Fertility: Some of Us are Just More Productive

My wife and I are part of the 1 percent—so we’re used to criticism. We’ve made a bundle—heck, a number of bundles—and while the rest of the nation seems to be in a slump, we’re just making more. We’re part of the false cult of quantity at the expense of quality. Our consumption hurts the environment. Our ridiculous tax breaks reward our selfishness at others’ expense. To give us larger breaks is so ridiculous a suggestion even the Wall Street Journal calls us tax “gangsters.” But we, I reply, are the makers. It’s right that our tax burden is lower, since we ultimately provide the raw material for jobs, innovation and future tax revenue.

Of course, when I say we’re in the top 1 percent, I mean kids. I can’t prove conclusively that we’re 1-percenters, but given that 2010 census data showed that only 1.9 percent of American homes had seven or more members, I think it’s likely. Many seven-plus households are surely multigenerational, and 2012 census data shows the average number of children under 18 per household living with parents was 1.88.

We ended 2012 with five. No. 6, God willing, will emerge from the womb in late summer.

Jonathan Last’s new book What to Expect When Nobody’s Expecting is the latest report on a world in which there are fewer children, more old people and a soon-to-be shrinking population. He emphasizes the negative effects of this trend on innovation, tax revenue and trade. One needn’t be a Keynesian economist to realize that some demand is necessary for an economy to function. Last warns that we now face economic consequences seen more drastically in Japan’s two-decades-plus slump. “If we want to continue leading the world,” he writes, “we simply must figure out a way to have more babies.”

Yet the freedom with which complete strangers make disparaging comments to parents with large families is legendary:

“You do know how to avoid those things, don’t you?” “Are you done yet?” “I’m glad it’s you and not me.” “Are they all yours?”

When the last is addressed to me, I stage-whisper, “They’re all mine—I’m just not sure who the mother is.” A friend with four boys likes to respond in his best mock-Khruschev: “We will bury you!” It generally ends the conversation.

Others regard us fertility 1-percenters as excuses for not multiplying. A few years ago, a thirty-something announcing her engagement was besieged by older ladies who still believed that baby carriages followed love and marriage. “No, we don’t want any children,” she responded. “Besides, Dave and Cathy [my wife] are having enough for all of us.”

While we all have our little Messiah complexes, I’m afraid this is unlikely.

Not only will Cathy be 40 when “6” arrives, but the statistics show the “have nots” growing in number. Among women closing their childbearing years today, 18.8 percent have had no children, while 18.5 percent have had one child. That means that two-fifths of American women together average half a child, whereas replacement fertility is 2.1. In order to keep us from becoming Japan, we need a lot more women like my wife—not her Ph.D. and tenure, but her childbearing.

Last sees no changes to population decline trends, noting that incentives to decrease fertility are effective, while cash or benefit incentives to increase it are not.

No surprise. Tax breaks ease the burden a bit, but people don’t have children for tax credits. Children cost money and often forestall career advancement for at least one and possibly both parents. People have children when they have hope and a vision for society. This vision is usually, though not always, religious.

Like many 1-percenters, we raise kids not just to “save Social Security,” but to do something better. Cathy and I are teaching them to lead productive economic lives, but most of all lives rooted in their Catholic faith. We’re teaching them to serve the sick and those in need among their relatives, friends and the strangers put in their way, even if it means financial sacrifice.

Given the growing numbers of lonely, family-less people in a world with few brothers and sisters, we just may bury you.

You’re welcome.

Editor’s note: This column first appeared March 2, 2013 on the Minneapolis Star Tribune website and is reprinted with permission. The image above pictures the cast of the 1965 movie musical Sound of Music starring Julie Andrews and Christopher Plummer.

David Paul Deavel


David Paul Deavel is associate editor of Logos: A Journal of Catholic Thought and Culture. He earned a Ph.D. in theology from Fordham University and has taught at the University of St. Thomas (MN) and the St. Paul Seminary. His writing has appeared in a number of books as well as a wide variety of popular and scholarly journals.

  • Edward Peitler

    Let me be frank…those who make disparaging remarks about the size of your family are betraying their jealousy as they face their barren lives. We all know the truth about the blessings of children. Only difference is that only some will admit it.
    I wonder what it must feel like to have the only face to greet you when you come home after a day at work to be that of Fido. I cannot imagine a life without hearing my most favorite word – even now from my adult children: “Dad.”

  • lifeknight

    As to the “What again? Don’t you have TV?” comments, the more creative the comeback, the better! Watching them blush is the best reward.

  • Nikki Gonzalez

    This was an excellent article! Guess we should have had more? lol Hubby said 6 was enough though. I used to get asked if they were a daycare group. The thing that saddens me the most is when people ask if they are all, both of ours together. It shows that we live in a world where people think it’s impossible to fall in love, get married, have 6 children and stay married for 18 1/2 yrs (so far). We are raising our children to love the Lord and be productive members of society. Thanks for giving people a different view on having the blessings of multiple children.

  • dch

    “Jonathan Last’s new book What to Expect When Nobody’s Expecting is the latest report on a WORLD in which there are fewer children, more old people and a soon-to-be SHRINKING population”

    Uh, where’s the math on that one? The population of this planet is, in fact, increasing.

    Year – Global Pop
    1950 – 2,550,000,000
    2000 – 6,081,000,000
    2013 – 7,066,000,000
    Projections to 2050:
    2025 – 7,905,000,000
    2050 – 9,306,000,000

    Also the US population continues to increase out to 2050. There is no baby shortage. Its just the mix and distributions that are changing (as they always have through history).

    • Mike

      Read “Fewer” and you will understand. Your numbers are innaccutate.

      • Mike

        Inaccurate- quite ironic. Thanks smartphone.

      • dch

        My “math” is the expert demographers at US Census. They publish all of their numbers.
        The US Census presently projects out as far as 2060 and projects a US Population of 420,000,000 for that year.
        That is 100,000,000 million more than today.
        In which universe is 420,000,000 less than 320,000,000?

        • Bono95

          Experts the US Census demographers may be, but are they truth-tellers? And if they are, high population numbers are still not necessarily disastrous. There is still plenty of sparsely occupied or totally unoccupied space on earth. And take note, land makes up less than a quarter of earth’s total surface area, less than 1% of all the land area is covered by buildings, not all buildings are residential, and those that are contain more than one person most of the time. And hey, maybe by 2060, we’ll have perfected the technology to build moon colonies and residential space stations. That’ll get some people off of earth without killing them before they’re born.

        • Mike

          Do you realize that the birth rate in the US is right at replacement level? Do you realize that birth rates have been declining worldwide for forty years? Do you even know what a birth rate is? Probably not. The United Nations Population Divison has also predicted the world population as far as 2100. Their most reasonable estimate shows the world population reaching its peak in 2046 at 8.1 billion and then declining to 6.1 billion by 2100. It’s only a matter of time before the current rates catch up to us. Quit drinking the Malthusian kool-aid. Ehrlich was proven wrong decades ago.

          • dch

            1. The world is presently over 7 billion, so the 8.2 billion projection will be exceeded way before 2050 (they project High, Low, Mid Range)
            2. Fertility rates have indeed been dropping for a number of reasons – changing social norms , economic – which have been in flux throughout history. The US population is running at replacement PLUS there is immigration which add young adults to population – so it will keep growing.
            420 Million in 2060 is more people than the current 320 million.
            We are not running out of human beings in earth.

            • Mike

              I think you are misunderstanding the point of the article and the discussion. Eventually, the world population will begin to decline. By 2020, the world fertility rate drop below replacement level. That does not mean that the population will decline immediately, but in the future. This is a basic principle of demography that you seem to be missing. Moreover, a declining population brings with it many problems as several “modernized” countries are currently experiencing. True, “we are not running out of human being in earth,” but we you have illustrated that we are running out of intelligent human beings. Thanks

    • Guest

      The math is in a book called “Fewer” by Wattenberg. Please, inform yourself and use common sense.

    • kdoc

      look to US census bureau statistics on the growth rate of our population. In 1960-1.6% growth rate. in 2012- 0.72%. Our growth rate is less than half of what it was 50 years ago. this trend will continue no doubt and soon leave us with no growth rate and then negative growth rate. Can’t just look at absolute numbers. The pill was introduced to US in 1960 and it’s use continues to expand, so there will be no reversal of that trend. Look at elementary school enrollment before you state that there is no baby shortage. No children=no future. There’s the math on that one.

    • Bono95

      Note the use of the term “soon-to-be shrinking”, meaning that the population MAY not have shrunk much yet but it’s going to, and the numbers you cite actually show the beginnings of it. From 1950 to 2000, we see a growth of almost 4 billion. From 2000 to 2050, the growth is only about 2 billion, and of course, the numbers for 2025 and 2050 (assuming they’re at all accurate/realistic), are only theoretical projections, as you admit. The world population may not grow that much, and the world may not be better for not doing so.

      • Dabbri

        Actually if you take the numbers backwards, the world’s population hit 2 billion at about 1930 and 1 billion around 1830. So basically what’s happened over the last 100 years in exponential not linear growth in the world population.
        Think that wont have repercussions if it keeps going? There’s only so much fresh water, only so much produce that crops can yield and only so many resources. Throw in proliferation of nuclear weapons and you’ve got a party!

        • dch

          Yes, there are always constraints in nature. Energy and fresh water are the top level constraints that limit ultimately limit carry capacity. Water is the key to food production and both water and food production have a very high dependence on availability of energy. Our food production system is very energy and water intensive – its how we expanded it so much in the 20th century – irrigation projects, fertilizers (e.g. we fix nitrogen from the air using a massive amount of electricity), and liquid fuels to power all the machinery and transportation.

          • Bono95

            Nature is limited, as are all physical created things, but it’s not that badly limited. In fact, the real problem is greed and uneven distribution of resources. If the world was fair, everybody would have free access to plenty of clean drinking water, gasoline would be 10 cents a gallon or less, oil would be $10 a barrel, and diamonds would be about 10x cheaper.

        • Bethanie Ryan

          Your argument just makes me sad. You underestimate human ingenuity. Who is to say one of David’s 6 kids isn’t going to figure out some new resource, some new farming technique, to solve these problems? Humanity has ran into many problems through the centuries and we’re still holding on. You’ve got to have more faith in people.

          • Alecto

            Instead of more faith in people, that should read more people of faith.

    • TheodoreSeeber

      Note that by 2050, 6 billion of that 9 billion will be over the age of 60. What happens to people over the age of 60?

      • Ford Oxaal

        Many will be ‘euthanized’.

      • dch

        The actual Census forecast on that 9 billion
        Under 60:

        Over 60:

    • nik92

      dch – so, why do you think the population is increasing? The biggest reason is that people live longer. Think about one of the current issues facing the US Economy right now: the “Baby Boomers.” This is a problem because their children didn’t match their fertility rate, so when it comes time for their children, the next generation, to support them, where’s the money going to come from?

      In the U.S., the only reason we have an increasing population is due to immigration. As Mr. Last points out, the population will begin to shrink in about 60 years. But that’s not scraping the problem…the problem is the proportion of old to you. When the population begins to shrink, that’s PAST time to think about solutions. Why? Because at that point, there will be a huge difference between the young and the old, and the old will outnumber the young, which, again is a problem. I suggest you read a little of Last’s argument before dismissing it quite so quickly. He offers a mini-version in this Wall Street Journal Article: http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424127887323375204578270053387770718.html

  • Ford Oxaal

    Catholic Darwinism. Be afraid.

    • Diego Fernando Ramos Flor


      • Ford Oxaal

        My daughter’s husband has over 100 first cousins. And they currently have four children. She is under thirty 🙂 We got started late and only have five children 🙁

    • msmischief

      It’s amazing. There’s a direct correlation between one’s fondness for requiring evolution to be taught in school and one’s hatred of evolution and blindness toward evolutionary consequences. I have read with my own eyes feminists who hold up a childless woman as an icon and wonder if we are evolving toward her.

  • Father of Four

    David, Congratulations on your family – having only had 4 we never get/got the same ignorant comments – unless we had a couple of their friends along. My only wish is that my children all know the joy of a large family! God Bless you and your wife!

  • Marie

    I can’t remember where it was sourced, but some time ago I read an analysis that noted there was a tipping point where children stopped being considered economic assets and became liabilities — if you consider the nonWestern “undeveloped” world, children are considered a blessing because they bring more hands to the family; in the West, they are considered a burden that only bring more mouths to the table. As regards economic incentives to larger families, this trend cannot be bucked. As long as we treat our children like little parasites we cannot expect Americans to have more of them. Large families I know consistently expect their children to contribute, to enrich the family, rather than to simply eat and play video games. It’s a whole system problem.

  • poetcomic1

    I have two female cousins now in their fifties and sixties one divorced, the other never married. Both dreamed of having children. Both are childless. Both had several babies but killed them. They never imagined that THOSE babies would be the only ones they would ever have. You are having and deserving the children they didn’t.

    • Ford Oxaal

      This sad story is repeated countless times over in our hobbled society.

  • Gabriella

    I believe that most of us are quite fertile but few of us are generous enough to open our hearts and our homes to new members of our families. The Pill, contraceptive devices, abortion – they all have a lot to do with the low ‘replacement’ rate. We need to love and trust the Lord unconditionally – then, we find the joy in having children, only then!

  • sibyl

    Ok, on a light note, once when I was shopping with all 6 of my kids, somebody jokingly asked me if they were all mine. I replied, in a Dracula voice, “yes, they’re mine, ALL MINE! BWA-HA-HA-HAAAAA!” That seemed really funny to me, but he didn’t laugh…

    • Bono95

      If the guy was a humorless moron, that’s his loss. Really, that was hilarious. I should recommend that for my parents (I’m the oldest of 7 kids, and people think that 7th kid is the first and give Mom and Dad parenting advice until they’re floored with the news that he’s #7) 😀

  • hombre111

    Nice article. But I would like to hear from his wife and his oldest daughter. My mother, who bore six kids, wept when she realized she was pregnant for the fifth and sixth time, but then she opened her heart and was a great mom. My oldest sister became the surrogate mother for all those younger children while her mother was sick or pregnant. I can remember her, as a fourth grader, getting the rest of us breakfast and ready for school. She did not prayerfully volunteer for that position. It was simply imposed on her and marked her for life. I have seen the burden the oldest daughter carries in a large family, and always have a special blessing for the oldest child. One other thought: After all other variables are considered, marriage counselors say that the least successful marriage is between two oldest children from large families.

    • CDO

      I have to agree. I love my younger siblings, but I didn’t love coming home after school to babysitting, (my mom worked full time), cooking, cleaning. laundry, etc. starting at age 10. Chores are one thing. Getting drafted into the role of junior parent is another.

    • ME

      Thank you, Hombre111! I wish you were my priest! I am an only daughter with five brothers and also became an involuntary maid and nanny. My mother suffered from post-partum depression and took to her bed after each birth, so I ended up taking care of her as well as my brothers and father (who never learned to cook or do laundry). To add insult to injury, my parents spent disproportionately vast amounts on my brothers’ education, and I was always told by my mother, from the age of seven, that, “if anything happens to me, you’ll have to leave school and look after your brothers.” My brothers grew up spoiled and inconsiderate and were taught to regard women as doormats. I am delighted to say that, despite the enormous discrepancy in spending on our education, I went on to earn far more money than any of them did. On top of that, they all fell in love with strong women who steadily kicked their behinds until they learned to knuckle down and help out with the housework. Yes, perhaps God has a sense of justice:-P

  • TheodoreSeeber

    I’m in the other boat. Despite using NFP in reverse for 15 years and despairingly wanting another child, God has seen fit to only grant us our Christopher- with learning disabilities that insure he will never see my income level and we’ll be lucky just to keep him off of disability.

    I am envious and jealous- but will NEVER say, as so many said to me “You and your wife have struggled with autism and learning disabilities, your son has learning disabilities, why would you want another child?”

  • Edward Peitler

    From some of the comments here I can see that generous, self-emptying hearts are hard to come by. Let’s remember that selfishness is unlikely to lead to self-fulfillment; quite the contrary. If I am off the mark on this, I must re-examine who Christ is.

  • linda

    I have seven children and 8 grandchildren so far (I’m 62) and I used to tell people “Yes, I know where children come from but I’m a fertile Catholic who married a horny Methodist!”

  • Pat

    I chose not to have children and I am not lonely, I have a great life and have many friends who wish they never had kids. With the population explosion that threatens the planet, I feel I am doing the world a favor. My vision and hope for the future is that couples either refrain from having kids, or simply just replace themselves if they are prepared to be good parents.

    • Bono95

      Not everyone in the world has to have kids, but everyone who gets married should be open to the possibility of life. God may choose not to send a couple any kids, then again he may choose to send them 9 or 2 or 10 or 3 etc. God is the only population control we need. He does not call everyone to marriage, he does not send everyone who is married any or a lot of kids, and he limits everyone’s time on earth. God won’t overload this planet, but if we don’t start cooperating better, we may underload it.

  • Pat

    This site censors people who disagree with their articles.