system works, it’s just frankly unlikely to ever deal with this situation honestly until there is an absolute catastrophe. There is very little incentive for politicians in office today, and this is a bipartisan reality, but let’s face it, the party that wants to continually expand spending is more responsible for this crisis than the other party, but the reality is eventually the math just doesn’t work.

You have too many people who are recipients. They’re draining too much out of the system than those who are paying into the system as current workers are going to be able to handle. But it is to no current politician’s advantage even to address that honestly. Better just to smile into the camera and say, “We’re very serious about in the future dealing with social security reform.” The Economist comes back to say, the problem is even more complicated than you might think, and I quote here, “The economic consequences of demographic decline are not only fiscal, however, labor is one of the three main determinants of growth, along with capital, and the efficiency with which both are used, that’s productivity.” Interesting little summary lesson in economics there.

But getting back to the birth rate, the article says, “Shrinking workforces, other things being equal, automatically tend to lower economic growth, but demographic decline also has knock on effects on capital and productivity that are much less well understood.”

Now, what’s basically being hinted at there, it’s made more explicit later in the article, is that young people and older people don’t think just alike. The Economist says that younger workers tend to come into the situation with more of what’s called fluid intelligence. Doesn’t mean they’re more intelligent, it just means their intelligence is, according to this analysis, more fluid. They tend to see things differently than those who’ve held the same job for a longer period of time.

Fewer new workers, fewer young people, more old workers working longer, that is likely, at least according to The Economist, looking at this simply in economic terms, it is likely to mean less innovation and more stagnation. But The Economist is rooted in a worldview that’s quite different than biblical Christianity. There is an editorial, a commentary that introduces the magazine and its cover story. In worldview terms, you really need to hear this.

The editors of the economist state this, “All things considered, it is tempting to cast low fertility rates as a crisis to be solved. Many of its underlying causes though are in themselves welcome. As people have become richer, they’ve tended to have fewer children. Today, they face different trade-offs between work and family, and those are mostly better ones. The populist conservative,” says the editorial, “who claim low fertility is a sign of society’s failure and call for a return to traditional family values are wrong. More choice is a good thing and no one owes it to others to bring up children.”

That is one of the clearest sentences I have ever seen that is a direct, if not consciously so, contradiction to biblical truth. That is the absolute refutation of biblical truth. The Economist says all these changes that are brought about this declining birth rate, they’re basically good, moral progressivism, personal autonomy, people saying what they want and living for what they want, that’s a good thing.

It just tells you that the editors of this magazine have completely bought into a secular worldview. They actually end this by saying, “No one owes it to others to bring up children.” What an astounding statement. I’ll go so far as to say there isn’t a civilization on earth, there isn’t a culture, there isn’t a nation that can survive that logic.

Part III

‘Be Fruitful, and Multiply, and Fill the Earth.’: God’s Command and Our Obedience for His Glory

With that observation, we’re just going to have to leave The Economist and the larger secular conversation and speak to one another as Christians here. We are looking at a crisis. It’s a far deeper crisis than The Economist can understand. They want to put facts and figures on it, and they want to make their analysis compatible with modern autonomous individualism and with the idea that no one owes anyone having and raising children. That again, just flies in the face, not only of human historical experience, that’s not even honestly engaged here, but the worldview of scripture.

I go back to the fact that the very first command in Scripture given to the man and to the woman was be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth. There are all kinds of things The Economist doesn’t care about, and especially when it starts out in its editorial by saying, “No one owes it to others to bring up children.” The Bible makes very clear that the having and raising of children, it is actually the first civilizational responsibility. A civilization that fails at that responsibility is called a failed civilization. Eventually, if the Lord tarries, covered by the sands of time, may be discussed by historians is something of the past, but by definition, a society that doesn’t have babies and raise children and make that the number one national priority, is actually a society that is going to disappear and frankly deserves to.

One of the deadliest aspects of our current cultural situation is that people think of both marriage and of children as something like hobbies, it’s just been translated into a lifestyle choice. People who are into that ought to be able to do that, by the way, will redefine it so that the conjugal union of a man and a no longer even necessary. We will lie to ourselves and say, a man can be married to a man or a woman can be married to a woman even when, quite frankly, biology argues exactly the opposite. We’ll speak about same-sex couples having children more or less like they’re consumer products and hobbies, and we’ll speak of that knowing that we’re speaking a lie.

Christians also understand that when a baby enters into the experience of a couple, that baby fundamentally changes the entire reality. Quite frankly, most young fathers and mothers will tell you that they’ve grown up more simply by being a new father and a new mother than by any other experience.

By the way, take that experience out and that explains why so many people who call themselves adult aren’t, to use a new, if lamentable word, really adulting. Japan, Italy, South Korea, they’re just the vanguard among some other nations right now looking at the demographic cliff to which the human population appears to be headed. Some nations faster, some nations more slowly. The Economist said, “Well, maybe immigration will solve the problem in advanced economies,” but it turns out that the demographics aren’t even going to work for that absent to political considerations.

No, this is where Christians understand that a voluntarily empty playground means what can only be described as something like a society that has decided to die. On this issue, I’m simply going to have to end by saying that we do not have the ability to influence or to persuade the entire world around us to live by and in accordance with the biblical worldview, but Christians understand that we are not on this world living lives by our own designation or even our own choice, we are creatures who’ve been commanded by the creator.

And by the way, if you want to understand that theology matters, look for example at the distinction between the number of children born to those who identify with Jewish orthodoxy and those who identify with more liberal variants of Judaism. Orthodox Judaism is going to win simply because the other branches of Judaism have decided to go sterile. Closer to home, when you look in Christian circles, the fact is that you find more conservative churches that have larger nurseries, a larger percentage of babies and more open celebration, not only of the birth of every single baby, but of the emergence of families raising children in the nurture and admonition of the Lord. Dead churches have increasingly empty nurseries and dead societies have increasingly empty classrooms and playgrounds.

But I simply have to end by saying that for Christians, there are two other issues that The Economist simply misses and we have to see in very dramatic terms. Number one is the larger issue of the challenge to the glory of God, the effort by the creature to deny the creator the glory that is due to him in obedience to his command to be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth. Increasingly empty classrooms, playgrounds, and nurseries indicate an absolutely dramatic and catastrophic loss of joy.

In this case, having children, celebrating every single child, encouraging one another to have children, to raise them in the nurture and admonition of the Lord, this is not a responsibility in contrast to the world that we carry with great graveness, but rather with unspeakable joy. Let’s show it.

Thanks for listening to The Briefing.

For more information, go to my website the You can follow me on Twitter by going to For information on The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, go to For information on Boyce College, just go to

Today is going to be a monumental day at the United States Supreme Court. I’ll talk about it with you tomorrow.

And I’ll meet you again tomorrow for The Briefing.

R. Albert Mohler, Jr.

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