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The Rise of Childless Americans

11:20 AM, Oct 19, 2012 • By JONATHAN V. LAST
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Where does that leave us today? With one final, scary thought. What if our new reality—the fact that a fifth of Americans no longer bother to have children at all—exerts its own pull on our demographics? There's some data from Europe and the Far East to suggest that once a critical mass of people choose to remain childless, their example influences young adults and alters their behaviors and expectations. To give you just one example, Germany has had a higher degree of childlessness than America, and for a longer time. In a 2006 survey of fertility aspirations, 23 percent of German men said that having no children was the ideal form of family life. Think about that for a moment. And now think about what it means for a civilization to have a quarter of its men not interested in having any children at all.

It calls to mind a deeply profound point from Christopher Caldwell’s recent profile of Hungarian prime minister Viktor Orbán. Confronting his country’s demographic crisis, Orbán said:

"Demography is the key factor. If you are not able to maintain yourself biologically, how do you expect to maintain yourself economically, politically, and militarily?" he asks. "It's impossible. The answer of letting people from other countries come in …that could be an economic solution, but it's not a solution of your real sickness, that you are not able to maintain your own civilization."

The reason we care about fertility numbers and demographics is because this—our civilization—is exactly what’s at stake.

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