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What the anti-child movement can teach us about life & happiness

What exactly is “anti-natalism”? Even if you’ve never heard the word, you’ve definitely encountered the concept in recent years.

According to Oxford dictionary, anti-natalism is “the belief that it is morally wrong or unjustifiable for people to have children.” And as climate activism rises, so too does the view that having babies is, in fact, immoral and bad for the planet.

Note that this is a very specific idea: we’re not talking about people who are sadly incapable of having children due to fertility issues. We’re not talking about people who have chosen not to have children themselves as a personal lifestyle choice. We’re specifically talking about people who think having children is actually morally wrong in some way.

And in recent years, those people seem to be getting louder.

THE CLAIM

Alexandria Occasio-Cortez, a prominent US politician and promoter of the “Green New Deal,” once famously said that it is “a legitimate question” for young people to ask “Is it OK to still have children?” in light of environmental factors.

Radical climate groups like Extinction Rebellion promote movements like “BirthStrike”, where hoards of naive and idealistic young people decide not to have children in response to the alleged coming “climate breakdown and civilisation collapse.” Their tag line is “Don’t have kids – the world is burning” (Extinction Rebellion claims that this is not anti-natalist, but it effectively amounts to the same thing by any reasonable definition).

Opinion pieces have appeared in mainstream publications such as the Irish Times, alleging that “We are in the middle of a mass extinction…And we know that the biggest contribution any individual living in affluent nations can make is to not have children.” The piece claims it is “almost 20 times more important than any other choice an environmentally minded individual could make.”

We’ve even seen the laughable story of a young man who recently attempted to sue his own parents for giving birth to him without his consent.

While this is obviously a bizarre and anecdotal case, it is perhaps a microcosm of a broader trend: young people waging a moral crusade on the concept of parenthood outright.

THE REALITY

But before we all take the drastic step of running off to castrate ourselves in a fit of green ecstasy, we need to stop and ask: is all of this actually true? Is the planet buckling under the weight of too many adorable babies?

Well, not according to a 2020 Lancet study, which predicted a “jaw dropping” crash in global fertility and babies being born.

In fact, 183 out of 195 countries have birth rates below replacement levels, meaning that their populations are set to shrink going forward unless something significant changes.

The study projected that the world’s population will decline significantly in the coming decades for the first time in hundreds of years, with almost every country seeing its population shrink by the end of the century.

For example, Japan’s population is projected to fall from 128 million in 2017, to less than 53 million by the end of the century – a truly staggering collapse. Similarly, Italy is expected to see its population crash from 61 million, to just 28 million in the same time period.

Researchers say that if their projections are accurate, it will be the first time a global population decline has taken place due to a drop in fertility. According to the lead study author, the last time the global population declined was in the 14th century, largely due to the Black Plague.

“I think it’s incredibly hard to think this through and recognise how big a thing this is,” Professor Christopher Murray told the BBC when the research first came out.

“It’s extraordinary, we’ll have to reorganise societies…It will create enormous social change. It makes me worried because I have an eight-year-old daughter and I wonder what the world will be like.

“…I find people laugh it off; they can’t imagine it could be true, they think women will just decide to have more kids. If you can’t [find a solution] then eventually the species disappears, but that’s a few centuries away.”

And Murray is certainly right to worry. After all – in such a world, who works and pays tax to run a functioning society? Who takes care of the elderly? Will people ever be able to retire from work? It’s no small matter.

The population of sub-Saharan Africa is set to grow substantially, but the developed world appears set to receive the brunt of the depopulation.

Recently, it was discovered that Ireland’s birth rate collapsed during the Covid lockdown, and is now well below replacement rate. The introduction of abortion in 2019 will have further decreased the number of children being born.

Electric car entrepreneur and environmentalist Elon Musk, the world’s richest man and father of six, made headlines last year when he said that he was having more children to help “save the planet,” warning of impending demographic collapse.

“There are not enough people,” said Musk, adding that civilisation will “crumble” if people don’t start to have more children.

“I cannot emphasise this enough; there are not enough people.”

WHAT DOES IT ALL MEAN?

While climate activists might say (and believe) that the problem facing the earth is too many people, the actual numbers say that a huge drop in population will be the challenge facing future generations. And this is a pretty big thing to be wrong about.

We’ve already seen that the impact at the society-wide level can be catastrophic. But even on an individual level, we have studies like one from the Max Planck Institute for Demographic Research which found a direct correlation between children and happiness for parents over the age of 40. MPIDR demographer Mikko Myrskylä even said that “Children may be a long-term investment in happiness.”

Researchers surveyed 200,000 parents across 86 countries between 1981 and 2005, and found that from age 40 on, parents with one to three children were significantly more happy than childless couples.

In light of this evidence, it hardly seems surprising that those who follow subreddits like “r/antinatalism”, which has 151,000 followers, are also much more interested in other subreddits related to very unhappy subject matters.

For example, r/antinatalism followers are more than 14 times more likely to follow r/suicidewatch than an average Reddit user. They are 10 times more likely to follow r/depression, 9 times more likely to follow r/lonely, and 8 times more likely to follow r/bpd (bipolar disorder).

This is not to make light of this in any way, mind you – it’s terribly sad, and God bless anyone going through mental health struggles. But it just shows that, people with a hatred of parenthood, who view children as a scourge on the earth, do not tend to be the happiest campers around (as one might have guessed).

This is the same group that shares posts apparently celebrating the end of civilisation and bewailing the fact that people have to work for a living, which receive thousands of upvotes.

There’s even one popular post joking about mandatory vasectomies for all men, with many users commenting their frustration that their doctor would not perform a vasectomy because they’re too young. It stands to reason this probably isn’t the healthiest or happiest perspective one could have on life.

We all have a choice of how to live our lives – but actively promoting lifestyles which are destructive to our civilisation and damaging to individual happiness is a growing and corrosive trend which urgently needs to stop – particularly for young people’s sake.

 

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