O Youth of the Noble Birthrate

The Brethren are concerned with the rates at which LDS couples are having babies. Most recently, Elder Dallin Oaks declared:

Because of what we understand about the potentially eternal role of the family, we grieve at the sharply declining numbers of births and marriages in many Western countries whose historic cultures are Christian and Jewish… In the midst of these concerning trends, we are also conscious that God’s plan is for all of His children and that God loves all of His children, everywhere.

So what, then, can we do as individuals and as a community to increase the numbers of births and marriages among us?

First, it is important to note that this concern about demographic trends is not a flash in the pan. The Brethren have expressed this concern many times in the past. Elder Oaks brought up the declining U.S. birthrate a year before his most recent Conference address, stating:

From the perspective of the plan of salvation, one of the most serious abuses of children is to deny them birth. This is a worldwide trend. The national birthrate in the United States is the lowest in 25 years, and the birthrates in most European and Asian countries have been below replacement levels for many years. This is not just a religious issue. As rising generations diminish in numbers, cultures and even nations are hollowed out and eventually disappear.

Russell M. Nelson raised this topic earlier in 2012, President Packer brought this up in 2003, and other General Authorities have mentioned birth rates for decades. So, this is not likely to be a temporary concern. As a side note, I’d quibble with the description here — according to World Bank data the U.S. rate is not at its lowest, but it is trending lower than it did in the 70s, and most of the West is in a state of sub-replacement fertility. Here is a great tool to play around with comparative fertility data. I don’t have current data on LDS birth rates, specifically, but if I had to hazard a guess I’d say that our rates tend to be a stop or two higher than national average but also tend to follow generalized trends. I take this instruction seriously: our leaders are concerned about declining birth rates, and so I’d like to explore why birth rates are declining and what steps could be taken to increase birth rates among LDS. For purposes of this piece I am taking it as a given that increasing LDS fertility rates is a desirable outcome and a priority. If you don’t agree that we should raise LDS birth rates then I would commend any number of other posts to read.

As for reasons why there are fewer babies being born to LDS families, there are many scholarly articles available that attempt to explain why fertility rates have declined in the last 50 years in Western countries. The general consensus points to a confluence of factors, with available contraception, increased urbanization, changes in female social roles and higher education. Some scholars (but not a general consensus) indicate that declines in religious belief also contribute to declining fertility rates, but it is difficult to tell whether the decline in religious belief is truly a causal factor or merely suffering correlative decline along with fertility rates.

OK, so on to the ideas. It seems to me that there are a number of short-term incentives but there would also need to be some longer term initiatives in order for there to be a lasting effect on fertility rates among Mormons. Some of these ideas are genuinely terrible, others less terrible but ineffective, and maybe (just maybe) some of these might be worthwhile.

Economic Ideas

1. Perpetual Babymaking Fund

People have babies when they are relatively young, but that also happens to be the stage when couples are likely to have the least amount of disposable income. Couples worrying over their day to day living are, I believe, less likely to have children, let alone have additional children. Older couples with mature children are more likely to have available funds (though this is definitely not a given). How about some sort of cost-sharing between affluent couples and those seeking to have additional children? This could be done on a local level or via a general fertility fund. Couples seeking to have additional children could solicit a stipend from the Bishop to recoup prenatal expenses, cost of births, etc., then some sort of ongoing subsidy.

2. Fertile Discounts

Another economic incentive: simply put, make Church cheaper for people with lots of kids. Reduced tithing obligations, receipt of subsidies, rights at LDS Storehouses, free garments, etc. Along these lines, the Church could offer free BYU tuition to say the 5th child born into each LDS home (or to a child born under the PBF, above).

Doctrinal/Cultural Ideas

3. Revelation

A declaration from the Prophet asking couples to have more children would, if worded correctly, have a strong effect at least in the short term. If President Monson directed us in General Conference that we are to prayerfully consider having at least one additional child per family, or adopting where possible, then it’s likely that many LDS would do so. I would imagine, though, that this would have more of a short term effect than a long term influence on fertility rates; those capable or willing to obey the Prophet in this matter would do so on a fairly accelerated timetable, leaving those unwilling or unable to do so without additional children. Until a new wave of child-capable couples entered the Church, the LDS fertility rate drops again, then a reiteration of the commandment would need to be required for each new child-capable generation to ensure that it is recognized as an evergreen injunction.

4. Reiteration of existing policy/culture

Our existing doctrine and policies already emphasize the importance of children, although in my view the bulk of this is directed towards proper treatment and education of children and not the necessity to grow the ranks of the Church by procreation. If we truly want to encourage high fertility rates, it would be best to emphasize this among our youth and young adults. My personal experience is that we do this more with women than with men, and yet culturally the decision to have children is ideally an equal decision (and in reality probably a decision likely to be made by men). Our young women receive more instruction than our young men with respect to both child-rearing and child-having, and continue to receive more instruction in this respect than men throughout the rest of their lives, and receive more callings with respect to children than men. This has the effect of raising young women who view marriage and childbearing as an absolute priority, but with raising men who may not have that same view. I would imagine that this is borne out by an increase in single men in the Church and an increase in LDS marriage age (and consequently an increase in age for having one’s first child), although of course there is no publicly available data on the topic.

So, to rectify this: even the load. The Proclamation on the Family can be continued to be used to place an emphasis on marriage and childbirth, and it already serves as a counterweight to alternative forms of marriage, women working outside the home and other forces that tend to lower fertility rates. It should be used more directly for the message: HAVE LOTS OF KIDS. Using the Proclamation as a weapon against more incident evils such as against gay marriage etc. is a waste of its power, comparatively speaking, if the priority is lots of LDS babies.

If we really want people to believe that lots of babies is important, babies themselves must be viewed as a priority and our Church must revolve more than it currently does around kids (I would agree that it already does so a lot). Both women and men should receive consistent instruction in the importance of having children, and more men should be given callings involving children. The stigma surrounding service in Primary must be removed, and instead Primary callings must be viewed as the most important in the Church, with instruction to the Youth in 2nd place. Men must be brought to believe that this is really is the most desirable and important form of Church service; while this might be given lip service today, nobody really believes it and men still covet callings of power such as Bishop, presidencies of various sorts, etc. akin to management positions. Breaking this perception would require the existing leadership of the Church to dramatically restructure its public persona, with no more veneration of leaders (this is more properly the topic of a separate post).

Regarding the stigma of Primary, this too is more properly the topic of a separate post but I see a few obvious ways to do this (there are many more). First, eliminate the Chinese wall in effect between Primary and the rest of the ward. Primary teachers are often isolated from everyone else and have little connection to other ward members; vice versa, ward members not serving in Primary rarely care about what happens in Primary so long as there is no spillover to their privileged towers. This must end. Rotate teachers through callings more frequently, increase opportunities for teachers to participate in other church meetings (for example, have someone other than teachers sit with their classes during Sharing Time/Singing Time).

Second, the Primary Presidency should be one of the most ‘powerful’ callings in the ward. Give local Primary presidents more decision-making authority, don’t force the dregs of the ward through their ranks and give the Primary President time during PEC etc. on par with the Relief Society President and the EQ President. If the kids are really that important then stop treating them like puppies and take their instruction and happiness seriously.

Third, fix the curriculum. Primary is a humorless, doctrine-filled affair with precious little time afforded to children to be children. It’s depressing to see six-year-olds being pushed into rote memorization of creeds they cannot understand. The songs themselves are largely terrible dirges focused again on transmission of LDS-specific creeds instead of the joys of life. This must be fixed; again we are treating our kids like puppies who need a rolled-up newspaper. If they’re really the most important thing then it’s time to show it.

Our YM/YW lessons would also need to be fixed to bring this priority into line. Again, the YW already get this message a lot, but the YM don’t. If you want to have a lot of Mormon babies, you need to bring Mormon men on board early. Camping trips and scout budgets are nice but they don’t drive home the point of REPRODUCE the way we need to really make a dent on fertility rates.

For young marrieds, they need to be reproducing early and often. They get the message to babify early in BYU wards but more can be done in this respect. We could go so far as to adjust the temple recommend interviews to include questions regarding fulfilling the commandment to multiply; this would have the effect of permanently establishing the doctrinal nature of having lots of babies. We could also go further in actively discouraging women from entering the workforce, which is a major factor in lower fertility rates. This could be done either by removing the economic need to have women in the workforce (see the economic ideas above), or by reducing the ability of LDS women to compete in the workforce (the ship has sailed in this respect).

We could also forbid the use of contraceptives. It would not be difficult to articulate a doctrinal rationale behind this; indeed LDS couples are already discouraged from using contraceptives if the goal is to perpetuate their own recreational lifestyles, etc., but we can go further. Our Catholic friends already have laid the foundation against contraceptives and we could adopt those rationales for ourselves. We would at least become more consistent in our pro-life stance, which is as of yet not fully fleshed out and results in an anti-abortion position but a pro-contraception position.

In conclusion, there are many ways that we could incentivize people to have more babies in the Church but few of them have real appeal or viability. Further, it seems to me that our baseline culture does not reflect a true priority towards children despite plenty of lip service to that effect. If we are to bolster the ranks through raising up righteous seed to Zion then we need to really get jumpstarted and take things seriously in a new way.

Comments

  1. wow, great post — food for thought here (as we expect our fifth child).

  2. Strictly among my own acquaintances I am surprised at the amount of people (men and women alike) who can’t have children. Maybe there is some sort of health-related angle to be explored as well.

  3. jparksingleton says:

    This is a joke, right? It has to be a joke.

  4. jpark, I really can’t tell.

    In case this is a serious discussion: Why did I only have two babies? I have no family nearby to help me, we moved to a new place where I knew no-one and really had no other young mothers in the ward to befriend, and I found early motherhood to be a lonely, horrible, socially isolating experience. I love my babies, but those first 6 years of motherhood were the hardest, loneliest thing I’ve ever been through. I’d posit that the modern tendency to move far away from family and friend support networks is a major contributor to declining birthrates.

  5. This taps into a problem I have thought about a lot. We feel and express sympathy and compassion for those who want children and can’t have them – in fact we often go out of our way to accommodate or be sensitive to their feelings. However, there’s another side, and that’s people who can have children but don’t want them or can’t handle them. The pressure and guilt this sort of thinking lays on those people is enormous and destructive. I married comparatively late (26) and had my first child late (29 after losing a pregnancy when I was 28). My husband is six years older than I am. We have three children whom we love and who were all planned and welcomed, but that is it for us. I could probably have had one more, or maybe even two more, but I just couldn’t do it. Two of my children have developmental issues, and they take a lot of attention. Not to mention that although my pregnancies were not difficult, the deliveries became more complicated and damaging as they came along. Plus, I just don’t WANT any more children. After my third was born, I felt strongly that our family was complete as it was. Nevertheless, I had a pregnancy scare (I use that term consciously) a few years ago. As I sat in the doctor’s office trembling and trying not to cry while waiting for the test results, the nurse asked me what I would do if the result was positive and reminded me that I had “options.” I told her that I would certainly keep the baby if there was one, but I was ashamed both at the terror I felt at the thought of being 40 and having to deal with diapers and sleepless nights and mastitis and all the other things that come along with a newborn and at how relieved I was to discover that I was actually not pregnant. I still have very conflicted feelings about that experience. Luckily, in part I’m sure because of my relatively older age, I have only rarely had anyone from church suggest to me personally that I should have more children or imply that I am somehow not faithful enough because I don’t have more. However, I have heard comments to this effect directed at younger couples who are newly married and just starting their families. Some of them take it to heart, and not in a good, thought-provoking way but in a guilt-inducing, fearful way. This is not good or healthy for individuals or families. I thank God every day for laser eye surgery and contraception, but I cringe whenever I hear people talk about our duty to have lots of children. I could tell all sorts of stories about women who ruined their bodies, souls, and marriages by having too many children too quickly – including my own mother, who felt tremendous pressure from church leaders and church culture to keep having babies even after her body – and the needs of the children she already had – made it clear that she needed to stop. I bet pretty much everyone reading this can tell those stories too. I think the best way to approach this topic is to continue to teach the importance of having families and caring for children and making the choices that will enable couples to rear happy families, but to also encourage and highlight the importance of listening to the Holy Ghost in this matter as in all others – ESPECIALLY in this matter – and not just promote having children for the sake of having children. *shudder* If you want a large family and can handle it, please, by all means have as many children as you want to. But making it into some sort of test of faith or membership is a horrible, horrible idea. I remember the 1970s, and I don’t want to go there again.

    I do like the suggestion about rotating more people into Primary. Perhaps my husband is an exception, but to my knowledge he has never “coveted” leadership positions and has enjoyed being in Primary every time he has been called to it.

  6. I think the other missing piece in your analysis is a bit more depth in the changes to the economic conditions of countries in the west. While the LDS church probably can’t effectuate a change by itself, I would propose that policies which share economic gains more broadly (ie decreasing economic inequality) would do a lot to help bolster birthrates among LDS members and others alike. I see so many couples that want to start having children younger or have more children faced with tough decisions about whether it is financially responsible. As wages continue to stagnate, college tuition and health care/insurance continue to rise it is becoming increasingly difficult for couples that want to have many children and remain somewhat financially stable (i mean stable not exceedingly comfortable) to find a way to do so. I know that in my graduate student married ward in Massachusettes that the only reason so many of us could have children in grad school was because of MAs Romney Care health insurance system. Without it it would have been almost impossible for these families to have the children they did without risking complete financial devestation or heavy subsidies from parents (which some already had). These economic trends become especially a double bind when a family wants to do this on a single income. Interestingly Utah has the lowest Gini-coefficient of any state in the US and the highest birthrate. These things seem to be related.

    To whit there are some things the church is doing that does help solve this. Subsidizing a good university such as BYU that keeps the cost of college low, relieves a big burden on families who feel (understandably) that a college education without mounds of debt is important to getting their kids launched in the world. Also, by giving good college educations to young couples without huge debt the church’s schools can help make starting families much more financially responsible options. The decision to try and upgrade BYU-Idaho is a great step (though it has a long, long way to go). I would suggest that the next best step would be to means test entry and admit BYU classes that overweight children coming from middle income and poor families, thereby asking families with greater resources to send their kids to other schools.

    Build on Elder Cook’s talk where he mentions that Latter-day Saints ought to be among the people most strongly advocating for family friendly work practices and policies. I can see many couples LDS and non-LDS happily increasing their number of children if they can find jobs that allow logistically for taking care of family responsibilities while bringing in income. In this respect many European countries are far ahead of us. However, this would require the church to advocate for something that goes against the conservative leanings of the vast majority of Mormons these days.

    I would also add that we could be more generous in the use of our church welfare system to support young families. I have mixed feelings about this because I have definitely seen cases where young families kept expanding with few financial prospects in site and could only follow this path with the help of ward welfare. In my mind, I am not sure we were doing them a favor long term. On the other hand, I have seen wards just cut off families who were in the end just trying to follow what they perceived as the prophetic counsel to not delay children for anything thing, finances be damned. They took the ‘follow the prophet’ and have faith approach. Many would refuse even thinking about having the wife try and find work to help augment income since that was against things like “To the Mothers of Zion”. It was a really contentious issue in welfare meetings at time whether to support these families or not and what was responsible or not. Maybe if we just all agreed that supporting families in these situation are a priority within the welfare system and make it unambiguously, normatively ok for families to go to the church for such support that could increase the LDS birthrate, if we as a people would up the money to pay for it.

  7. I wouldn’t consider 26 a late marriage, or 29 late child bearing…

  8. We need to start encouraging married couples to set aside one night each week for intimacy, perhaps two during the more fertile times of the month. Until the church embraces Parent Home Evening we’ll remain under condemnation.

  9. Ha! Perpetual baby making fund! I love it :). But, can we use fund overseas only, just like the education fund? I mean, whenever I mention the plight of those living below the poverty line I’m reminded by others of how rich our poor people are because they have refrigerators and hot water…. So really, no helping the first world poor who want to babymake.

    I can hear the church statistical department bemoaning the lack of future tithe payers now. Sometimes there is such a thing as too much big data. To quote Clay Christensen, “there is no data on the future.”

    Also as former primary pres: preach it, brotha! Being the red headed stepchild of organizations is disheartening.

    Although . . . If all above changes were made, it would be another form of disheartening.

  10. Yes, jpark. This is surely satire. I’m not sure what it’s satirizing though. Leaders have simply mentioned their concern, not instituted policies and programs to encourage childbearing.

  11. whizzbang says:

    see, this is the thing. I bought into the early marriage, early have a child with no career but going to school FT. I was raised on the Hartman Rector Jr. and others who taught you must have kids asap, you must be married quickly after your mission, don’t worry about your career, just match and hatch asap. I recall a devotional Elder Nelson gave in 2001? called, “identity, priority an blessings” which he promulgated this type of thinking. Well, i married the first person I could and now I am divorced living in a place with very few prospects and raising a son who isn’t baptized because the ex doesn’t want anything to do with the Church. Add insult to injury afterwards people were saying don’t listen to them, you are living with the consequences and not them. So, for me it’s screw you for listening and following the leaders

  12. Interesting article and equally interesting comments. I believe instability with regards to the employment, education costs, housing, and health care make overextension of ones’s means and capacities very real concerns. Will Church welfare support such families trying to “choose the right” and yet still suffering with insufficient means?

  13. tysonjens says:

    The decision to bring a child into the world should be a family, not a church one. I think it is fine for church leaders to comment on fertility rates, but I think introducing institutional incentives would be overstepping the sovereignty of the family.

  14. Greg Neil says:

    To increase birth rate responsibly we need to recognize the environmental impact of our western lifestyle and make appropriate changes so that flooding the earth with new humans doesn’t make things worse than they already are. We should encourage living on a much smaller footprint in sustainable and dense communities that are more communal in nature… Communities can do a better job sharing the child rearing load to allow mother and fathers to work. This will become even more of an economic necessity as our reliance on cheap 3rd world labor to prop up our standard of living slowly fades away. Lots of babies would be lots easier if the church moved the focus from the immediate family to the community family… perhaps it’s time to consider the united order again.

  15. It’s not that late compared to American society, but most of the LDS women I went to high school and college with were around 21-23 at the time of their first marriage, and most had a baby within 18 months of their wedding. In my singles wards, there was always a noticeable lack of women ages 23~28 or so and of men about 24~27. That was almost 20 years ago, though, so things may be rather different now. As for 29 being late for a first baby, if you intend to have only 2 or 3 children, it’s not late at all, but if you expect to have 4 or 5 (which I didn’t, I’m just saying…), 35 is considered the age after which childbearing becomes considerably more risky for both mother and baby, and I noticed a huge difference in my stamina and coping skills in just the five years between my first and third. I can’t imagine what my mother went through when she had her seventh child at age 38.

  16. jparksingleton says:

    Alright, since people are taking it seriously, I will respond seriously.

    I’m confused as to the notion that members of the Church are somehow not aware that having children is a priority. I have taken note in recent years that the brethren have made a point of encouraging couples to have children, particularly in light of declining birth rates and increased economic and societal pressures that might otherwise dissuade would-be parents. It would seem to me that people already know what their priorities should be. So, I think the brethren have been wise in leaving this (as with any number of other things) up to the discretion of individuals, because only those two individuals, plus the Lord, know what is best for them in their circumstances. It is not the role of the Church to micromanage the lives of its members.

    Also, as EOR mentioned above, there are a number of people whom would love to have children, and for whom that lack of children is a serious trial and cause for great anguish. To issue a blanket decree essentially saying, “The number of children you (are at least trying to) have is directly correlated with your temple-worthiness,” is pretty callous, as many people who struggle with infertility find it necessary to give themselves a reprieve from the pain and heartache of constantly “trying” for a baby. Furthermore, if we add this to the list of temple recommend questions, are there not any number of other questions that could just as reasonably be added to the list? Temple-worthiness does not demand perfection. I don’t know exactly what goes into determining what questions are or are not necessary, but neither do I presume to know.

    As for the specific suggestions:

    1. Perpetual Babymaking Fund

    Yes, I believe it is true that “couples worrying over their day to day living are, I believe, less likely to have children.” However, the comparison with the Perpetual Education Fund is inherently flawed. As per the PEF website, “When a student has graduated and is working, he or she then pays back the loan to the fund at a low interest rate.” It’s not a system of handouts. The idea is that the Church provides temporary assistance for the purpose of helping individuals to become more self-reliant. This is true of every program the Church runs. Having a child is not an economically winning proposition. If the Church pays me to have a child, my ability to provide for that child will not have increased by having the child. Having a second or third child will also not increase my ability to afford the child. And having a dozen children between the ages of 1 and 20 (on the Church’s dime) will not make me more self-reliant. As with all commandments, the answer to fear is not money. The answer is faith.

    2. Fertile Discounts

    Reduced tithing obligations? Really? Why don’t we reduce tithing for the destitute? Or for people in third-world countries? Why did Elijah ask the widow to feed him instead of her child with her last bit of meal? While tithing of course has financial implications, it is a matter of faith. The commandment to give provides us the opportunity to rely on the Lord. Offering “reduced obligations” like tax-breaks would undermine the entire purpose, and would cripple the saints.

    3. Revelation

    Again, I don’t think the issue is that people are not aware of the commandment to multiply and replenish the earth. And to the extent that the brethren fail to spend every moment of their General Conference bandwidth addressing the need to have more children—I’m pretty sure they (and we) have other things we should also be focusing on.

    4. Reiteration of Existing Policy/Culture

    As a female, I can’t speak to the experience of young men growing up in the Church. However, I’ve never been under the impression that the men had a fundamentally different perspective on the priority of child-rearing. So, if there is a disparity in the focus on child-rearing between what the Young Women and Young Men are taught, I wouldn’t know.

    Also. “Using the Proclamation as a weapon against more incident evils such as against gay marriage etc. is a waste of its power, comparatively speaking, if the priority is lots of LDS babies.” I think that “if” clause is key. I doubt the priority is simply lots of LDS babies. Perhaps one of many priorities. But not the only.

    As for the tangent about Primary, I’m not even exactly sure how that directly relates to people having children. As one currently expecting my first child, and one whom has never held a Primary calling, the organization of the Primary was never a factor in my decision to grow my family. (Also, why the hate for Primary songs? They taught me a great deal as a child, and I still love them for their simple truths.)

    And forbid the use of contraceptives? Wow. Just WOW. And no. I’m pretty sure that is a fast track to creating even greater dysfunction in the sexual culture of the Church. There are already enough people operating under the mistaken understanding that sexual intimacy between a husband and wife is strictly for the purpose of procreation. As this quote from the Sept. 1986 Ensign clarifies—”While creating children is an integral and beautiful aspect of marital intimacy, to use it only for that purpose is to deny its great potential as an expression of love, commitment, and unity.”

    Finally—if it turns out that this post really was just some misguided attempt at satire, I would like to know… just what is being satirized?

  17. jparksingleton says:

    And Villate, thank you for your added perspective. The decision to have a child (whether it is the first or the fifth) is a complicated and deeply personal matter. Even if two people are physically capable of creating a child, the question of whether it is in the best interest of the husband and wife (collectively and individually), existing children, and potential future child is critical. There are any number of physical, spiritual, and emotional factors that come into play. When it comes down to it, the Lord knows our strengths as well as our weaknesses. He knows what we are capable of and He does not ask us to run faster than we have strength. We would all do well to strive for greater compassion and understanding.

  18. Parent Home Evening :)

    Yes!! I’ve always needed a correlation approved term for my weekly sexytimes.

  19. I fear I’ll have nightmares after reading this post…

  20. It has been revealed that PHE is supposed to be Wednesday. (mild NSFW)

  21. Capozaino says:

    No mention of reinstating polygamy?

  22. “Two minutes in heaven is better than one minute in heaven.” Truer words were never sung.

  23. Polygamy reduces birthrate. So unless they want to have certain men to have a large family, there is no need to reinstate polygamy.

  24. Perpetual Babymaking Fund, Fertile Discounts, love it!

  25. It’s hard to tell what’s satire or not, but in practical terms, at the least that Church could provide generous maternity and paternity leave packages for their employees. There’s a huge, technical literature on whether pronatalist policies work and which kinds (maternity leave, direct cash payments, etc.) are most effective incentives work/what kinds are most effective (for example, see http://linkinghub.elsevier.com/retrieve/pii/S0277953610003801?via=sd.) I’m dubious that direct incentives help much, but others disagree. Also, more equitable childcare arrangements could lead to higher fertility rates in some situations (but not others: http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/j.1728-4457.2004.00005.x/abstract).

    Anyway, in sum, making it easier to have children will help people who want more children to have more children. However, ideology is a significant factor in the underlying desire to have children (http://sf.oxfordjournals.org/content/86/3/1163.short), but it’s not clear what makes some pronatalist theologies work while others don’t. For example, Roman Catholics don’t have any higher fertility than Protestants (anymore, they used to) once baseline religiosity is controlled, yet Mormons and Ultra-Orthodox Jews do have higher fertility. Some speculation that makes sense to me is that it’s because the Roman Catholic approach is generally negative (don’t use contraception), whereas approaches that focus on the children themselves are more effective. Hard to say which triggers would be effective from a theological perspective.

    Anyway, I have a lot to say on the subject and could go on but I’m going to stop now.

  26. I note that we are studying Joseph Fielding Smith’s pithy comments this year in Priesthood and Relief Society meetings. Strangely, the Curriculum Department didn’t include this wise counsel:

    Those who attempt to pervert the ways of the Lord, and to prevent their offspring from coming into the world in obedience to this great command, are guilty of one of the most heinous crimes in the category. There is no promise of eternal salvation and exaltation for such as they, for by their acts they prove their unworthiness for exaltation and unfitness for a kingdom where the crowning glory is the continuation of the family union and eternal increase which have been promised to all those who obey the law of the Lord.
    Joseph Fielding Smith, Prophet Joseph Fielding Smith, Relief Society Magazine, v. 3, no. 7, July 1916

  27. John Harrison says:

    There is an issue with having more men in the Primary. Men cannot teach a primary class solo. They must be paired with either their spouse or another man. Because of this policy (which I support) you can’t simply call a man to serve as a Primary teacher, you have to call a man and someone to serve with him.

    In resource constrained wards and branches this can be a significant problem. I love serving in Primary and Nursery, but I rarely get to, partially due to this calculus.

  28. J. Stapley says:

    This is an extremely thoughtful post, Steve.

  29. The General Handbook of Instructions could be revised to encourage sperm donation and artificial insemination. Also, threats of unspecified “church discipline” for single sisters wishing to become mothers could be removed. Consideration could be given to provide sealings of single mothers and their children.

  30. I know some couples who choose not to have children due to traumatic family situations that have turned them off to tbe possibility of parenthood. I know more couples who are having fewer children for economic reasons, and this is one of the reasons my wife and I have kept our family small- most of the people I know who have created big families under the assumption that “The Lord will provide” are now under crushing debt, and the others are mostly independently wealthy, or are government employees who never fear the possibility of income insecurity.
    Others of us limit our family sizes because we are eager to once again have some semblance of a marriage someday.
    Those of you who have larger numbers of kids- I truly admire that, and I wish more of us had whatever makes that possible on an emotional level.

  31. I don’t know how typical I am in everything, but in some ways I exactly typify one of the people that Elder Oaks is worried about and preaching to: I’m 29, happily married for 4 years, financially stable, healthy, and yet childless (so far). I’m fairly sure that Elder Oaks would be quick to blame this on the fact that I have a master’s degree and a career that I love, where I’m the primary breadwinner right now, and he might be right.

    Thus, I read posts like this with interest, regardless of whether or not it’s satire. (I hope it is!) Assuming that the church wants me to start having children (or have more of them), I’m not sure any of those ideas would work:

    -Perpetual Babymaking Fund + discounts: these are nice for people who were going to have children anyway, but it’s still much cheaper to not have kids at all than to get loans or discounts for them.

    -Revelation: this would certainly make me consider it prayerfully, but my personal revelation could still trump general counsel (and right now my personal prayers about whether it’s time to have kids lead to nightmares about getting accidentally pregnant).

    -Reiteration of current policy: maybe. I feel like I already got this crammed down my throat as a teenager, but maybe more emphasis to young men would make my husband more excited about the idea. (Maybe.)

    -emphasize Primary: this is a nice idea for kids generally, so I’m on board, but this is so low on my list of worries about having children that I doubt it would make any difference at all to fertility. (Similar changes to public education would have a much, much larger effect on my decision-making.)

    -temple recommend questions: Single and infertile women are already often left feeling worthless by the church’s emphasis on motherhood. Is it really worth doubling down on the damage?

    -banning contraception: First of all, I think it’s hard to justify this doctrinally, but second of all, my understanding is that we already tried and failed at that in the 70s and 80s.

    What would work for me? There are many reasons we’re waiting, but some of the biggest, aside from lack of personal revelation about it, are, of course, work/life balance (since both my husband and I love our jobs and don’t want to leave them but don’t have good part-time options), as well as financial concerns like cost of housing and childcare (in our notoriously expensive area). I’d love to see the church follow Elder Cook’s guidance and use its influence to push employers to become more family-friendly (whether in things like more part-time options or flexible schedules or more affordable health insurance not tied to employment or subsidizing childcare).

    It’s not realistic that the church can accomplish all that quickly, though. Paradoxically, one of the most helpful things the church could do to encourage me personally to have children would be to lay off the rhetoric around the desirability of having children, and particularly motherhood, not intensify it. The more I’m told that priesthood is equal to motherhood, the more I’m told it’s my divine destiny, the more I’m told it’s my One True Purpose, the more child-bearing becomes high-pressure and fraught with big questions of identity: what if I’m not a perfect angel mother? If the stakes are that high, I’d rather avoid the activity altogether rather than try and fail.

  32. On having babies:

    First of all, and this comes as news to no one, biology puts far more demands on women for baby-having than it does on men. It’s exhausting, nauseating, painful work. And that’s before the wow-finish that’s labor and delivery. In many parts of the world it still kills women all the time. All the time. Not hard to understand why in every society that has given women the means and the access to do it, we’ve brought the birthrate down to right around replacement (give or take). Can you blame us?

    But that’s just the getting the babies here. Then there is the experiment in prolonged sleep-deprivation that is early parenthood. It’s hard on mommas and daddies, but especially if one is nursing (and we are relentlessly told that we must nurse our babies or we are terrible mothers) the large part of the burden falls squarely on mommy’s shoulders.

    Ah, you say, but these burdens (sleeplessness, labor and delivery, pregnancy) have ever been with us. But the second shift, as many people have pointed out, is relatively new. I don’t think it’s news to any of us that more women are in the workforce and more of us need to be in the workforce. Steve Evans is absolutely right. There is very little room in most workplaces to accommodate the nine miserable months that are the reality of pregnancy for many women, coupled with the recovery time, compounded by the zombification (I think I made up a word) that results in caring for an infant who believes that nighttime is party-time.

    It’s a miracle anybody who does it once even thinks about doing it again. And (as several have pointed out) we’re all so much father away from our family support groups. My mom had both grandmas to step in when it all became too much (as it inevitably will). My sister who has a four year-old and a seventeen-month old has her husband. And plenty of Mormon moms don’t have one of those.

    I submit that the goal of “more babies” is not necessarily a great goal in and of itself. I would suggest we spend our time and our efforts understanding why it is that women and men are choosing to have fewer babies (and I think Steve’s post does go there). Then, if it seems like those underlying issues are actionable, we could try to address those issues.

  33. Anonymous says:

    If Elder Oaks were really that concerned about declining birthrates, 14 years ago he had ample opportunity to lead by example and continue “multiplying and replenishing the earth”.

  34. Capozaino says:

    Well, so much for Jacob 2:30, then.

  35. Wheat Woman says:

    It’s interesting to me that when women get more education, the birthrate trends down. If we’re serious about avoiding cultural extinction, to say nothing of eternal damnation (!), perhaps it’s time to stop encouraging our women from attaining a four year degree. Or maybe skip high school altogether?

  36. I think a church that would need to coerce/pressure couples to have lots and lots of babies for the church’s own survival would need to take a long hard look at itself in the mirror and really think about what in the world went wrong when it was supposed to be about Jesus.

    On the other hand, a church that would help its members understand the eternal beauty and wonder of human life, and the great privilege of creating and raising a human being, despite the enormous financial, emotional, and social costs, is doing something good and sacred.

  37. A huge agreement from me on primary presidency getting some much needed respect and power!

    Perpetual baby-making fund is slippery slope. Are tummy tucks and augmentation post-nursing also covered? Doesn’t take a genius to figure out what the male leadership would say to that….

    I have to say that no one decides if another child is coming into my home except for my husband and I in counsel with the Lord. If the prophet announced the “1 more child per household” commandment, once that child becomes violent/suicidal/antisocial, I’ll send said child to live with “Grandpa Monson” for a few months/years. To be fair, if s/he was phenomenally obedient, I would give my child to God a la Samuel in the Bible and send him/her to our modern-day Eli to live with and be taught by him. (Quite honestly, a child like that wouldn’t fit in with their older siblings anyway) Either way, the prophet won’t be lonely anymore!

  38. I not sure much can be done to stop the long-term trend of Mormons following American demographic trends, although Mormons seem to usually lag U.S. society by several years. From 2005 to 2012, according to the U.S. Census Bureau, the median age at first marriage in Utah increased from 24.6 to 26.2 for men and 22.1 to 24.1 for women. Over those same years, the percentage of people over the age of 15 who were married fell from 59.9% to 55.7%. In 10 to 15 years, in these trends hold up, less than half of Utah adults will be married. Among those who do marry, the average age at marriage will be 30 for men 28 for and women a decade or so from now. Making changes at BYU might not have much impact, since only 7% to 9% of American Mormons in their early twenties currently attend the Provo campus, but this number will continue to drop since BYU cannot appreciably increase its undergraduate enrollment. The birth rate in Utah has fallen for each of the last four years, partly because of the recession. The church could increase its fertility rate if it converted more minorities, particularly Hispanics, since they generally have a higher fertility rate than Whites.

  39. There are several things that the church preaches a lot about that will, over time, lead to more babies.
    1. Strong marriages of LDS people
    2. Economic stability of the married couples
    A recent policy change that will marginally improve #1 is the lowering of the mission age. This is designed to get more Elders and Sisters on missions and, hopefully, keep them active and maturing into someone capable of having a strong marriage.
    The church has for years preached general principles that lead to #2. Not everyone listens or applies these principles. Especially wrt debt.

    Polygamy has been raised as another possibility. As mentioned above, individual female fertility was decreased in polygamy, but perhaps total societal birthrate would increase??? Overall, this is unlikely in the near future.

  40. Singapore has learned the hard way that you cannot socially engineer the birth rates. They go one direction only and as they do wealth increases for individuals. Worker productivity also increases as more of the work force is educated and utilized. That breeds commerce. About 15 years ago they provided financial incentives to have fewer kids because the nation state was literally running out of room. They have since added land with dirt purchased from neighboring countries but despite their desperation and financial incentives and encouraging citizens to “get it on” as their civic duty, birth rates are stalled at below replacement levels.

    Here are some suggestions Steve didn’t mention: increase infant mortality rates, send our young people to war so families will have more kids to replace the inevitable losses, create an LDS sperm bank for infertile couples (this was sort of what polygamy did, favoring some seed over other), or bar female entry into BYU since higher education for women correlates with lower birthrates. Ban the use of technology so there’s nothing better to do than get pregnant and to completely isolate Mormon families from the influence of society.

  41. MikeInWeHo says:

    Aren’t there plenty of babies coming into the world every day, though? Global population goes up and up; it’s just a question of where these souls arrive, not how many. Maybe the solution isn’t to find ways to pop out more LDS babies. Maybe the solution is for Mormonism to address the issues that have negatively impacted conversion and retention rates, and the Church will grow that way.

  42. Struggling says:

    One thing that would encourage me to have children is if the church community were more supportive of me. I felt much more sympathy and substantive assistance from non-LDS people when my twins were born. My neighbors brought meals and knew how difficult caring for newborn twins can be, they reached out with understanding and uplift. It was hard. There were times I very very much felt like I was drowning. At church I just felt judged–“What’s your problem? Sister Smith has 6 children and you’re having a hard time with two? Pfft.” I felt abandoned by my RS sisters when I needed them the most.

  43. Introduce church sponsored nurseries. If the church could offer quality and affordable childcare it might incentivize some couples.

  44. Love the rant about primary.

    Offering nursery services during Sacrament Meeting–something many other churches do–would also help. For many young families, the hardest part of the week is getting five kids under the age of six (or whatever) to sit still and be quiet for 75 minutes straight.

    And yes, the recession over the last few years, along with fewer and worse job opportunities for new graduates, has certainly had an impact on birth rates. Fix that and birth rates will go back up.

  45. It’s got to be snide. must be.

    But everyone else is answering and some of the suggestions are real.

    I have 10. We are not in huge debt, nor wealthy. We do spend time muddling.

    I am also primary president. We have fabulous teachers in our ward who understand children.
    I feel totally respected by the ward leadership and have the Bishop’s ear. What I expect of primary teachers? love. You may be strict, or doctrinal, or playful, or whatever. If you truly love my child…thank you.

    Things that would really actually help me.

    –either let me nurse in sacrament meeting, like I generally do, without commenting on it ,or give me a real nursing room that isn’t connected to a smelly bathroom. actually just do both. Sometimes I need a nursing room (Twins I’m looking at you…also looking at my current baby who thinks nursing and WWF have a lot in common). Nursing=nurturing. nursing is not. My secret plot to reveal to you my boobs. I try to cover up. Some babies dont’ allow it. get over it. you are an adult.

    –My husband needs a place to change the baby’s diaper. Some buildings have a family bathrooms. love this.

    –don’t assume I can’t help or can’t do things because I have a large family. I’m a big girl and know full well how to say no if I can’t. if you are a leader and think you know. you don’t. just ask. Bless the Bishop who asked when I was pregnant with twins when I wanted to be released. I kept my calling until 36 weeks. It was easier to snack and put my feet up in primary than in RS. He had my replacement all ready. he asked. of course my husband had his ear and was telling him exactly what to say. but bless him for saying it.

    –figure out how to correlate calendars so I don’t have four different church activities on the same day in different places. This is HUGE!! please consider I don’t have clones or a fleet at my disposal. My children want to attend.

    –Learn my children’s names. They each have one. We do not call them 1, 2, 3, 4, …we can remember them. Do not joke that you can’t remember because there are so many. I trust your brain allows you to remember 10 names. If you are slow to remember names. I get that. but if you know every other child’s name and can only remember our last name.PHHHBT If you have a stewardship over them…learn their name.

    –DON’T allow sacrament meeting to go over! You are up there presiding…preside! cut people off if you need to. keep it moving people. surviving sacrament meeting is a challenge. stake conference is a fear factor event. lets make these meetings at least slightly more palatable. more music is better.

    –communicate with parents. 12yo boys are not accurate messengers. neither are 9yo boys. I have email. I text. just communicate with me. please. no assumptions. also, I need a little bit more notice. just a respectful amount of notice. 2 weeks is not too much to ask. plan ahead. I do. I can get my child somewhere if I have time to make the plan to do so. Do NOT tell my son on WEdnesday night that he has a campout at a nebulous location at a nebulous time and expect procrastination on your part to constitute an emergency on my part.

    –maybe don’t make us the butt of jokes. just maybe. we get it’s a huge number. it surprises us. each is an answer to prayer…not always us asking, but God seems to think anytime we go to the temple and should be having a child, no matter what we are actually thinking about or praying about, he will be sure to tell us. having 10 children does not automatically make me patient, perfect or saintly…don’t imply it does. I have a sense of humor, but I may reply totally sarcastically or incredibly personally if you think the number of children I have makes my sex life your business. actually another person’s sex life is NEVER your business. assume you should shut up.

    –boys should be taught that children are a blessing and this is their wife’s decision as it will affect her much more. If they desire a baby and their wife is not ready…they can pray. that’s the only option they get. bless whomever taught that to my husband. he has never even considered pressuring me.

    –we all need to understand we can do hard things. I read the scriptures. Noah built a boat, Moses got the children of Israel out of Egypt, Nephites went to teach the gospel to Lamanites who wanted to kill them..so don’t be shocked that the Lord may ask me to have a child.

    Having children is incredibly personal. People who don’t have them have reasons. They are adults. Let them be. Love them. Love me. My choices are mine. just maybe God has different things planned for different people.

    All of this is MUCH easier to handle than one trip to the grocery store, specially in California during which I promise, someone will suggest birth control or ask if I know what causes that and I will try desperately not to be completely sarcastic.

  46. Kevin Barney says:

    britt, I really enjoyed your comments.

    My family is a kind of microcosm of decreasing birth rates. I come from a family of six children; my wife four. When we got married, I sort of nebulously was thinking of four children; my wife three. We in fact had two children.

    If we had had our son first instead of second, we would have had only one. My little joke is that there’s a reason why Dennis and Calvin is each an only child. My son was all boy, bouncing off the walls, energy cranked to 11 all the time. (He mellowed as he grew.) For us the limit wasn’t childcare expenses (my wife was a SAHM at the time) or money. It was a question of energy and exhaustion.

  47. I’m assuming (hoping!) this article is largely, if not completely, ironic. However, to throw in another (fully serious) suggestion, the stigma against breastfeeding mothers really needs to stop. Mothers rooms of course need to be comfortable, ample, and well-kept-up (most of the mother’s rooms in the dozen or so chapels I’ve attended were tiny and smelly, if they existed at all). But even more importantly, we need to normalize public breastfeeding in our chapels. In a church that purports to honor motherhood, the fact that so many mothers are told that the basic act of feeding their babies is “inappropriate,” “immodest” or “distracting” is ridiculous.

  48. Elouise Bell says:

    Shades of A MODEST PROPOSAL! It does an old lit teacher’s heart good to read this vigorous debate, some of it with tongues in cheeks, some not, some tongues stuck out defiantly, others held in restraint.

    I have no personal experiences to add in enlightenment (no kids), but for years I have been trulu fearful about over-population. Sometimes I even sensed the Earth groaning with the demands and abuses of 7 billions of us (up from something under 3 B. in 1950).

    Here is a link to an article, containing many useful links within, on the “are we-aren’t we?”
    question by a TIME MAGAZINE senior editor. I found it helpful in widening my awareness.

    http://science.time.com/2012/03/14/population-studies-birth-rates-are-declining-for-the-earth-and-a-lot-of-people-thats-not-a-bad-thing/

    Thanks to all you who commented for serving up food for lots of thought.

  49. Elouise, very glad to see you here.

  50. I just want to know which Western countries have Jewish historic cultures.

  51. Can’t have judeo-christian without the judeos, man!

  52. I realize this is largely tongue-in-cheek but I agree with every word about the Primary. It’s the most important auxiliary we have in the Church.

    Husband and I have 3 kids, so we have just barely replaced ourselves. But. I originally wanted more and revised my estimate downward after miscarriages and many, many job losses. If the Lord wanted us to have more than 3, well, He could have provided a way.

  53. Regarding whether this post is satire: it’s not. Declining birth rates are a bona fide concern, and I am really interested in how we could reverse that decline. If some of my suggestions are ridiculous that speaks as to our sensitivities around the topic.

  54. Christian J says:

    Evans, maybe this is what you’re getting at, but it seems that the low-birth rate observations we hear from our general leaders are just that. And, like many others, I don’t really know what to do with the information or how to take it seriously as a call to any sort of action. For my part, I’ve always felt that my opinion about the number of children we would have is greatly appreciated, but ultimately takes a back seat to the partner who will be carrying, feeding and serving as primary care giver of the child. That’s not a feminist or patriarchal approach, but a practical one.

  55. Recategorize sexual sterilization and contraception as sins, revoke the sections of the handbook that make birth control and family planning a matter for individual discretion, and authorize bishops to deny access to the temple if couples are preventing conception. In a word, go catholic.

    Of course, I’m not serious in the sense of suggesting that this is actually a good idea. At the same time, I am serious in the sense of suggesting that this would be the most effective way to address the perceived problem of low birth rates. I don’t know, but I suspect that the decline in birth rate has coincided with the church’s backing off on the contraception issue, and leaving it to individual discretion. Again, I think that was probably the right move, but if we are really convinced that low birth rates are a problem, that is the way to fix it.

  56. Britt @ 7:22 a.m., thank you for that wonderful and practical comment.

  57. I’m surprised it’s not satire.

    As the mother of three daughters, with pressure coming from both my parents and my husband’s parents, this post is a little frustrating to me. How many children you have, or don’t have, is no one’s business. I am tired of family pressure. Add that to the pressure from some ward members and it’s downright infuriating.

    I grew up in a house with five kids. But, my dad seriously did not like kids. At all. He never played with us, yelled at us constantly, and tried to make sure he controlled every aspect of our lives. (I was not allowed to get up and use the bathroom at night in case it woke him up and ruined his precious sleep. Not kidding. I wish I had peed my bed every night just to make a point.) I don’t think he wanted kids. But he felt obligated to have them. I have asked myself many times why on earth did he have so many? Why? I really think it’s because it’s an outward sign of “righteousness.” Or at least he thought it was.

    Even now, with teaching and lessons at church, we are pressured into having lots of kids young. One of my good friends recently confided in me that she thought that having children was not really a choice. She did it because that’s what she was supposed to without really realizing what that entailed.

    I think that there are fewer children these days, but that these children are all (or mostly, especially in middle and upper class educated families) wanted, not being had out of obligation. Or because there was not birth control. Or because we need more people to work on the farm. What happens if the prophet commands everyone to have one more child and it pushes the family over the edge? What if they can’t handle it, emotionally, financially or otherwise? What if the mom dies in labor? Who’s fault would it be? I’m all about having the number of children you can handle. Coming from an abusive home, I am trying to break the abusive cycle. I don’t want to be like my parents. I want to be better. And at three, I’m at my breaking point. Add another and I don’t think I’ll be who I want to be. It would be too hard.

  58. John Mansfield says:

    Ridicule anyone who speaks of owning a dog in parent-child terms, and mock “I love my granddogs” bumper stickers when given the opportunity.

  59. John, such is the path of the righteous. Do those bumper stickers actually exist? If so I’m buying one for you.

  60. Jack Hughes says:

    When GAs suggest things like this (having more kids, etc.), it just makes them seem more out of step with the reality of raising families in the present day. Keep in mind they represent a privileged point of view, as well as a different time in history; their working years were financially successful, they lived in relative prosperity, kept their wives at home, and probably never handled a dirty diaper in their lives.

  61. MikeInWeHo says:

    What makes declining birthrates a bona fide concern to you, Steve? Are speaking strictly from a religious perspective?

  62. Get rid of garments. Problem solved.

  63. Jack Hughes says:

    Another unfortunate consequence of such conference talks–and a potential downside to any of the proposed church-sponsored “fertility programs”–is that the obedient, rank-and-file members (for whom the thinking is done when the prophet speaks) will take these messages to heart and start reproducing recklessly. Exactly the people who should NOT be having more kids will be having more and more. Soon enough, they will be relying on welfare (church and state) to take care of their kids, which does not sit well with me as a tax/tithepayer. Rather than get into a huff about falling birth rates, the brethren would do well to preach economic and emotional sustainability in family planning.

  64. Kanderson says:

    Well, Since steve commented this is not satire . . . hmm. I’ll try a more serious approach:

    I’ve been diagnosed with unexplained infertility. I’m pretty sure Mormon culture already has enough baby-making pressure as it is, IMHO. What would help is if the church actually used it’s persuasive powers to help enact legislation that exists in other countries that helps support and uplift the family, such as the changes Elder Cook’s workplace mentioned in his talk in October.
    Other countries have longer and better maternity/paternity leave, better flextime policies, better healthcare and childcare policies, shorter working days and working weeks, more vacation time, etc. Those certainly would make raising a family easier and have parents more able to commit to more children. Just read an article today about how universal childcare provided by the Lanham Act of 1940 increased parental employment and child well-being.

    The world is an entirely different world than it was when I was growing up. My mother had 7 children and teases me that I would never be able to raise that many kids as well as she did (apparently I’m a bit high strung). BUT most of the days I remember growing up we left in the morning to play and didn’t come home until dinner time. She hardly knew where we were or what we were doing. If I raised 7 kids like that today CPS would be called. So the act of raising 6 children is an entirely different feat of strength today than it was 30 years ago. And it’s time people start realizing it.

  65. Obviously the solution is to reinstate polygamy. There are thousands of fertile female YSA and single adults whose wombs are vacant because they haven’t been able to find husbands.

  66. You never go full-Catholic!

  67. Probably can’t have Judeo-Christian without the Zoroastrians or the Greeks (or X) either. I think this is something only Americans say, but that may be because Europeans are anti-Semitic scum, I guess. (There are some Euros who shouldn’t be procreating. Like the Italians.)

  68. I’d make another straw-man argument, but too many of the previous commenters have already used up all the straw, so I’m left, like the ancient Hebrews, trying to make brickbats without straw.

  69. in the eternal perspective, what difference does it make if the birth rate in LDS homes is high or low? everyone gets a chance to accept/reject regardless of their birth.. and is the needle really going to move much with a higher birthrate? Doubt it.

    IMO, some of the concern is lower birthrate = fewer tithing members = less COB fundage

  70. The Italians are possibly the only ones in Europe that should be procreating. D**n if we don’t look good!

  71. Elouise Bell says:

    About 30 years ago, I heard a general authority respond to a question about over-population and the danger of taxing the Earth’s ability to support ever-increasing populations by saying, good-naturedly and soothingly, “Why, we could give every family in the entire world a whole acre of land in Montana, Wyoming, and the Dakotas alone and still have room.” I was startled. I had a vivid picture of an Italian family, or a Sudanese family out in the high prairies, on their own little acre–minus highways, work, community, health services, schools, art, music, dance. Or water and arable land.

    (Steve–thank you! When’s your next race?)

  72. Perfect set up for me. I’ll be showing and discussing _Saturday’s Warrior_ in class on Thursday. I had thought the conflict (“Zero population is the answer my friend”) was simplistic, but clearly I am wrong. Steve, I would like you to record this post in your best GA voice and post it on Youtube so that my class will be able to see the relevance, indeed the urgency, of the Saturday’s Warrior message.

  73. David Elliott says:

    Statistics on the number of children for members of the First Presidency and the Council of the Twelve —
    Mean: 4.9.
    Median: 4.0
    Mode: 3.0
    The younger members are having fewer and fewer children.

    http://bystudyandfaith.net/2010/04/how-many-children-do-the-apostles-have-a-statistical-exercise/

  74. Wait. They have “I love my granddogs” bumper stickers? I’m so getting one of those for my mom. Thanks for the tip, John. I knew I read BCC for a reason. :)

  75. When 7 of the 15 First Presidency/12 have two or three children, Elder Oaks’ admonition to have more children seems to be aimed just as much at his colleagues as the rest of us (except for the fact that their spouses are all past child-bearing age).

    My grandparents and my wife’s grandparents had lots of kids–7, 6, 8, 9. Our parents, the same age as many of the younger members of the 12, had several kids–5, 4 (more than most of the younger members of the 12). We’ll probably have 3.

    I had the (mis)fortune to take a Religion class at BYU from a religion professor who more recently made some unfortunate comments to a reporter regarding race. He was a true product of the CES system. He stated once in class that there were plenty of resources on this planet for additional population growth. One of the students mentioned that if everyone on this planet used the same amount of resources the average American used, the earth would very quickly run out of resources. Unsurprisingly, this professor disagreed and was unwilling to engage the issue other than just dismissing it.

  76. From Malthus to Paul Ehrlich to Paul Roberts, those who predict that the world will run out of resources (at whatever rate) have proved over and over again to be wrong. And even in the case of those resources that seem most scarce, people find ways to adapt. An article in the New York Times this week noted that water consumption in Arizona is the same now as it was in 1955, despite a twelve-fold increase in population. And I don’t think anyone would argue that Arizonans are worse off economically than they were in 1955.

    So, though I hate to be on the same side of any argument with that professor, and predictions about the future are notoriously subject to error, I suspect that his statement was closer to the truth. And the student’s assertion, though it might be correct (use of resources at American rates would quickly exhaust all), will never occur, since even wasteful Americans will change their consumption habits as resources become scarce.

  77. I don’t care if this is satire or not, but this is just cruel to people who struggle with infertility. After just experiencing another miscarriage, I am so sick of Mormons making jokes or even having talks related to fertility. It isn’t funny, it is hurtful to some of us who cannot have children. Congrats to all of you born without medical issues! You clearly are more righteous than I am.

  78. Christian J says:

    even wasteful Americans will change their consumption habits as resources become scarce.

    Mark, If by scarce, you mean slashed/burned/dried up/ravaged. That’s not a straw man, but the reality of how global capitalism works. Sure, I own first world electronics, but let’s not be blind to the methods that delivered them.

  79. The straw men had strutted and fretted their hour on the stage before the topic of resource depletion came on.

  80. Just want to say that if you only have time to read one comment, make it britt @ January 6, 2014 at 7:22 am Really insightful stuff.

    As for Elder Oaks’ talk, I did not get the feeling that he was doing anything more than reaffirming the long-held value that we have for birth as an essential part of the plan of salvation.

    I am sure that for folks in the intermountain west, where this has been woven into local culture, this is nothing new and rather ho-hum. But that affirmation is a big deal in other places.

    And after all, recommendations to have no children (or certainly not more than one!) is a pathway to equality suggested by some feminist thinkers from Simone de Beauvoir’s The Second Sex to Linda Hirshman’s Get to Work. It would be easier to dismiss such philosophy as being “out there” and not mainstream if the Hirshman book had not been selected as the “One Book,” by some college campuses, required reading for all incoming students that year.

    Elder Oaks affirmation comes across as a clear alternative voice to someone used to listening to those anti-child views.

    When I was pregnant with my fourth at age 35, I didn’t experience criticism from those outside the church, but rather sympathy. Folks assumed that I had gone off the pill and accidentally gotten pregnant, which happens. But in fact, we had felt that another was waiting to come to our family, and we worked very hard for years to get to a place where we could afford to have another. It was hard to be joyful when everyone else was so sorry for me.

  81. Yes, Britt’s comment was great.

    In Britain there has been an increase in birthrate over the last decade, resulting in a shortage of both midwives and primary school places.
    Both my parents had only one sibling each (but that was likely due to physical health issues on the part of their mothers). My parents are converts, and I am the eldest of their 7 children. They did struggle financially, and I was aware of that from a young age, though my sister only 15 months younger was oblivious to the difficulties. So picking up on that kind of thing may in part be down to the personality of the child. It was very unusual to have so many siblings; my peers were very unkind about it, and would comment about parents. My husband has 2 siblings, and he and I have 2 children, so we just replaced outselves I guess. However between us we have 31 nieces and nephews, so as a whole our extended families have certainly done their bit (my sister has 5, one of my brothers 6 and another 7, one of my husbands brothers has 4).

  82. I think that sometimes the leadership in our church is guilty of painting things with too flowery a brush, so when the reality hits the membership they are kind of surprised by it. I think this can be directly related to having children. As a father of four, I can say that in my experience having children is hard. It is extremely rewarding, produces incredible feelings of joy during its best moments, and is the most important thing I will ever do, but there are times I wonder why I ever did it. Having a wife who does not work outside of the home and is constantly tired and worn out does not make it easier. I think if the brethren got up and told the truth that having kids is hard work, but ultimately rewarding, people might have an easier time anticipating what having children is like. This might lead to better informed decisions about having children, and not this shock when you get the baby handed to you when leaving the hospital and then wondering what the hell you were thinking when get no sleep the first night home.

  83. Good grief.

  84. “I think if the brethren got up and told the truth that having kids is hard work, but ultimately rewarding.”

    That sounds like the central message I’ve heard from the pulpit all my life.

  85. My suggestions include, but are not limited to:

    1 – Give women a two year “no questions asked” hiatus from any church job for each child she can produce. Male children earn her a 3 year hiatus.

    2 – Stop teaching YM lessons about education and future goals–unless those goals are limited to marriage and motherhood.

    3 – If a couple can some produce twins, they are exempt from tithing until the twins reach age 21.

    4 – Go back to the practice of women belonging to men. Once women began to think they could do what was best for them, the birth rate plummeted! Taking away the right to vote would be a good first step here.

    5 – Add a new question to the temple recommend interview for all couples under age 45. “Do you abstain from using birth control of any kind, including the rhythm method?”

    Those are just a start. I’m sure others can add to this very important list.

  86. Bones: I think the current youth curriculum already has #2 covered.

  87. I stand corrected – I was referring to the YW curriculum, not the YM. Carry on.

  88. Peter LLC says:

    An article in the New York Times this week noted that water consumption in Arizona is the same now as it was in 1955, despite a twelve-fold increase in population. And I don’t think anyone would argue that Arizonans are worse off economically than they were in 1955.”

    Well, I hope you’re hedging your bets: “Should Mead continue to fall, Arizona would lose more than half of its Colorado River water before California lost so much as a drop.”

  89. Naismith,

    I actually agree with you on Brit’s comment being great. Just wanted to agree with you on something!

    I think you totally take Hirshman as way more representative of modern feminism than she is. Her retro second wave radicalism is largely panned by most modern feminists though her strong form provocation is not seen without value in spots, ie the call for men to actually step up to family responsibilities. Here is a pretty representative view of what your mainstream feminist thinks of Hirshman’s book. http://www.slate.com/articles/life/family/2006/06/understanding_betty_friedan.html

    As to the argument that its selection as the One Book by a couple of colleges I don’t think that means anything. I can easily see them choosing a polemic like this as a way to encourage debate and discussion as well as analyze the fallibility in extreme arguments or contrast in a bright way the waves of feminism. There is no neo-second wave feminism looking to degrade motherhood crashing down on our society.

  90. I would not claim to know whether Hirshman’s ideas are “representative of modern feminism” or not, and that’s beside the point. Clearly there have been many voices calling for limiting childbearing as a path to equality for women (I could list far more than the two I mentioned). But apparently those ideas, whatever the source or label applied to them, have some traction because I cannot even count how many young colleagues have recited the no-more-than-one-child dogma as we chat about our families.

    And in the two college settings where I am employed and served on an advisory committee, I have only seen Hirshman hailed as a wise example. At the university some of my children attended, I was horrified when the otherwise-wonderful counseling folks mentioned in a presentation that liberal arts majors make more money than nursing majors. I don’t doubt that their figures are correct, for those employed full-time. But that slide presented an incomplete picture since nursing offers many great advantages for part-time employment during childbearing years and easy on-ramping thereafter. The advisement folks insisted that this should not be a consideration since women should not be taking time away from their career.

    So while indeed there may be no organized movement to discourage motherhood, there are definitely forces in that direction, at least in some places. Some of the conversations with younger women are about their desire to have more than one child, but feeling that they will be risking too much if they go against conventional (Hirshmanesque) wisdom.

  91. Meldrum the Less says:

    Have any of you ever wandered far (allegorically) from the glittering halls of City Creek and shopped down at Walmart’s or Sam’s Club on the wrong side of Salt lake in the summer heat when you can spot the Mormons by their garment lines? Do you really want those people raising any more children that they have already brought into existence than the bands of roving warthogs destroying everything in their paths?

    The world (and especially the LDS church) does not need more poorly raised children. In my 11 years serving in the nursery I observed that most LDS parents have their hands full with the children already under their care. Some would benefit from having fewer or being a bit more mature. Rarely did I see a family that obviously could handle more children except when mothers were limited by reproductive health problems. Most of us are already doing what we have been admonished by our leaders. The very few who have the means and selfishly refuse to be parents are generally doing those unborn children a favor by opting out of being their parents.

    Exerpt in a Christmas letter from a wealthy couple without children (by choice) following a few hours visit of their nieces and nephews;

    No, Megan! No, Matthew! No, Allie! No, Carl!
    Stop, Suzie! Stop, Emmie! Stop, Jeremy! Stop, Paul!
    Don’t climb the rails. Don’t color the walls.
    Now dash away. Go away. Stay away, all.

    Many are aware that literally hundreds of thousands of children are not blessed with suitable parents and are eligible to be adopted. Most of them are older than 3 and often of different ethnic backgrounds. Many have a variety of emotional and intellectual disabilities. Every young mother knows that what happens to their children during those first few years is critical. For many of these children it didn’t happen, or worse they were severely damaged. A relative who is a social worker claims that less than 5% of children not adopted by about age 3 ever attend college. Are we Mormons willing to take on more of this challenge and attempt to make a difference in at least some of their lives? (http://www.adoptionagencyratings.com/lds-family-services.htm)

    I think the root of the problem is that for a variety of reasons 30 to 40% of our young people are not getting married. They continue to live the LOC and hence don’t have many children. Parenting is difficult enough in contemporary society both financially and social/emotionally. Children require much time to achieve the balance between discipline and compassion. Increasing this burden on those already parenting is not a wise solution. Bringing more people into the parenting pool is a better way. Changing the dating culture in the LDS people into more healthy and effective avenues would help and it could start at BYU.

    I have noticed that other churches often offer more elaborate and better parenting classes and more support for women raising children than we do. I am told that only a third of our boys serve missions and no more than two thirds of the girls of similar age stay in the church. Perhaps we could do better at “retention” of the children currently under our care. The goal of the YM/YW program needs to be lifted beyond producing missionaries for the church to developing broadly capable adults desirous of family life. I don’t think more children raised Mormon but with anger and bitterness from too much control and narrow expectations by harried parents are going to help us.

  92. it's a series of tubes says:

    Bringing more people into the parenting pool is a better way.

    Meldrum, I know you and I often disagree, so I wanted to highlight your comment here because I think it is wise and insightful.

  93. Meldrum the Less says:

    Thanks tubes. I appreciate that.

    And it wouldn’t be any fun for me if I didn’t find those who disagree with me on some points. I like to be contradicted. I always learn something from it. So thanks for all the other times when we disagree.

  94. Unlike among the general US population (and likely other developed nations), in the LDS demographic the birthrate actually goes up for college-educated women. So a logical remedy to the “problem” would be to up the ratio of female students at BYU (and to try to do something to combat their lower graduation rates).

  95. An article in the New York Times this week noted that water consumption in Arizona is the same now as it was in 1955, despite a twelve-fold increase in population. And I don’t think anyone would argue that Arizonans are worse off economically than they were in 1955.”

    Well, I hope you’re hedging your bets: “Should Mead continue to fall, Arizona would lose more than half of its Colorado River water before California lost so much as a drop.”

    First, I live more than 2,000 miles from Arizona. Is that a sufficient hedging? And, second, the basic point still stands. Human beings are adaptable creatures, and they’ll figure out a way to deal with less water in Arizona. They’ll either figure out how to maintain life in Arizona with less water, have a water war with California, or move, or die out. The Anazasi did, and one day all those Phonicians and Mesans and Tucsonians (or whatever they’re called) will figure out that it’s too hot and dry and they’ll all move elsewhere.

  96. I just had a thought today re: Perpetual Babymaking Fund. As someone with diagnosed infertility: I demand access to said funds! My IVF daughter cost $20,000 from start to finish (with no insurance to cover a dime until I was pregnant). Domestic/International adoptions range from $15,000-$30,000+. Oh yes, the masses of us could deplete said fund much faster than donations would come in :-) !

    ps LDS social services doesn’t count – yes there’s a subsidy, but you have to find your own baby (and they tell you that in not so many words). The thousands of couples in the system compared to the trickle of babies placed (because LDS grandmas help raise those babies now) removes this from consideration.

  97. Great article! Perhaps the perpetual baby making fund can come in the form of a tithing refund. You pay your tithing and at settlement if you can demonstrate you have children, if you are paying for expensive adoption or infertility treatments, you can convince your bishop you know how to get pregnant and you are trying, or you can demonstrate that you want or love children very much (singles included here)–you get a refund, perhaps a full refund. Can I get a yeah?
    Oh, and maybe if we made Primary a priesthood calling, we could see some changes in attitude toward children. However, if this actually happened I predict it wouldn’t be long before women would be ordained.
    This article begs me to send you to a TED talk. Go to the TED playlists, select the one called “Sex: Can We Talk?” Watch them all, but watch #7 first. Hans Rosling talks about the relationship between religion and babies. Fascinating!

    http://www.ted.com/playlists/6/sex_can_we_talk.html

  98. decline to state says:

    you can see from the annual statistical report that the church birthrate has been cut in half since the 1970s. just look at baptized children of record.

  99. You know what decreases birth rates? Unhappy marriages and divorces. You know what increases unhappy marriages and divorces? People who marry too young and feel pressure to start families that they have neither the financial or emotion means to support. Harping about the birth rate makes the church sound like a Provo based MLM that is worried about their customer/cash supply chain. They should be less interested in the total number of births, and more interested in the quality of the marriages and families in the church. And one way they could improve both of those things is to stop pushing immature teenagers to marry and procreate.

  100. That’s a good sentiment, Melissa, but it’s not borne out by the facts. Fertility rates are highest amongst groups that marry young. The characterization of the Church as an MLM in terms of getting people married is a bit silly – there’s far, far more discussion out there from church leaders about improving the quality of marriages and families than there is about improving fertility rates.

  101. melodynew says:

    Three was my limit. And God saw that is was good.

    Do we (and Elder Oaks) seriously believe God can only do His work if we crank out babies at a higher rate? (actually, after reading the address, I still didn’t quite get what the central point was.) Granted, there is a heaven-full of spirits waiting for bodies, right? And we want all our sisters and brothers to get a mortal coil, right? And no one but us – the ones with the tools to make that happen – can make that happen. (except God made it happen without those tools in the case of Mary and baby Jesus, but for the rest of us, it’s down to “business time” – thank you, Cynthia) But, I don’t believe anything earth-shattering hangs in the balance based on the of volume of souls or the speed or rate at which we bring them from there to here. And, seriously, preaching about it in general conference? No. Just stop it. No.

    Personally, I think birthrates are declining because women can say “No” for the first time in the history of the planet, in ways they (we) never could before. And, thankfully, men are respecting and supporting that “No.” Thank God for No.

    If you want to talk about giving life to something, let’s talk about this poem: http://www.poetryfoundation.org/poem/245906

    Last lines of “Why Some Girls Love Horses” by Paisley Rekdal

    “. . . I loved what was not slave or instinct, that when you turn to me
    it is a choice, it is always a choice to imagine pleasure
    might be blended, one warmth
    bleeding into another as the future
    bleeds into the past, more light, more light,
    your hand against my shoulder, the image
    of the one who taught me disobedience
    is the first right of being alive.”

    No.

  102. Awesome.

  103. I agree with most of this post. When we had our first child we moved to a very large city, with a lot of LDS people, therefore wards were very large. I could not get girls from the ward as sitters because no one knew us and we were not their friends – I was actually told this. It was very difficult to make friends in the ward because of cliques (reminded me of high school), people always moving in and out, and just plain “Holier Than Thou” attitudes of most people because of where me and my family lived. I had a Primary kid from the class I taught tell me I lived in a dump. I had help from my non LDS friends, and never any supppport from church. There is so much about church that needs to change and be fixed.
    I had three kids, one passed away as a very young child. I had high risk pregnancies and infertility. I had three miscarriages (six total pregnancies). We did not have finances to adopt. The passing of our child caused a financial catastrophe for us that we never recovered from. One never recovers emotionally from losing a child. I had really insensitive remarks from ward members when my child passed away. I was 34 when my last child was born.
    Today the world is very different for anyone of child bearing age. The economy is still stagnant, only part time is offered anymore, no benefits, wages have not kept up with inflation/cost of living (nothing new), jobs hard to find, those with any education can not find or get jobs, and on and on. It seems the SLC leaders are out of touch, once again. Thank goodness my testimony is based on Doctrine, and not on the church.

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