Many of us grew up hearing warnings about overpopulation — the crowding, the depleting of resources, the pollution and the inability of the earth to sustain so many people.
But things change. And now, for the developed world, a very real worry is “underpopulation” — declining birthrates, shrinking workforces and not enough young people to support parents and grandparents who live longer and longer.
A replacement-level birthrate of 2.1 children per woman is required to maintain a stable population wherein the number of births equals the number of deaths. As we have written previously, figures from the "CIA World Fact Book" show that, of the 224 countries or sovereign states in the world, 116 countries — more than half — now have birthrates that are below that replacement level.
Among the countries with below-replacement birthrates are most of the world's developed countries. In Singapore, which we visited recently, the birthrate has slipped to 0.8 and the government now offers a substantial financial bonus for each baby born to a Singapore citizen.
We feel that the root of the problem is the decline of marriage. Of course, marriage is not required to have children. But unmarried adults, even when cohabiting, are less likely to have children and less likely to stay together and provide a stable home for any children that they do have.
In 1960, 72 percent of American adults were married. Three weeks ago, NBC reported that, for the first time, there are fewer adults in the United States who are married than who are single.
And most telling of all, 80 percent of 18- to 29-year-olds are unmarried, according to a Pew Research Center study from 2011. For comparison, in 1960, 59 percent of this age group was married.
Contributing to the problem is the glorification of the single lifestyle by the media and the overemphasis on individual “freedom” and options (we sometimes refer to this as “the cult of the individual”) combined with a corresponding underemphasis on family, commitment and responsibility.
What we need within our lifestyles, and within our hopes and our dreams, is more celebration of commitment, more popularizing of parenting, more bolstering of balance and more validation of values. These are the attitudes that will lead to more children and that will stem the threat of underpopulation.
The Eyres are New York Times No. 1 best-selling authors and founders of JoySchools.com who speak throughout the world on marriage and parenting issues. Their two new books are "The Turning" and "The Thankful Heart." Visit them at valuesparenting.com.