Dr. Val Farmer
Rural Mental Health & Family Relationships

We Need Children For Prosperity And Happiness

March 27, 2000

This is a strange world. We listen to the hue and cry of proponents who believe that overpopulation will ruin the world, promote global warming and increase tensions and intolerance between people. On the other hand, western style economies are hurting for a labor force to sustain their economic prosperity.

This has been brought on by negative birthrates in prosperous countries. Italy, Spain and Portugal are losing population. The rest of Europe is fast on their heels. Maternity wards and preschools stand empty while Europe’s economy faces labor shortages. The same goes for Japan. America’s birthrate has been below replacement since about 1970. By the year 2030, barring an unexpected increase in the birthrate or a massive increase in immigration, the U.S. population will also decline.

Last November, Fed Chairman Alan Greenspan recommended allowing 130,000 immigrants to meet the U.S. shortage of hi-tech workers. It is either that or increasing imports, thereby moving American jobs offshore, or we can increase the labor force by raising the retirement age.

In Massachusetts, researchers found that foreign immigrants were responsible for 82 percent of the net growth of the state’s civilian labor force between the mid-80s and 1997. Researchers also found that the states of New York, New Jersey, Rhode Island and Connecticut also depend on foreign immigration to sustain their economies. Why? One reason is the out-migration of their young people.

In North Dakota. Ryan Bakken of the Grand Forks (ND) Herald, pointed out in an article that the dizzying decline of school enrollment in rural North Dakota has come from a lagging rural economy and the out-migration of 50,000 young families between 20-35 during the farm crisis years of the 80s. They left and they took their future children with them. As a result, school enrollments in the late 90s and early 2000s have already fallen or will fall dramatically.

Bakken then highlighted a second cause - declining birthrates among young people in populated areas like Fargo. He cites Richard Rathge, director of the North Dakota Data Center, who concludes that the large concentration of young people gathered in the Fargo area are delaying marriage, delaying having their first child and choosing to have smaller families. Despite the influx of young people, the number of births in Cass County has fallen every year since 1996 and school enrollment has plummeted in areas where one would expect growth.

Hope for the future. What is the future for states like North Dakota with declining populations or countries like the United States for that matter? How do you get a heavy immigration of people with children? Or how do you upwardly mobile young people to have children?

One track is to open our borders to young people from other countries. Developed countries have labor shortages of their own and young people who are not inclined to have children. A more insidious strategy would be to drain hi-tech workers from developing countries. That would condemn their countries to dangerous, continued poverty in a world of media-induced expectations.

What we need is to open our doors to the poor people from developing countries for our own selfish reasons. Instead of beckoning to the world, "Give me your tired huddled masses yearning to breath free," we can truthfully say, "Give me your tired huddled masses - to fill our emptying classrooms, take our vacant jobs, sustain our lifestyles and support us in our old age." If we open our borders, immigrant will fill our jobs, create new ones and add consumers to our economy.

The joys of family life. Too many children from our materialistic and hedonistic culture are driven by the allure of careers, fame and wealth. Many voluntarily choose to have one child or even no children and then justify their choice by appealing to the myth of overpopulation. Perhaps their real motivation is the fear of not having what their parents had. Maybe they have negative expectations of marriage and family life - a poor commentary on their own family life. Maybe they are just plain self-indulgent.

They don’t understand the joys, the growth and the love that come with having children. Marriage is more than self-indulgence or even a prolongation of "romantic" love. Marriage is costly, and includes self-sacrifice and self-giving to one another and to the children which are born.

Having children is hard work. It is expensive. It exposes your heart to potential hurt, rejection and disappointment. It is challenging. The child-rearing years are the most stressful times of married life.

Yet, children stimulate us to maturity and growth like no other experience in life. They require a team effort. They unify us as parents. They bring meaning and lasting joy. With six children out of the nest and one at home, with all the pleasure of life and the things I have done and accomplished, with all the places I've been and seen, there is nothing to compare to special relationships with happy, well-adjusted adult children with their own families.

Such are the joys of middle and older ages. Grandparents and grandchildren, parents and children: these are the relationships that last and are truly meaningful. These are the relationships that surround the young with love and add sweetness to old age. They show the young how important family is, both to themselves and to the older generations.

What is the answer to our shortage of children? We can welcome immigrants and do better about teaching our young people about the importance of having children for a truly happy life.