Darrow Miller and Friends

Is Demographic Winter Coming?

Don’t look now, but children may be on the way to endangered species status.

Worldwide, there are 6 million fewer children, 6 and under, today, than there were in 1990. If present trends continue, the United Nations estimates that by 2050 there will be 248 million fewer children in the world than there are now.

The Pew Research Center reports that “Nearly one-in-five American women ends her childbearing years without having borne a child, compared with one-in-ten in the 1970s.”

There was a time when young couples were encouraged (subtly or otherwise) to start having kids shortly after marriage. Most people accepted the notion that children are the future, that procreation was one of the main reasons God invented marriage. Having kids was cool.

What has happened? In a word, worldview creep. The drop in birthrates is the natural fruit of a change in attitudes about the value of children, attitudes that are the harvest of atheistic humanism. Man is an animal; the fittest survive, babies are disposable. From there it’s not far to “children are unimportant.” When abortion became legal in 1973, it meant that nothing, including children, should be allowed to interfere with one’s happiness.

Such is the heart of fallen man, and thus is set in motion the long-term effects on the very survival of humans.

The term “demographic winter” has been coined to capture the frightening effects of the decline in global birth rates. If one is willing to temporarily suspend skepticism (doomsday prognostications don’t have the most stellar track record)  he will find a measure of sobriety in the arguments. Here’s how demographer Philip Longman, author of “The Empty Cradle: How Falling Birthrates Threaten World Prosperity” puts it, “The ongoing global decline in human birthrates is the single most powerful force affecting the fate of nations and the future of society in the 21st. century.”

In 1968, Paul Erlich wrote The Population Bomb and a new phobia was born. Forty-two years hence we have not recovered from the false alarm, Christians included. Witness the testimony of a couple of academicians. Or this report from Killing a Church by Mark Tooley,  … Mainline Protestants … have notoriously low birth rates. The current Episcopal Presiding Bishop even celebrated this demographic collapse, claiming that Episcopalians were protecting the planet by abstaining from children.

Notwithstanding some regional exceptions, the specter has become, not too many, but too few, children. Even the United Nations recognizes that during this century, the world’s population will peak and start down. The UN Population Division says we could achieve below-replacement fertility by 2030.

A society in which the typical child has no siblings, cousins, aunts or uncles is not far away for many European countries. Today 59 countries with 44% of world’s population are below maintenance fertility.

God designed us for growth (Genesis 1:22). Healthy economies and societies are built on growth. Without a growing population, a free society like America could never have been conceived. Too many older people plus too few young workers equals economic collapse, impoverishment and suffering. Another word for it: death.

Which evokes Proverbs 8:36, “… all who hate me love death” In a forthcoming book, Darrow Miller will muster an argument about what he calls the “Great Liberal Death Wish” from Malcolm Muggeridge’s book of the same title.  He writes, “Atheists will watch their nation and civilization die rather than admit their assumptions are wrong or their grand vision only an illusion.”

Two narratives confront us: God loves life and ordains procreation vs. The planet deserves protection from people

Which story will prevail?

– Gary Brumbelow

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Gary is the Disciple Nations Alliance editorial manager. He manages Darrow Miller and Friends and serves as editor and co-writer on various book projects. For eight years Gary served as a cross-cultural church planting missionary among First Nations people of Canada. His career also includes 14 years as executive director of InterAct Ministries, an Oregon-based church-planting organization in Canada, Alaska, and Siberia. Gary is a graduate of Grace University, earned an MA from Wheaton College and a Graduate Studies Diploma from Western Seminary. He lives near Portland, Oregon with his wife, Valerie. They have two married sons and twelve grandchildren. In addition to his work with the DNA, Gary serves as the pastor of Troutdale Community Church.


  1. Steven Johnson

    August 9, 2010 - 4:46 pm

    What has happened? People, made in the image of God, using their God-given brains, figured out the reality of carrying capacity, just as they figured out many other things like penicillin, and became aware of the pressures of today’s population levels on the natural resources and systems which sustain us. A full earth had to arrive at some point–it’s a question of mathematics–and there is nothing in Genesis 1 to suggest that can never be the case. “Full,” in the sense that we cannot keep adding without limit without setting ourselves up for traumatic downsizing due to disease, starvation, war, etc, not to mention harm to the rest of the creation, e.g., the massive species extinction rates that are happening right now. So why not avail ourselves of these providential insights and do the just and humane thing, which is reduce population growth comfortably and humanely?

    Children without siblings, oh my! How about children in churches that functioned as the early Jesus communities, where they treated one another as brothers and sisters, that is, extending to their fellow Jesus followers the generalized reciprocity that they had always practiced within their flesh-and-blood extended families, so that every child would have no lack of peers and loving guides and caregivers?

    Yes, on the way down there will be more old than young, and that represents a challenge economically and socially. But these difficulties are nothing compared to the calamity in store for us (and already happening via, e.g., the loss of water supplies, arable land, etc. due to the human-induced climate change that 97% of climate scientists believe is happening). The horrendously higher than natural rate of species extinction that we are causing should be the canary in the coal mine that we should listen to.

    You may say that I do not value human life, that I have been seduced by a worldview that says we are nothing more than animals. On the contrary, it is people like Bill McKibben who are DEMONSTRATING that people are made in the image of God, by studying the creation and seeking to take steps to protect it and ensure tolerable and humane outcomes. Mere animals are like buffalo that can be herded off the cliff, whereas humans have both the rational capacity as well as moral responsibility to assess situations in order to protect human life and care for the creation. I must admit, there are many people today who are giving little evidence of functioning at a more exalted level than buffalo.

  2. Steven Johnson

    August 9, 2010 - 4:49 pm

    …and how sad to see professional defenders of “the Christian worldview” among them.

  3. Dennis Warren

    August 13, 2010 - 5:23 pm

    To my way of thinking, the operative thing has not so much been how many people live on this planet, but rather what is it that the people who do live here, do.

    I don’t have much trouble envisioning a scenario where half the people cause twice as much harm to the planet .

    Also, I can envision a world where twice as many people take even better care of what we are responsible to steward.


  4. Devon Mackey

    August 17, 2010 - 4:00 pm

    As always, I greatly enjoy your articles. As the father of (soon to be) 6, I know first hand about the attitudes associated with those who have succumbed to the “worldview creep” as you stated above. My wife and I are constantly looked at in disdain for our “apparent inability to control ourselves” or our “lack of concern for the sustainability of the earth”.

    The Bible is quite clear that we have been mandated to multiply and fill the earth with our offspring. This is not only meant to be done in a spiritual way through evangelism and discipleship, but also through the physical procreation of our species.

    In fact, it is not a coincidence that in the “Cultural Mandate” in Genesis 1:28 in which God charges us with the task of being stewards of the earth, he commands us to “be fruitful and multiply”.

    Unfortunately, many believers miss the fact that God’s whole plan is fill the earth with his glory (Num 14:21; Hab. 2:14). Since we (believers) are now the temple in which He and His glory dwells (Eph 3), it is through the growth of His body, a living tabernacle, that He is accomplishing His ultimate plans for the earth.

    The OT is filled with passages that discuss the importance of passing down God’s truth from generation to generation. Certainly I am not stating that simply because someone is the offspring of a believer that they are filled with the Spirit of God, but it seems pretty clear that children who grow up in a Christian home tend to trust in Christ more than children from non-Christian homes. As Christian parents, our job is to raise up the next generation of disciplemakers whether they are in or outside of our home. However, simply considering time spent, I have a greater chance of making an impact in the lives of my own children than I do with most of the people that I come in contact with.

    This process of discipling them – teaching them to be whole (everything Christ is calling them to be) – includes teaching them to care for the earth.

    Besides, the American and humanistic ideals of consumerism, excess, and materialism have more to do with what is happening to the sustainability of the environment and human life than with the size of one’s family.

    Anyway, I digress… I get a little carried away when I hear the argument that you cannot have large families and protect the enviroment at the same time. Now don’t get me wrong, I am little weirded out by the Duggers too, but I am actually finding that many people within the church are starting to have larger families (4 or more children). I would not be surprised to see another Baby Boom coming in the near future if it isn’t here already.

    Anyways…those are just my thoughts….

    Thanks again for all you do…