Demographic Winter: The increased standard of living associated with lower fertility is short-lived. The next generation facing population decline may face lowered economic growth and lower standards of living.
We Baby Boomers rationalized having fewer kids by saying we were Saving the Earth. As luck would have it, our ecological religion of smaller families allowed us higher incomes and consumption than we could have had any other way.
But we didn’t think through the human reality of that trade-off. Smaller families, more adults living with roommates instead of with families, more loneliness.
“Mrs. Morse, you have two Christmas trees.”
Yes, we do. We had an artificial tree. Then we inherited another one from Rob’s mother when she died. We also inherited all her Christmas decorations. So we have two Christmas trees: one in the living room and one in the family room.
My parents raised six children in a three bedroom house. My husband and I raised two children (and sometimes two foster children) in a six bedroom house. When I was a child, we set up the (live) Christmas tree on Christmas eve, and kept it up until New Years Day. Our house was too small and cramped to give up that much room for a tree for too long. Every day with the tree was enchanted.
Too much stuff, too few people in our lives now.
What are we going to do with all this stuff? We have no one to leave it to.
“Would you like these dishes?”
Demographic Winter: in a one-child family, that one child has two parents and four grandparents to dote on him. And when he grows up, he will have two parents and four grandparents to take care of, alone.
A few years after we were married, I accumulated a set of china through a program in the grocery store. You could buy four place settings or a serving piece each week. I used them for special occasions.
Not long after that, my husband’s mother decided that I needed to be the keeper of the heirlooms. She sent me the set of china and silver that had belonged to her husband’s mother. She sent me the dessert and tea set that had belonged to her mother. All these things, she packed up from her home in Northern California, and sent them to me in Virginia. Later, we moved to Northern California ourselves. When she died, we inherited her lovely china dishes that she used every day. We normally used our plastic indestructible dishes, suitable for families with small children.
I looked at all these dishes: the kid dishes, grandma’s everyday china, paternal great grandma’s fancy china, maternal great grandma’s dessert tea set. I said to my husband,
“I’m getting rid of these dishes I bought from the grocery story years ago. We never use them. They have no sentimental value whatsoever. I’m giving them to the thrift store.”
He said, “Why not see if Michael and Amy would like them?” referring to a young couple, just starting off in life. He teaches at our local Catholic school.
I did ask. They were delighted with them. They packed them up and took them home. They told me later they Skyped with their parents on the east coast, and held up the dishes to show them.
A little less stuff, a few more people, in our lives now.
The Christmas Party
Demographic Winter: a downward population spiral may be irreversible.
We held the Ruth Institute Christmas Party at our home, for about 60 people.
No gift exchange. No video games. No TV. Some marking pens and paper, turned into greeting cards and other refrigerator artwork. One guy brought his favorite Christmas toy that he has had for 15 years, a Levitron. (It defies description: trust me.) Another guy did card tricks. The kids found our old board games that haven’t been played with since our kids went to college. The gang of kids amused themselves, playing our fifteen-year-old Payday game.
We had people of all ages at our party. College students. Newly married couples. Young couples with babies in arms. Homeschooling families with little kids, and some with bigger kids. Grandparents.
None of the age-segregation that is so common today. Kids in nursery school, and grade school and high school, being socialized by each other, and not by adults. Adults away at work all day with only other adults. Old people living alone or in nursing homes, with no young people in sight. For this one magical night, our party had the whole lifespan of humanity, represented in one room.
I don’t know how we did it. We didn’t plan it.
To tell the truth, I don’t know how these young families are doing it either. After all, the whole society conspires against couples having more than two kids any earlier than age thirty. But somehow, there they were, with their three, four, five, six and even nine children. Against all odds and cultural headwinds, the human family renews itself. The human person is meant for love, and the human body cries out to be fruitful.
A lot less stuff, a lot more people, in our lives now.
Maybe the downward population spiral isn’t irreversible after all.
Originally published in the Ruth Institute Blog. Reproduced with the permission of Dr Jennifer Roback Morse.