Land of Few Babies

A lot has been written about China’s one-child-policy, a draconian government edict that has, as entirely anticipated decades ago by wise people (like my husband), led to a demographic crisis. First, China is about to have the oldest population in the industrialized world. Second, there are shortly going to be over twenty million single men desperately seeking wives they can’t find because they were never born. National and international implications notwithstanding, in an article on the subject in the Wall Street Journal, one simple idea jumped out at me.

It seems that when Beijing changed its policy in 2016 to allow a second child, it did not result in a rash of new babies. One person quoted said that even if all restrictions on family size were lifted, “China will learn what many other countries have learned—that it is much more difficult to get people to have more babies,” (than the other way around).

What struck me is how our complex world has transformed what used to be a fact of life – married couples have children – into a controversy. Scientific advances allow men and women both to avoid pregnancy without embracing celibacy and to imagine, often wrongly, that they can have pregnancy on demand. Social trends present children both as parental trophies and as impediments to living a fulfilling life. Having children, like marriage itself, is no longer a normal step on the road of life.

Government interference in family life takes many forms. In China, it was harnessed to lower the birth rate, a fact the government may now be ruing. In Nazi Germany and Stalinist Russia having children was seen as doing one’s civic duty by producing future soldiers. Both Hitler and Stalin awarded  medals to mothers of large families. In the United States, misguided governmental policies encourage having children outside of marriage.

What, for centuries, had been the natural order of things has ceased to be so. While health and economic issues may have presented problems with having unlimited-sized families, children generally used to be seen as expected, needed and positive additions in a married couple’s life.

Today, manipulation of the natural order is the norm, though not without consequences as China and the rest of the world are discovering. Whether the culture is encouraging or discouraging pregnancy, providing government support to have or not have babies, or socially lauding or stigmatizing marriage and family, one of the most intimate of activities is being directed by public voices.

Outside of religious communities, large families are increasingly rare. There is little reason to assume that without family or cultural ties, unrelated citizens will, economically, emotionally and physically, care for the generation that preceded it. Looking at China’s looming problems head on may not be pleasant, but it is instructive.

18 thoughts on “Land of Few Babies”

  1. One of the more interesting paradoxes that has also occurred in China is the birth / growth of the feminist movement. This has created a generation of women who chose not to marry at the age considered appropriate, and who now wish to marry but are not perceived as good choices. As in most cultures, a man wishes to marry a woman who can bear and raise a child, and the liberated females are thought to be “too old.” So, while there aren’t enough 20-something women available to marry, there are 35+ women who are desperate to be married.

  2. I am a happy father of 13…yes from one wife! I could tell many stories of how friends, family and acqauintences reacted to this decision. Some good, some bad. Nevertheless, my wife and I stuck to our conviction to have a large family. We did not base this decision on money, house size, etc. We had 5 children by the time I finished graduate school in civil engineering, because our philosophy was that life starts now, not when its convenient or affordable. We fully recognize that this lifestyle is not for everyone, but have thoroughly enjoyed it – through the easy times and the hard times.

    1. Isn’t it funny (actually sad) how many people would understand the number of children you have, Eli, if there were divorces and remarriages involved? I’m sure your family is an asset to your neighborhood, country and the world at large.

  3. As usual, A thought-provoking and brilliant article!
    What I have never been able to come to grips with is the “worlds” fascination with killing children. As you know, this is nothing new. Baal worship is nothing new. Requiring the blood of your children to satisfy self-interest in one form or another.
    This is anathema in the Jewish mindset and later the Judeo-Christian mindset.
    I have real problems with the world that tells me I need to “pass this law for the children” while at the same time providing ways to kill off thousands of children a day!
    God Bless you!

    1. Ed, you hit a pet peeve of mine as well! The “for the children” mentality grates badly coming from those who don’t actually show any consistency on that topic.

  4. Roger Lauricella

    Susan: A very good discussion of how the world changes what God meant for families and how the outcomes usually are not good. As Jim stated above my Chinese wife (from Taiwan) and I were blessed with two adopted Children from China; A daughter adopted in May of 94 (Mother’s Day weekend) who is now 25 and a Son (yes a boy from China) adopted in December of 95 (he is now 23). Even more interesting is that my Daugher is married to another China Adoptee (also 25) who was adopted from China at age 10; They met at a Church retreat 3 years ago and it was Love at first site. At the wedding last November including my Daughter her husband and my son there were 11 adoptees from China in attendance (6 young men and 5 young women).

    1. Roger, what a community you have been part of building! May you have much joy from your family.

    1. Oh no, Kristin. We have an obligation to stay around and influence as much as we can.

  5. Dear Rabbi Daniel, I used to hear you on Talk-Show radio, may be it was 560AM SF, but I have no idea nowadays where to listen to you anymore.

    I LOVED your “shows”! They were very intriguing and informative at the same time. Please, if you find a minute, email me back the list of SF Bay-Area radio stations that I might find you on. TV is non-existent to me so that TV shows are irrelevant. (I threw my TV out the window once I figured that it’s 99% Anti-American, and Anti-Semitic propaganda.)

    Thank you very much

    1. Rabbi Daniel Lapin

      Dear Yair–
      Yes, it was KSFO 560AM San Francisco for a few years and before that, KVI 570 Seattle. Nowadays, easy to hear me every week at Please let me know how you are enjoying it. No callers of course which I do miss but on other hand, more time for substance.

  6. China’s loss is our gain. Like many others we know, we were blessed to adopt our daughter when she was ten months old (she is now 20yrs old). When well-meaning people remark about how awful it is that she was abandoned we cringe, thinking of the alternative her biological parents could have resorted to. We are so thankful to them for their courage and love for their child.

    1. In our world, Jim, putting a bearing and putting a child up for adoption is a courageous and loving thing to do.

  7. George Austin

    First, I must say I love your articles.

    Second, it seems so obvious to me – as someone who seeks to do God’s will – that the problem overall and in every area is mankind’s rejection of God’s plan for man, woman, and marriage. There is no hope it will get better until we turn to Him as the source of wisdom.

    We haven’t learned a thing since the Garden of Eden it seems.

  8. No mistake, China has long been overpopulated, resulting in hardship to its poor residents, and also very likely contributing to China becoming a nursery breeding ground for human disease. That said, this is no excuse to truncate the birth rate by artificial socialist decree. Any artificial limits on human life, coupled with a cultural bias disfavoring female babies, will have protracted generational consequences. China’s problems are indeed instructive. They have sown the seeds of their ultimate destruction, for tampering with the programmed reproductive impulse in man cannot succeed. Quoth King Théoden in Lord of the Rings: ‘Oft evil will shall evil mar.’

    Painfully I am reminded of young couples who in the 1970’s opted to forego producing children because of the ‘prescient prophets’ of Global Catastrophe: (1) The world’s environment will self-destruct, or (2) The coming ice age will kill us all, or (3) The inexorable nuclear (nucular?) holocaust will render Earth inhabitable, OR (4) The Comet will strike us any moment. Strangely enough, we are all STILL HERE (well, despite normal attrition, most of us).

  9. Kirsten Van Ooyen

    Dear Mrs. Lapin,
    Your musings are tremendously thought provoking and this one was especially thought provoking. What do you see being birthed out of the #MeToo movement? The onslaught of race and sex quotas will not enhance the family one iota. Women clamoring for positions and titles while squeezing out their male counterparts will have a deleterious effect on families in which the wife stays home to raise and teach their children. What will happen to businesses that have to forgo hiring qualified men in order to avoid public castigation? I am interested in your thoughts concerning this dangerous movement.

    Thanks you for sharing your wisdom and you time,

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