Culture

“We Can’t Afford Kids”

David Harris

South Korea has once again set a record for the fewest births per capita in the world at a staggering 0.72% replacement rate. That will drop even further in 2024. To put this number in perspective, the replacement rate needed (for any nation) to simply maintain population numbers is 2.1%, a number that has become less and less common, specifically in the Western world.

The nations that far exceed that 2.1% threshold are found mostly in sub-Saharan Africa and the Middle East, regions that also boast high infant mortality rates. That being said, some of those nations have recently seen declining birth rates, including The Republic of the Congo, Liberia, and Zimbabwe. China, the most populous country (until 2023 when it was overtaken by India), has a staggering 1.1 replacement rate. Population decline is a global issue.

The reasons for this decline are profoundly complex. But this all demystifies as we zoom deeper into specific nations, cultures, and communities. The Western World’s steady population decline has been largely blamed on a rise in the standard of living that has made large families (as is common in more agricultural areas) unnecessary. Compounded with universal access to contraception, having children, with the most basic of precautions, has become an option rather than a by-product of marriage.

DINKs

The prevalence of child avoidance has led to the DINK (double-income-no-kids) culture prevalent in urban and suburban regions across the US, as well as other nations. Gradually, the sound of gleeful toddler screeches and chatty parents in the town park has given way to yapping dogs and TikTok videos heard faintly from park benches. Why go through 20 years of added expenses, sleepless nights, and lack of flexibility when there is really no need to?

Dogs have replaced children for most young couples, travel has replaced community involvement, and vague commitments based on perceived sexual compatibility have replaced marriage. For this typically more affluent demographic, the birth rate will continue to decline.

“Be Fruitful and Multiply”

Twice in the opening chapters of the book of Genesis God commands, “Be fruitful and multiply on the earth.” The first time is in Genesis 1 after Adam is created, and the second time is when Noah, his family, and the animals exit the Ark following the Flood. The same language is used as a blessing in several places throughout the Old Testament; when Jacob before his death blesses Joseph for example. John Calvin says of this phrase in his commentary on Genesis, “This blessing of God may be regarded as the source from which the human race has flowed.”

Embedded in the Christian understanding of man’s purpose in Creation is the duty of a man and woman who have covenanted through marriage to produce children. This was not something that generally needed to be argued or explained–it was a given. In the New Testament, discussions or instructions on marriage are typically accompanied by a reference to children. While a marriage is still a marriage without children, children are the obvious outflowing of the sacred love pledged between a man and a woman.

Childless Churches

While Christians do tend to prioritize rearing children as an essential part of marriage more than the secular world, the societal pressure to conform still adversely affects Christians. Delayed marriage yields delayed children, and an untold number of chemical, food, medical, and mental contaminants likely influence the exploding numbers of fertility problems. Moreover, a profoundly selfish culture committed to various flavors of materialism all play a part in pointing large arrows to anything other than having kids. Where this destructive culture of anti-offspring reigns supreme, even the churches are childless.

Enter Economics

Many young couples who have built a loving home and are ready to fill it with children believe that they cannot do so for economic reasons. While this should not be a sufficient reason to refrain from having children, it would be foolhardy to pretend that the cost of inflation isn’t having a profound effect on families. While one wouldn’t necessarily know from scanning mainstream media sources, the impact of a tumultuous socioeconomic period isn’t something that needs to be demonstrated—most everyone is feeling it.

But Christian families still do have everything they need to accomplish what they’ve been commanded to.

A Question of Design

While there are “Be fruitful and multiply” commands in the Old Testament, there is no equivalent command in the New Testament. Whatever the current distress is (war, famine, political upheaval, economic difficulty), it can demotivate both singles and young married couples from having children at all. After all, “Who would want to bring children into this world?” is a sentiment that isn’t limited to Christian circles. There are several important things to note about the Christian duty of rearing God-fearing children.

There is no indication of anyone in the New Testament actively avoiding having children aside from Paul in 1 Corinthians 7, and he is speaking more specifically about using his singleness for the Kingdom. Jesus’ words in Matthew 24 have been used by some to justify refraining from having children: And alas for women who are pregnant and for those who are nursing infants in those days!

However, this passage is descriptive, not prescriptive, and regardless of one’s eschatological view, does not rise to the level of command or even suggestion.

Rather, we see that having children is assumed. This is not merely because the Bible was written before the advent of family-planning technology, but because God’s design for marriage is blatantly clear in nature. Even for those married couples who would put off having kids for strictly missional reasons (for example, serving in a dangerous part of the world), perpetual childlessness would be going against the nature of God’s design.

Not every Christian is required to live the same type of life. Instead, we “live as we are called” (1 Corinthians 7:17-24). Some are unable to have children to their great sorrow. Though in a heartbreaking position, they can accomplish things that those with children are not able to. The same is true with those who “remain single for the sake of the Kingdom.” For the overwhelming majority, “living as you’re called” is going to mean loving your spouse and raising children, training them in “the way that they should go.”

A Question of Expectations

Eschatology, missions work, and hermeneutic issues aside, a significant number of Christian couples that refrain from having children (or at least delay for an extended period) will do so because of economic reasons. Much of this is related to expectations about a particular standard of living (education, housing, etc.). While many families, even in the West, are struggling to get by there is freedom in Paul’s words in 1 Timothy 6:8: But if we have food and clothing, with these we will be content. Our true needs and those of our families are met (generally) in these three basic needs, and we and our children are able to be content with these bare essentials.

Practically speaking, adjusting expectations to plan for children may mean some fairly dramatic life changes. It may mean relocation, seeking different employment, a previously unimagined living situation (for example, moving in with parents), or simply giving up the flexibility of a life without children. But these all become worthwhile adjustments to fulfill one of the most sacred duties God has given His people: to raise and rear His image bearers.

A Question of Trust

A common fear when it comes to Christians having children is the concern that they would turn their hearts away from God once they grow up. This is understandable. We live in a time of great apostasy and turning away. But ultimately, just as with every part of our life and existence, we do what God commands, trusting His sovereignty and plan for us and our children. We endeavor to obey His commands, follow His precepts, apply the wisdom He’s laid out for us in Scripture, and then trust Him with the results of our parenting.

Living in a time where the basic, scriptural principles of parental discipline and instruction are not only avoided but actively oppressed can make having and raising children seem like an impossibly daunting task. Children are perceived as mere burdens—needy, disrespectful miscreants that zap all time and sanity. But the Scriptural view of children is foreign to these negative stereotypes. Instead, we find a consistent theme of children almost always being referred to as blessings, notably in Psalm 127:3: Behold, children are a heritage from the Lord, the fruit of the womb a reward.

A Squandered Inheritance

Some of the most peaceful, tranquil, and beautiful towns in the US are located in New England. The streets and buildings are timeless, each season teaming with charm, and the history immensely rich. But so many small, New England towns are empty. You can go to a park in the center of a country village and hear the birds chirping, streams flowing, and leaves rustling—but you won’t hear one of the sweetest sounds known to mankind: the sound of children playing.

This isn’t the case universally. But especially in this aged, affluent part of the US where pride flags don old colonial buildings, a large percentage of the people squandered their birthright by hoarding it for themselves. They neglected to have children, or at least more than one or two.

Mandates and blessings aside, God loves children. Even those who never get the chance to cry are held in His hand, cherished, and resting in His wondrous grace. But He also has equipped His people with everything they need to do the same for the children He graciously gifts them.

Having children is biblical. Avoiding having children because of lifestyle, misapplied theology, or fear, is not.

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