Breaking Glass

The End of the Chain

The global decline of fertility rates may well be the single most important trend in the contemporary world, a phenomenon that will transform our societies into something radically different from anything in recent history.  The worldwide birth strike will cause upheaval in the ethnic and social structure of familiar nations and will echo through financial and political structures.  Most observers would also agree that the change is intimately linked to religion, and the connection between religious beliefs and social behavior.  But is the decline of traditional religious loyalties a cause of shrinking families, or a consequence?  The answer matters because the change will reshape all religions, not just those of the West.  Which came first, the chicken or the lack of eggs?

In order for a population to remain stable, an average woman needs to bear 2.1 children during her lifetime: That figure is called the replacement rate.  As is well known, European fertility rates have fallen perilously below replacement, to 1.2 or 1.3 in many countries, and the result is a rapidly aging population that needs immigrants in order to do essential work and maintain services.  Until recently, the question of supply posed no problem because Third World societies had very high fertility rates, and a few still do: The Congo’s rate is over six.  But gradually, that European fertility transition is spreading worldwide.  Some...

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