IRELAND: birthrate below replacement

Does this surprise anyone? From the Iona Institute:

Irish birthrate slips below replacement level

Ireland’s birthrate has dropped below replacement level, new figures have revealed.

The figures, published yesterday in the Central Statistics Office Statistical Yearbook, show that overall, the total fertility rate, the TPFR, which is the number of children born per woman of child-bearing age fell to 2.01 from 2.04 in 2011.

This is just below 2.1, which is considered to be the rate at which a country replaces its population.

The figures also show that over a third of all births last year were outside marriage. Thirty five percent, or 25,344 of the 72,225 registered births in 2012 were outside marriage.

In 2011, 33.7pc of all births were outside marriage. In 2004, the comparable figure was 31.9.

A wealth of research suggests that children raised outside marriage fare worse emotionally, economically and educationally.


I will, in large part, blame liberal Irish priests and bishops.

If people in the wealthy West don’t give up their selfish materialism and start having babies, we may see the “annihilation of nations”.

The thousands of refugees fleeing Africa into the EU through Italy can have a new place to hang their hats, with ready made infrastructure and everything!

I direct the Irish people, and everyone else, to Benedict XVI’s Letter to the Irish Catholics HERE.

About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

Fr. Z is the guy who runs this blog. o{]:¬)
This entry was posted in Pò sì jiù, The Coming Storm, The future and our choices, The Religion of Peace and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.


  1. Actually Ireland’s Net Fertility rate dropped below replacement rate around the late 80’s or early 90’s and only picked up again a few years ago. It got up to about replacement rate for a couple of years but no country has ever sustained that for longer than five years. The same story is told in every Western nation. The US NFR dropped below replacement back in the early 70’s and only picked up in the early nineties – it has bounced along over or under it since- and that was probably due to immigration as is the case for Ireland. Although correlation does not prove causation only an idiot could deny that when contraceptive usage rises fertility falls. I wrote a short article about this and the implications for Ireland and my own Capuchin province here: (apologies for the shameless plug).

    Ireland’s fertility rate certainly crashed at the same time as the legalization of contraceptives. The same pattern probably exists everywhere else across the Western world. How we get to the point that there is a consistent orthodox message preached and lived is another matter – there is so much resistance to teaching the Faith. We need to pray for courage to proclaim and live the Gospel totally.

  2. Per Signum Crucis says:

    I’m not so sure that “selfish materialism” (whether including the extent of contraception) is as easy a target as it seems: some couples choose not to have children because they are (or genuinely regard themselves as) not family-oriented; others choose not to because of they already think the world is overpopulated. The latter is a serious point; even the Pythons lampooned the Catholic ‘predilection’ in this regard.

    Is this actually what God wills of His creation: that we reproduce ourselves out of existence? Can a helpful person give the official Church line on this?

  3. mamajen says:

    There are people who refuse large families for selfish reasons, definitely. I know plenty of them. However, there are many, many couples who simply cannot support larger families these days. Taxes are getting higher and higher, and government policies are driving up cost of goods and cost of living. I gave up a really nice salary to be a stay at home mom. Because of that, we will probably have a smaller family, as my husband earns a rather modest income. I feel like I have to choose between a large family or a small, but good, family. With just two kids, things are very stressful. People don’t realize because we make it look good, but I sweat over every penny. I think if cost of living were lower and taxes were less, we’d start seeing larger families again. I don’t live in Ireland, so maybe people have different reasons there, but I know it’s a very expensive country to live in. I think governments are purposely making it difficult to support large families, and if you do buck the trend it’s almost impossible to have a parent at home, so the government gets their claws on kids early through childcare programs. It’s all by design.

    On a slightly related note, I had something really nice happen to me after All Saints Day mass. An older woman approached me to talk to my boys and say how cute they were. Then she said “Is there anything you need? I remember how hard it is.” I just wanted to cry, because I “only” have two boys, but here was someone who gets it–she knew that numbers and outward appearances don’t always tell the whole story. I told her we were all set, but I was so touched by her kindness. I am not used to that kind of support, and that’s another thing that would go a long way toward encouraging larger families: kindness and support. I will try to remember her good example in my dealings with people.

  4. Johnno says:

    Per Signum Crucis –

    The official and unchangable Church Teaching with regards to sexual morality is that the couple must ALWAYS be open to the possibility of life. Period. Even NFP methods require careful deliberation, dispensation etc. under large circumstances.

    Global Over-population is a myth that even the UN’s own research has admitted to. The ratio of births to deaths reaches a plateau at which time it evens out. It doesn’t keep going forever. There will never be any miracle technologies that will eliminate death or prolong life further than the cell’s Hayflick limit of division. Some countries may have issues with population density, but these are all able to be overcome without debasing ourselves to immoral sexual activity and murdering the unborn.

    A lot of poverty and economic turmoil is actually driven by heavy population decline when the goal is population stability which will naturally occur when the hypothetical maximum plateau of global population is reached. Cities built and run and used by millions of people over the course of time will collapse if suddenly half that population is prevented from existing to replace the aging and dead. So unless you want to return to the good ol’ days of small towns in wastelands or people living alone in the wilderness with doctors miles away, then population reduction is not some trifle thing that will bring automatic progress and prosperity. We already see the effects of lack of people resulting in lack of workers and professions that look after every faucet of your city to make your life comfortable and going – ghost towns, rapidly degrading areas with no one to maintain them, and increasing unemployment and the elderly being encouraged to euthanize themselves.

    The other option is of course to replace the missing people with robots. So I hope all the people of this brave new world are all qualified mechanical engineers, because those millions of robots will need maintenance too.

  5. Johnno says:

    mamajen is correct.

    In this day and age you are increasingly punished for having a large family. If you try to make ends meet and do with little, you will be accused of forcing your children to live in poverty and being deprived of precious rights to commercial commodities like Xboxes and Prada handbags and Victoria’s Secret for kids. Your only daughter could’ve been making friends with her iPhone by now, but instead you’ve deprived her of this life-saving social tool because you chose to divide your income by giving her brothers and sisters to love and pay with instead. How could you, you terrible terrible parents!

    The Communists do not want you creating more unnecessary people than they can monitor or manage, and you women should be at work for the productivity of the State, not at home looking after unnecessary children and not earning your bread. The days will come where you will be taxed more for every child you have over the government allowance. And should the human worker quota fall short? Well there are solutions for that too, and unfortunately we haven’t figured out how to grow children in laboratory vats so you’ll have to do your duty the old fashioned way. The State will assign you a partner if you happen to be lacking one.

  6. UncleBlobb says:

    Thank you, Father Z., for speaking the truth.

  7. JARay says:

    In my youth we (in England) had Irish priests everywhere. I was looking at the Diocese of Cork and Ross the other day and the village which I used to visit every year, in that diocese, now still has the church alright but no priest and no Mass and the next door parish is in the same condition and the next parish has a visiting priest once a week for Sunday Mass.
    Ireland was, once, a land of saints and scholars. Alas….no more!

  8. Fr. Ó Buaidhe says:

    The meek shall inherit the earth.

  9. acardnal says:

    Andrew, great website.

    Another one:

  10. Imrahil says:

    Well well well…

    it was a surprise.

    The surprise was that it is kind of news, even bad news, that Ireland dropped the fertility rate below replacement.

    I’m not saying it is no problem, but it is the kind of problem others would very much like to have. I appreciate the Hon. @Tom Forde’s information on immigration… but (especially given that other European countries have immigration too) I somewhat think it shows the glory of that great Catholic nation that the Irish actually struggle with falling below 2.1. “If Gondor has such men still in decline, how great must it have been at its height”, as Legolas said about my own humble person (meaning the alias).

    Other European countries, like mine (now meaning the real commenter), Germany, or also St. Peter’s own country, have far lower fertility rates to struggle with (1.4, roughly, in each case).

    Selfish materialism? I cannot gainsay it, and it does seem that Catholic populaces (whom we expect to be more moral, insofar as real morality and not made-up Puritan morality is concerned, as to which latter they fail because they tend to love feasting and enjoying innocent pleasures, including alcoholic ones) have more children, even now, which gives an indication.) But as for myself, I’d be cautious and, to be honest, unwilling, to rebuke people for something that is not a direct, concrete, action or failure to act. You can say: “person A has uttered a blasphemy, shame on her (but not as much as to break her), and may she repent, receive forgiveness, and not do it again (and then also put an end to her shame”.

    As to having babies, things are – it must be said – more complicated.

    There sure is the evil of contraception around. That said, what the (objective) sinners seek in contraception, the Catholics by and large (in so far as they do not sin) seek in abstinence before marriage, including possibly long phases of dating and engagement before marriage, in not or, perhaps unconsciously, perhaps for honorable reasons of moral conduct, or for a dozen others, less actively looking for a partner at all, or (for the same reasons) being reluctant to accept one as fitting; and then to perhaps a lesser extent in natural family planning. They do not confess such behavior as sin, because – frankly – it is not, and of course because confession fathers would rebuke them for scrupolosity. The effects, though, at least from the theoretical point of view, seem to be the same.

    And some don’t find a spouse, or only too late to have lots of children.

    Still, even among those who readily accept contraception as morally unproblematic, from what I see (not knowing the statistics) a purposely no-child or one-child marriage is a rare bird. Once they do marry, they tend to stop contraception and want to have children (an interesting enough study in the natural-law field), and then it’s: Comes the first, comes the second. They may go back to contraception after the second, or some years between to secure what they feel to be good age differences.

    Even the three-child family is not so rare within the subset consisting of those who are married with children at all. All numbers from four onwards are, though.

    And then, of course, not the only, but certainly the most obvious way of renouncing selfish materialism is to vow poverty, chastity and obedience – and then you do not get any children. (Those who stayed or as yet stayed in the world generally, and including me, did not do so to sacrifice as much or more than those who sacrifice their lives to God in a special way, ready to honor them for it though they are if they are good Catholics.)

    The problem… is not easy.

    Dear @PerSignumCrucis, whatever may be said about over-population (and I might even from the little what I know write another comment, though perhaps a short one, myself), one thing stands for certain: Ireland is not being overpopulated, and Germany even less so. Being a patriot and having a sympathy for other nations’ patriotism, I want my own nation to survive.

    And then of course, as Catholics there still is some other and more important thing. Someone coined the phrase “the war of the wombs”. There sure is evangelization around, but the general method of keeping numbers does seem giving birth to children. Hence, I do not want Catholics to purposely combat overpopulation (even with lawful means) to any millimeter more than do other powers who are in this world.

    (Though there may other reasons why people don’t have children… and I don’t argue for, say, the veto on contraception here, only indicating a good side-effect if it is acted upon; and that it is indeed.)

  11. Imrahil says:

    I want my own nation to survive.

    And Ireland …

  12. feargalmac says:

    Well said Father Z. Whatever happened to trusting in God to provide for the children He has blessed us with.

  13. lana says:

    the bishops in Spain not too long ago wrote about unemployment causing the young to not marry and not have children due to the bleak economic prospects and inability to care for them. Where I live there has been 1 (one) Catholic wedding in my parish in the last 3 years.

    I think this is one reason Pope Francis talked about unemployment of the young as such a serious problem for the Church. No babies, no Catholics.

  14. mamajen says:


    and you women should be at work for the productivity of the State, not at home looking after unnecessary children and not earning your bread.

    I have had very similar things said to me directly. One time in particular, when I was complaining about tax changes that would hurt us, I was told “It was your choice to stay at home instead of working.” You have to contribute (on their terms) in order to have a voice. It’s maddening.

  15. StJude says:

    How sad. I have been researching my family history in Ireland.. grandparents and great grandparents.. great great grandparents.. all had at least 8 kids… some.. 13 kids.

    I only had one child… I cant imagine having more and being in the situation I found myself in with a husband who abandoned us.

  16. Priam1184 says:

    I would blame birth control and contraception. And their widespread use has had these terrible effects like the article on Ireland demonstrates. But then I have to ask myself: why did birth control and contraception suddenly become so desired during the 20th century after having been an anathema for the previous 17 centuries? The massive urbanization that followed the Industrial Revolution. Whereas in the agricultural societies children are seen as both a spiritual AND A MATERIAL blessing, children in our massively urbanized societies are seen as a both a tremendous cost and an economic drag. Terrible, but true. Maybe the Creator knew what He was talking about when He told our first fallen ancestor that he would only eat by the sweat of his brow. Are we willing to give up the tremendous conveniences and material (seeming) advances we have made over the last two centuries in order live once again under God’s law? Humanity since the French Revolution has seemed to want to make itself a new Eden, but not in the way God had in mind (the Cross), and in truth without even the presence of God. I don’t even know if we can do it at this point, but we shall see.

  17. bookworm says:

    People have children when they have hope for a better future (such as during the post WWII Baby Boom), and don’t have them when they don’t. Given that many of the threads on this blog seem to be all about how the world and the Church are going to hell in a handbasket and we all have to brace ourselves for martyrdom, persecution, poverty, chastisement, mass apostasy, etc., how is that supposed to make anyone want to bring a bunch of innocent children into the equation? Yes, I know that life is always a good thing even when suffering is involved, etc., but, not everyone realizes this. I wouldn’t jump to the conclusion that “selfish materialism” is the sole reason for declining birthrates; it may be, as Lana alluded to, just plain fear — fear of a bleak future or fear of not being capable, either economically or emotionally, of handling the task of parenthood.

  18. Phil_NL says:

    I think we need to distinguish between the moral dimension (and as Imrahil rightly points out, there are plenty of non-sinful reasons about as well. It takes two to marry…) and the supposed material consequences on a national level, as well as the “annihilation of nations”.

    That last part is not at all a logical consequence of sub-replacement fertility levels. With all due respect to the intellect of Mark Steyn and various others who frequently propose this thesis, it rests on a hidden assumption that is BS. (Sadly, if no-one recognizes that, we end up getting exactly the problems they’re warning about though).

    Which assumption am I talking about? The assumption that it would be impossible to maintain and defend a free and wealth western society with fewer people (or to be exact, a non-growing population). In the 21st century. this need not apply, it’s even likely to fail. Up to the last third of the 20th century it was quite hard to replace manpower by capital (machines, robots etc) in numbers that would allow the same level of output (in the realm of productivity) and military effectiveness (expect for WMD) with vastly reduced numbers of people.
    In earlier ages, loss of manpower meant loss of productivity and defensive capabilities, which inevitably heralded decline and fall of empires. No longer does this hold: provided enough capital resources and the willingness to use them (whether it would be smart from a spiritual and psychological point of view is a different matter) one can run an economy and defend a country on a greatly reduced population. In fact, we see this process happen every year, as jobs get crowded out by mechanisation or are simply eliminated as there is no real necessity for them (in which Europe leads the US, as high minimum wages eliminate the low end of the labor market, we make do without greeters, valet parking, half the check-out staff etc. Even – tongue-in-cheek – ushers in Church turned out to be wholly unnecessary). I daresay that one could run an average European country with 5% less people straight away, and if one takes a decade or two to adjust, with 50% or even 75% less population, all the while keeping (and growing) per capita income. Population decline would go much, much slower.

    The real danger is when people are wedded too much to the model of growth by population growth (and set in their ways so that they don’t want to adapt, or simply prefer the lower wages that accompagny an ample labor supply) and start bringing in immigrants ‘to make up the difference’. Not only will these immigrants settle into the same fertility levels in a generation or three, they will also form a distinct minority that has a set of troubles of its own. Especially if they come from muslim countries – as they do in much of Europe, including my own country; Ireland is lucky in that sense – you do risk handing over the keys and signing the death-warrant of your civilization, as they will draw in more people from their countries of origin. The “thousands of refugees fleeing Africa into the EU through Italy can have a new place to hang their hats, with ready made infrastructure and everything!” will see that nothing of the sort will ever happen, as the immigrants who are there (here) already, and have been since the 70s, would take it. Nor would it be hard to defend the southern border against new arrivals (for us or a fdistopian muslim regime), it’s a matter of will.

    In sum, a declining population need not be a fundamental problem in the economic or military realm (given enough drones and command, control and communications infrastructure, Luxemburg could wield the same firepower in 10 years as the US army does now). Only bringing in immigrants, especially those who are by culture, faith and ideology disinclined to assimilate or even appreciate the West, makes declining fertility a problem in this sense. Without immigration, there’s no reason why a whole century’s worth of declining population would be an existential problem.

  19. lana says:

    Bookworm, it seems like a vicious circle. At the beginning (I would think) surely it was mostly materialism, the advances in medicine/low infant mortality, Social Security, the increased effectiveness of contraception, and the ease of abortion, etc etc that led to lower birth rates. Now that we have killed or prevented the next generations of souls ( who also are consumers and producers ) we now have a bleak economic forecast, and now we avoid children, some out of materialism, but others out of inability to support them.

    @Mamajen, God bless you!!!! I worked reduced hours and worked from home when my children were growing up. It is called ‘having your cake and eating it too’. I found it was not good for my mental health to try to do everything. With 20/20 hindsight I would definitely do as you have done.

    @Phil, That is interesting, but seeing how the only way to achieve the non-growing population is (for all practical purposes) through mortal sin, it cannot be God’s will to go down that path, can it?

  20. Liz says:

    It’s just sad, heart-breaking, in fact. We recently were in Italy and we just didn’t see babies much. Ireland and Italy are the countries you think of where they had large families. People were poor, but they went ahead with the large families and let God do the worrying.

    I agree that everything is against us, Mamajen. Stupid carseats…that “expire!” Of course, I bought our last one from some shifty looking character off of craigslist. Somehow, I suspected it was free for his child through WIC or some program. I gave him the money and said a prayer for him. I didn’t even have the heart to haggle with the price. I went with my dad and our guardian angels to buy it. We are still using it over a year later.

    Anyway, it does seem that the whole world is against large families. You should see the gawking we get when we are out and about. I just ignore it now, but the kids hate it. Smile and wave. Smile and wave.

    And my daughter was just on a plane with a woman who said nobody should ever have three or more children. (Ha ha then she asked her how many kids were in her family. Ummm…ten.)

    But it can be done. We’ve done incredible things by the grace of God and a very frugal lifestyle. We just don’t eat out (most of the time our homemade food is better anyway: our shelves and freezers are packed full of garden produce…we happily took free pears from friends yesterday. It’s a lot of work to process this food, but it’s how we are able to eat in the winter without having to buy as much), we are experts at where to shop for the best prices on food–yesterday at Trader Joe’s the clerk was so amazed that I bought six full bags of groceries and four gallons of milk for $97 and that included among other things: meat, cereal, and a hunk of quality cheese. I wanted to say that it was because I had 10 kids and one learns these things with a large family, but the 10-kids part never goes over well at Trader’s Joes. And, btw, we only got four gallons of milk because we already had hit the amazing sale price at another store earlier in the week.

    We shop at garage sales and thrift store. If the teens don’t like those clothes etc. they are welcome to buy what they like out of their own earnings, and they do. They appreciate and take care of the things they buy too. When I took my daughter to get her haircut last week the hairdresser asked her what kind of shampoo she used, “Ummm…whatever is in the shower.” (Suave usually…dirt cheap.) Going to the hairdresser is a unique experience since an awful lot of the haircuts are done by mom.

    I do get weary of people who say that it must be nice to “be able” to have such a large family, to adopt, and to have an acreage. I guess they don’t see all of the hard work and the years it took to make this all possible.

    It’s very true that God blesses us immensely with this large family. Things have a way of working out. Have the babies. He will provide the rest. You will be richly rewarded. The best thing you can give you kids is another sibling, not some material item. (Obviously, some people are not able to have large families. I’m not talking about or to them. We each have a cross to bear for some people it’s not being able to have many children…for others it’s being able to have many children!) And, yes, some of us are praying (sometimes) to be blessed with more. Wow, so many saints names to still use!

    Yikes, Rabbit Hole. Better quit. Sorry, Fr. Z

  21. Phil_NL says:


    I was merely outlining how cause and effect are not what many people – including some quite smart ones – believe them to be, and how that leads to bogus arguments and focus on the wrong issues (immigration is IMHO much more important than fertility). How all of this ties in with God’s plan for us, is not what i meant to adress (I went on more than long enough already) and is above my pay-grade anyway.

  22. bookworm says:

    A few months ago, my husband and I had an interesting debate. He claimed that the only reason the Church can “afford” to be so adamant about its teaching on contraception is because so few people actually follow it; if every Catholic followed it, he said, the world would soon become so overpopulated that the Church would eventually have no choice but to back off!

    I replied that if every Catholic in the world were that observant regarding Church teaching on birth control they would probably also be equally observant of Church teachings regarding fornication and adultery, which would mean that illegitimate births would be eliminated, thereby balancing out many of the increased births to married couples that would result. (There would also, I presume, be a substantial increase in vocations to celibate religious life, which would also remove a certain number of people from the “game” as far as reproducing.) In some countries, more than one-half of all births are out of wedlock; these births, in a world where everyone or nearly everyone practiced the virtue of chastity, would either not occur at all or occur later in life after marriage. If people began to observe chastity on a large scale but were forced to delay marriage until, say, past the age of 30 due to economic and other conditions, I could see, at least theoretically, where zero population growth or negative population growth could still occur without everyone living in a chronic state of mortal sin.

  23. robtbrown says:

    Johnno says:
    The official and unchangable Church Teaching with regards to sexual morality is that the couple must ALWAYS be open to the possibility of life. Period. Even NFP methods require careful deliberation, dispensation etc. under large circumstances.

    Who said that dispensation is necessary to practice NFP?

  24. An interesting debate! It is interesting that people assume that families just had kids and trusted in God. I am not so sure. High infant mortality rates and lack of pensions for most people meant having children so that there would be carers for ones old age. The fertility rates of the Western nations have been falling with the advance of modern medicine and the resulting survival of more and more children into adulthood. The legalisation and improvement of contraceptive methods have given people an alternative that seduces them away from a morally demanding way at the very time when they are also offered so many luxuries. In this sense Fr. Z is right materialism is part of the problem but not the only part.

    Parents of the past lived in strong community and family networks where food, clothing etc were shared. I grew up in a poor, working class parish with that kind of support that made it possible for my parents to afford three children (number four died in the womb and my mother was unable to have more). The breakdown of those networks, the commercially-driven highter expectations among adults and children alike, an intense addiction to fashion and gadgetry and many other factors add pressure for modern parents that previous generations did not know. If you add governmental taxation policies (Ireland’s have to be among the most anti-family in Europe), the high cost of rent or mortgage repayments, wage cuts etc parenting becomes a financial burden of incredible weight.

    The Church needs not just to preach against contraception but to put in place support systems for those parents who do want to live in accord with God’s plan. We cannot expect heroic levels of self-sacrifice and not act to support those heroes! Taking practical steps to support parents in living their vocation is in the Church’s best interest: out of big, faithful Catholic families will come vocations!

    On the wider issue I fear though that most Westerners have yet to realise how big a problem we are facing as nations. In the 80’s I read an article that noted that of all the European nations of that time only Ireland and Poland were above replacement rate (2.1 per woman of childbearing age). The rest have been below for years. Demographers estimate that falling below this rate takes about 48 years to have its impact; at that point those children move from being primarily consumers to being primarily savers. As more of a population saves for its old age in an aging population, demand for products fall and the economy falters and collapses. We have not seen this happen before on a worldwide scale. We do not know what will happen. Nations may be annihilated if the population collapse triggers war. Probably societies will ‘reboot’ – start again from the young survivors.

    There is still time for many countries to save themselves (except Japan and a few others). Those that are over 50 years since they fell beneath replacement and have not got their NFR back up are probably doomed. The rest need to bring in pro-family laws at the very least. I doubt that any Western secular government has the courage or time to bring in and enforce the kinds of laws that would be demanded to save their nations.

    Phil-NL: As for robots… take a look at Japan. Robots are not going to save us. We are not faced with populations that are smaller but stable but with populations that are ageing and becoming unstable. I think that only when societies have collapsed back to a level where widespread use of contraception is either impossible or socially unacceptable that we will be able to rebuild.

  25. robtbrown says:

    Br. Tom Forde OFM Cap,

    Do you know the French joke of a few years back?

    If Lefebvre wins, what will be the liturgical language in France?
    ANSWER: Latin.

    And if Lefebvre loses, what will be the liturgical language in France?
    ANSWER: Arabic.

  26. Imrahil says:

    Dear @Johnno,

    the teaching of the Church has always been that parents can choose to prevent children by abstinence.

    It was disputed at a time whether they can do so by what is now known as NFP; the dispute has been rather settled by Humanae vitae and the most simply way to give the answer is “yes”.

    What remains is the obligation to determine one’s family size (insofar as it can be determined by lawful means, and Nature does not still intervene…) not only by downright egoism of the materialist sort. The wish to have a decent and, in so far as possible, comfortable life is no such thing; and to deduce from that obligation that NFP needs a dispensation is going far too far.

    With respect for the voluntary sacrifices of large families, and while taking into account the families who for good reasons cannot have more children than they do, as a general point of reference I’d subscribe to what Fr Johannes Messner says in his Social Ethics: “Families should have about three or four children.” (He goes on to give arguments for it.)

  27. robtbrown says:

    Phil NL,

    I agree that robots (and computers in general) increase productivity.

    I do not, however, agree that manpower is not capital. In fact, the absolute distinction between the two is a serious error of Marxism. There is little doubt that highly trained workers are to be considered part of capital. And profit-sharing such as that of Ford further blurs the distinction.

  28. Pingback: IRELAND: birthrate below replacement | Fr. Z’s Blog | Deacon John's Space

  29. frjim4321 says:

    The blatant greed unleashed by a lack of proper regulations within capitalistic economies is in part responsible. It has become much for difficult for larger segments of the population to afford more than one or two children; some feel they cannot afford even one. Without proper regulations that assure a true living wage for adults of child-bearing age this will only get worse. In fact there are many who say that the trend has gone too far already, and cannot be reversed.

  30. frjim4321 says:

    typos corrected:

    The blatant greed unleashed by a lack of proper regulations within capitalistic economies is in part responsible. It has become much more difficult for larger segments of the population to afford more than one or two children; some feel they cannot afford even one. Without proper regulations that assure a true living wage for adults of child-bearing age this will only get worse. In fact there are many who say that the trend has gone too far already, and cannot be reversed. The difficulties associated with tendencies in the U.S. to view health care as a privilege for the few rather than as a right for all is also partially responsible for this trend.

  31. chantgirl says:

    Mamajen and others are correct that the deck in the west is stacked against having a large family. Finding a vehicle for seven or more people can be extremely difficult and expensive, especially if you have multiple carseats. The cost of gasoline, food, utilities, medical care, and tuition has risen sharply over the last decade. ( I calculated that I spend over a $1000/year just on milk, and that is at Costco’s discount price.) There are regulations on the number of people that can he housed in a dwelling depending on the square footage or number of bedrooms. Just try to find a place to rent if you have many children! Necessity is the mother of invention, though, and the large families I know have found ways to survive with less. However, it is decidedly harder to have a large family now because the support system is gone. Families live scattered all over the country, and young moms don’t have neighborhoods of fellow stay-at-home moms to bond with and support each other anymore. There also isn’t much support from the Church for large families- if you follow the Church’s teaching on contraception and have children generously, you price yourself out of Catholic schools.

    I am just weeks away from delivering my seventh child. My husband, God love him, has the work ethic of his grandparents’ generation. He works 60-70 hours a week to support us. Even in the early years of our marriage when we had several small children and could barely make ends meet, he refused to take WIC or food stamps (even though we qualified) because he would not allow others to pay for his family when he was able-bodied and could work. We are now in a better position due to his hard work and St. Joseph’s intercession, but he still sacrifices much for us.

    The encouraging thing that I have seen is the amazing ways that God has blessed us and so many other families who have trusted Him. Many times in my marriage when I was pregnant and worried about money, opportunities or blessings would “spontaneously” come our way. My husband would get a promotion, or someone would be generous. Once when I was expecting, a parishioner left me money in his will because he enjoyed hearing me sing at Mass. Things like this have happened to others I’ve known, too. Before the dawn of modern contraception, couples had less choice about accepting more children. Now that every married couple finds themselves in the Garden with the serpent dangling contraception in front of them as the way to become like God, God seems to be especially generous with those who trust Him. We may not live like kings, and we work hard, but we’ve never known hunger or homelessness, and we’ve even been in a position to help others a few times. God is good.

  32. Phil_NL says:

    Br. Tom Forde OFM Cap,

    The point I’m making is that societies will not collapse – in an economic or military sense, at least. They may very well collapse in a spiritual or even psychological sense (those aren’t the same either), but with an economic and military power that is still considerable, a society can linger a long, long time. Constantinople was a great example: the Byzantine empire was moribound ever since manzikert (and surely since the 4th crusade). Yet due to the great Theodosian walls, it could hold off the final collapse for centuries (without turkish cannon the city would not have fallen, till those arrived on the scene Constantiople was safe).
    Likewise, it would take only a small number of people, provided the hardware and the will to use it is there, to keep the West going.
    That does not mean that all kinds of ills will not visit us. Yet it does mean we’re focussing on the wrong consequence of these ills. Lack of fertility is also but a manifestation of the sociteal/spiritual problem at hand, not the underlying cause, and, as I tried to argue, a very inconsequential manifestation compared to e.g. immigration.


    True. However, the point is that one can substitute robots for human labor to a much greater degree than is done now. A vast percentage of the jobs in western economies exist because it’s cheaper to have a human solution to the problem than a mechanical one. If populations decrease, this ratio will shift – and it can shift dramatically.

  33. msc says:

    I, too, would remind people that having no or few children does not necessarily mean that a couple is using artificial birth control. One can do with natural family planning.
    And since the Church in Ireland for most of the twentieth century couldn’t have undermined its authority more completely had it been trying, it’s no surprise that people won’t listen to it about almost anything. I apologize to those to whom it is not applicable to say so, and I am not criticizing the Irish as a people or nation, just the deeply persistent ecclesiastical malpractice.

  34. frjim4321 says:

    msc makes good points

  35. Johnno says:

    robtbrown –

    My mistake. There is no requirement of dispensation. However, it has been stressed that speaking to a priest or confessor is a prudential recommendation.

    frjim4321 –

    I’d argue that it is government overregulation and taxation of the free market, crony capitalism of big corporations financing politicians who return the favor, and increased socialism that is a big detriment to small private businesses and families looking to manage their finances.

  36. PA mom says:

    Honestly, there is difficulty to it more than just monetary.
    We have sufficient financial assistance from the grandparents to accept more children. But our family peace is already very hard to maintain, or even achieve AT ALL with the four children. My oldest is a disruptive personality so the whole concept of modeling the oldest and allowing the others to follow has not worked in any way. Over 10 now, she still causes rampant frustration and commotion often. I cannot get the children to control themselves enough for him to have the slightest desire to add to his burden, though he handles the daily burden of it quite heroically. It is the huge negative part, the bickering, the disobedience, the defiance, the physical fighting; he wants no chance that these things will increase.
    My husband is an only child and I the oldest of three (youngest born when I was only 6 1/2), our parenting skills were nonexistent at her birth and it has been very challenging. Certainly, we have made mistakes with her and them all, and I compare us to my neighbors from families of five children and see how effortless their skill is even at only their second.
    Pope Benedict said something about there being a day when people would need to look at the few larger families remaining to have any idea how to do it, and I contend that many of us are already there.

  37. mamajen says:

    I’m glad to see that many understand the challenges that families face in this day and age. Things have changed dramatically since my parents and grandparents were growing up.

    We can gripe about the selfish materialistic types, but where would our countries be without their tax money? Where would our dioceses, that increasingly want to get involved in “social justice”, be for that matter? That is the problem–we rely too heavily on other people’s money, and those people are increasingly not just the wealthy selfish materialistic types, but also the “middle class” who just miss thresholds for government assistance or tax exemptions, yet can’t afford to actually live well. In my opinion, there is nothing meek, ethical or wise about purposely putting oneself in a situation that is only viable with tax money taken from other people–other people who may be prevented or discouraged from having many children themselves as a result. And yet a lot of immigrants (and too many citizens) are doing just that. What’s the answer? Join them?

  38. Priam1184 says:

    @Phil_NL Constantinople would have fallen much earlier had the Turks not felt it in their interest to keep it going. The emperors had been paying tribute to the sultans for quite some time before 1453 I believe. The young Mehmet II wanted to put an end to the charade and make the city of Constantine his capital and put himself on the throne of the Caesars I think. And in doing so he accomplished the goal that Islam had aspired to ever since the days of Muhammad, eight centuries before.

    Societies can continue to exist a long time after they have lost their raison d’etre or they can quickly disappear. Whether one or the other happens depends on many unique historical factors, the often underestimated power of inertia, and most importantly the inscrutable Divine Will.

  39. djc says:

    Excellent thread of which I wish to add a few bullet points.

    –Many, many people aren’t able to have more than one child. My wife is a Type I diabetic who was told a pregnancy would be very difficult to get through (though not impossible). During her pregnancy she spent three months in a major metro hospital 70 miles away from home trying to salvage not only her own health but that of the fetus as well. It worked and we have a wonderful 24 year old daughter (and my wife’s health is good). My point is I’m sure people wonder why we only have one child when we look totally healthy on the “outside” and are committed Catholics. One should never make assumptions about other people. Many times it was mentioned by nurses, etc in passing that their was no need to go through all this agony…

    –Nations and cultures become sick and die. The only real absolute is Christ. This is not the country that my ancestors (from the 1600’s) fought and died to create and build up. It is not. If it dies so be it. My life is with Christ and His church. I want the nation to repent and become faithful again but it we know the odds of that happening are slim to none.

    –Maybe God will send the wrath of Islam on the West for our decadent lifestyle…….

    –We all need to pray for a revival of the Catholic Faith.


  40. Per Signum Crucis says:

    Thanks to everyone for their comments and insights including on overpopulation theories / myths and the struggles of those who do have large families especially in societies where this is increasingly regarded as selfish, lazy or simply unnecessary.

    It is only in relatively recent times that, in more advanced economies and disregarding the availability of contraception, there has been less of a biological imperative to have as many children as possible just to ensure the survival of at least some of those children; even so that particular imperative has not yet been eradicated completely. I also agree with the point that migration / redistribution of the existing population (which in some cases is driven by an economic imperative) may well have a greater bearing on how our societies look in fifty or a hundred years’ time than changes in fertility rates.

    I was also interested in teasing out at what point in time and why the biological imperative became explicitly associated (officially or otherwise) with a Catholic imperative; indeed it can be counter-argued that a relationship that does not result in many or any children can also accord in certain respects with Church teaching.

  41. Imrahil says:

    Dear @mamajen,

    In my opinion, there is nothing meek, ethical or wise about purposely putting oneself in a situation that is only viable with tax money taken from other people.

    In my opinion, there is nothing unethical in doing so if you do it for a good purpose. Having a child is such a purpose, plain and simply and without exception.

    So yes, the answer is “join them”. After all we are talking about people who work in exchange for the helps received; having children and decently raising them and teaching them the Catholic faith is of utmost benefit, to nation, society, Church, the children themselves, the parents themselves, and you can continue this list for a while.

    Whether such tax-based support-systems should exist is another question (which by the way admits no easy answer), but as for those who are presented the rules and did not make them, why on Earth would it be unethical to benefit from them?

  42. Phil_NL says:


    The last 2 centuries of Byzantium saw a very complex – and always changing – relation between what was left of the empire and the turcs. Tribute could flow either way, and interference with succesional disputes of the other side was rife, which made for strange relations at times. Some sultans might have had a shot at conquering Constantinople, but most were not capable of that. Apart from the Venetians – who attacked by sea – the city had been inviolate for a millenium, mainly thanks to its walls. To give another example of how incompetent the turcs were most of the time: the siege of Candia (now Heraklion) 200 years later lasted 21 years.

    The point is, and I think we agree on that, that a society can shield itself from external enemies for a very long time provided the hardware is in place. That is basically all that is needed to sustain my argument in the general discussion.

  43. mamajen says:


    In my opinion, there is nothing unethical in doing so if you do it for a good purpose. Having a child is such a purpose, plain and simply and without exception.

    I’m not sure I follow. Having a child, once one is pregnant, is always good. Yes. However, conception does not always happen with a good purpose in mind. I will assume you are talking about married couples trying to do the will of God.

    The ethics part that I was speaking of has two components in my mind. First, the tax burden hurts families. My husband and I could not, at this point, support a large family without government assistance. To be clear, I was not speaking of people who find themselves requiring assistance despite their best efforts and accepting it. We may very well find ourselves in that situation at some point. But to plan one’s life dependent on money that is taken from other people who may need it is difficult for me to reconcile. I feel that the moral thing for us to do is to live within our means (or, really, slightly beyond our means and dependent on the charity of friends and family and other small blessings from God).

    Second, the ethics are tied to the wisdom of such a situation. The idea of willingly placing my family’s welfare in the hands of a government that hates us seems reckless to me. What happens when they pass a law requiring both parents to work in order to receive assistance? Or limiting the number of children they’ll pay for (or provide healthcare for)? Or requiring that children on public assistance attend early education programs? Etc. etc. etc. We have a small family and we may always have, but we have some semblance of freedom. The more people give in to such control, the more people will need to give in, unless they’re wealthy and can afford to have families without the government’s help.

    My husband and I are committed to following Church teaching and seeking God’s will for our family. We’ll see what happens. I don’t feel compelled to shoot for a particular number in an attempt to reverse population trends, especially to the detriment of my family. We’re a drop in the bucket whatever we do, so I can only hope to understand God’s will for us and follow it.

  44. Imrahil says:

    Dear @mamajen,

    thank you for your kind answer.

    You assume rightly; though my criticism of children born out of wedlock, whether or not economically irresponsible in addition, stops abruptly once the child has happened to be conceived.

    We agree of course that one has to try to live by one’s means. What my point was is that limiting the number of children, also lawfully, is not among the steps that need to be taked here, though they can; I think parents in dire situation are to be regarded as if they could not have helped the number of their children.

    Otherwise, only those get the money who don’t care anyway, and the taxes are still taken.

    Your second point is entirely valid. It assumes, however, that the State will only subject receivers of assistance to such measures. Maybe that will, for a time, be the case in America with its tradition of Freedom. I would never expect the State to do so; though I might expect him (forgive the English mistake, but talking is easier that way) to withdraw parental rights and use the police.

    To make that clear, I was not, in any way, suggesting you personnally should have acted otherwise than you did.

  45. djc says:


    I agree with your post and quite frankly never even thought of the potential rules regarding government assistance.


  46. Cordelio says:

    “The Church’s stand on birth control is the most absolutely spiritual of all her stands and with all of us being materialists at heart, there is little wonder that it causes unease. I wish various fathers would quit trying to defend it by saying that the world can support forty billion. I will rejoice in the day when they say: This is right, whether we all rot on top of each other or not, dear children, as we certainly may. Either practice restraint or be prepared for crowding….”

    – Flannery O’Connor 1959

  47. mamajen says:

    Thank you, Imrahil. I suspected that you and I were on the same page for the most part.

    Thank you also, djc.

    And Cordelio, great quote! It seems too often we have used the wrong argument to get the right message to people.

  48. Cordelio says:

    Dear Per Signum Crucis,

    Perhaps the most beautiful explanation of the Church’s true teaching on large families can be found in Pius XII’s address to the Italian Association of Large Families:

    Pius XII on Large Families

    I find it hard to read without tears of gratitude for the incredible benignity and mercy of God.

    Concerning the question of overpopulation specifically, the Holy Father says:

    “God is not going to ask men for an accounting of the general destiny of mankind; that is His business; but He will demand an accounting of the single acts that they have deliberately performed in accordance with or against the dictates of conscience.

    “As for you, parents and children of large families, keep on giving a serene and firm testimony of your trust in divine Providence, and be assured that He will not fail to repay you with the testimony of His daily help and, whenever necessary, with those extraordinary helps that many of you have been happy to experience already.”

    Perhaps the most beautiful section (of many beautiful sections):

    “Only the divine and eternal light of Christianity gives full life and meaning to the family and this is so true that right from the beginning and through the whole course of its history, large families have often been considered as synonymous with Christian families.

    “Respect for divine laws has made them abound with life; faith in God gives parents the strength and vigor they need to face the sacrifice and self-denial demanded for the raising of their children; Christian principles guide them and help them in the hard work of education; the Christian spirit of love watches over their peace and good order, and seems to draw forth from nature and bestow the deepest family joys that belong to parents, to children, to brothers and sisters.

    “Even externally, a large, well-ordered family is a kind of visible shrine: the sacrament of Baptism is not an exceptional event for them but something constantly renewing the joy and grace of the Lord. The series of happy pilgrimages to the Baptismal font is not yet finished when a new one to Confirmation and first Communion begins, aglow with the same innocence. The youngest of the children will scarcely have put away his little white suit among the dearest memories of life, when the first wedding veil appears to bring parents, children, and new relatives together at the foot of the altar. More marriages, more Baptisms, more first Communions follow each other like ever-new springtimes that, in a sense, make the visits of God and of His grace to the home unending.”

  49. Pingback: The Distance Between Us -

Comments are closed.