Repairing Relationships

Building intimacy and joy into your relationships

Going Childless

Is a rational choice dooming America?

The cover story of latest issue of Newsweek is all about the latest trend in America: Going Childless.Authors Joel Kotkin and Harry Seigel write that "postfamilial America is in ascendancy as the fertility rate among women has plummeted, since the 2008 economic crisis and the Great Recession that followed, to its lowest level since reliable numbers were first kept in 1920." We have reached a crisis point with the future of our republic in doubt. We need President Obama and Congress to come together in a bipartisan manner and make this issue a top priority for 2013.

During the 1960s and 1970s the idea arose that we needed zero population growth or the earth would soon run out of food.  Biologist Paul Ehrlich predicted in his 1968 best seller “The Population Bomb” that hundreds of millions would starve as population exceeded food production. But the Green Revolution of the 1980s resulted in new, more efficient ways to grow crops.  Instead of famine, the new problem in America is obesity. Yet the message of small families has remained.

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Many couples with four or five children report that they get dirty looks or people ask, “Are you Catholic or Mormon?” The real problem facing the world is not famine due to overpopulation but under population. Populations in many developed countries in Western Europe, Russia, Japan and even China are going to decrease as older people outnumber younger people for the first time in human history. And we face the same problem in America.

According to U.S. government birth records there are around 78 million Baby Boomers alive today. Each of these 78 million Americans have paid large amounts into government entitlement programs, most often through payroll deductions. Until 2007, these 78 million Baby Boomers have been funding the entitlement system for the current retirees.

But in 2007 the story began to change as the first wave of 3.2 million Boomers turned 62. Each of them in succeding years will be eligible under the current government standards to apply for early retirement benefits and to receive a monthly Social Security check for the rest of their lives. Instead of paying into the system, they will begin taking from the system. As this first wave begins turning 65, these newly minted senior citizens will become eligible for subsidized health care benefits under the Medicare system. Last year those of the 3.2 million early Boomers who opted not to take early retirement benefits reached age 66 and qualified for their full share of Social Security benefits. It is highly likely that a large majority of retiring boomers will take the early retirement option due to the perceived weakness in the Social Security system. And this first wave is just the beginning.

 The worker to dependent retiree ratio was once 16 workers to one retiree, but it  has decreased to 3:1  and will eventually fall from the current 3-1 to 1.5 -1. There won’t be enough younger workers to pay taxes to meet the housing, food, transportation and healthcare needs of the older generation (Inayatullah:1). If social security continues to be a transfer payment, more will be required to be taken from existing workers in the form of payroll taxes and it will derail our already stagnant economic growth.  

Luckily for America, massive immigration of younger workers from Central America and Asia  is solving some of the problem. But the general bias against Americans having large families has to end. Instead of repeating the 50 year old Zero Population screeds against having children and the more recent Green message of leaving a smaller carbon footprint, our schools across America should promote a new message. We need to teach the next generation that self-sufficient men and women should consider marrying and have large families as a positive  lifestyle choice which will strengthen the social security system. But just as importantly, we need to present a message in schools beginnning at the elementary level to counteract the century old propaganda encouraging the practice of pursuing romance and marriage based on the fraudulent concepts of sexual attraction, charm and approval seeking. Children need to learn that Valentines Day isn't about cupid promoting infatuation and romantic deception. The central conflict couples must overcome is not physical attraction but compatibility, shared interests, goals and values. Men and women will not want to try to find a life together and have large families if they aren't instructed in how to find compatible partners through common sense courtship.

If President Obama and Congress will act quickly and engage the cooperation of the 50 state Governors, America will be able to  pull out of its nose-dive by instructing the next generation of men and women how they can find a life together. There is hope for a coming generation that their relationships will begin in a healthy manner and will no longer be in such dire need of repair or outright abandonment. Then men and women will be confident to commit to bringing children in the world and the Post-Familial Era will end before we experience demographic collapse.

J.R. Bruns, M.D., is co-author of The Tiger Woods Syndrome, a book about repairing relationships.

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