BreakPoint: Dying Alone

America’s Demographic Future?

Can you imagine a world where old people die alone at home, and no one notices? We’re already there.

Yesterday, John Stonestreet told you about the United States’ declining fertility rate. It has dropped to 1.77 children per woman from a post-World War II high of 3.7 children per woman in the late 1950s.

To put this in perspective, that’s lower than European countries such as France, the U.K., Sweden, and Norway. And it’s not much higher than Denmark’s, whose “do it for Denmark” ad campaign was mocked by many social conservatives.

But while John told you about the numbers, I want to tell you a couple of stories that provide a glimpse of what our future might hold. Both of them take place in Japan where, as Hall of Fame football coach George Allen used to say, “the future is now.”

The first occurred about a decade ago and concerned Kokura Yukari, a student at an Elementary School in northeastern Japan. Actually, Yukari was the only student at the school.

While Yukari’s situation was unusual, the lack of school-age children in Japan is not. Between 2002 and 2013, 5,800 schools closed in Japan. Many more remain “open” only because there’s no workable alternative to keeping them open.

Between 1980 and 2015, the number of Japanese school age children dropped by almost half. Between now and 2050, the number of children under the age of fourteen is expected to drop by half. At the same time, the number of people over ninety is expected to grow to three million.

And that brings me to the second story. A recent New York Times article told readers about a generation of Japanese who are dying alone. By some estimates, 4,000 elderly Japanese die at home alone per week. The only thing that marks their passing is the smell that tips off the neighbors.

The two stories are connected. The same forces that produced schools with only one student also produced elderly people dying alone. Japan is locked in a “demographic crucible of increasing age and declining births.” The result is the “extreme isolation of elderly Japanese,” which, in turn, has spawned an entire industry that specializes in cleaning out apartments where “decomposing remains are found.”

Can this happen here? Well, it has already begun to. In 1980, there were five workers for every retiree. Today, there are less than three. By 2030, there will be two. In 2016, there were approximately 46 million Americans over 65 – by 2060, it’s estimated there will be 98 million, all of them members of the cohort dubbed “millennials.”

That would be the same cohort who aren’t having kids today.

For years, we have treated Japan’s demographic demise, if we were aware of it in the first place, as a kind of cultural eccentricity, like appointing Pikachu the electric mouse from Pokémon a cultural ambassador.

It’s not. The same “demographic crucible” is at work here: fewer children and an aging population. As a result, Americans, in the words of Bloomberg News, “face a rising risk of dying alone.”

This risk, barring an unexpected, if not miraculous, reversal, will only increase with time. By 2060, “the share of non-Hispanic whites without any living close kin [is projected to] double. The share of non-Hispanic blacks without close kin is expected to more than triple.”

Thankfully, there’s something we can do to avoid this fate: have children. And for the Church to help re-create a culture where children are seen as gifts from God and not an item to check off or keep off the bucket list.


Dying Alone: America’s Demographic Future?

As Eric reiterates, America’s falling birthrate may consign us to the fates of Japan and many Western European countries—unless we begin to have more babies. Check out the resource links below for further information and statistics.



A Generation in Japan Faces a Lonely Death
  • Norimitsu Onishi | New York Times | November 30, 2017
Fact Sheet: Aging in the United States
  • Mark Mather | Population Reference Bureau | January 2016

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  • Just One Voice

    This is more or less what I was thinking about when I commented on yesterday’s 1.77 article. Giving sincere thought to the long-term, down-stream consequences of one’s choices seems to be a disappearing skill.

    People who label kids as inconvenient, expensive, brats, little “terrorists,” and anything related, to you folks I say & ask: you were once a crying baby & rambunctious kid. Are you glad your parents chose life for you? Or do you wish they would’ve discarded you?

    Kudos, though, if you have at least thought it out and made a mindful decision to not have kids. I know at least one person on here that fits that description.

    • Scott

      “People who label kids as inconvenient, expensive, brats, little “terrorists,” and anything related, to you folks I say & ask: you were once a crying baby & rambunctious kid. Are you glad your parents chose life for you? Or do you wish they would’ve discarded you?”

      Good questions. : – )

      My kids were all those things as was I.. and yet the good FAR outweighs the bad. They are one of the greatest joys I’ll ever know in this life.

      • Just One Voice

        Couldn’t agree more!

    • Phoenix1977

      “People who label kids as inconvenient, expensive, brats, little “terrorists,” and anything related, to you folks I say & ask: you were once a crying baby & rambunctious kid. Are you glad your parents chose life for you? Or do you wish they would’ve discarded you?”
      Oh, I can live with crying babies or children being mischievous. No problem there. No, what I am talking about are 60 families in our apartment building suffering from the children of the 61st family in our building. And than I’m not talking about normal kids stuff; I’m talking about having to replace my windows a few months back because the eldest daughter was throwing bricks at them (and other people’s windows and cars) while being 7 years old. I’m talking about being woken up at 4 am by a panicking neighbor because her husband is bleeding after her youngest (not even 5 years old) attacked him with a pocket knife and she came to the nearest doctor: me. When people in our apartment building see this family anywhere in the city we take a detour because you never know what those two monsters will do. Whenever we have a celebration in our building this family is not invited due to potential property damage. And now my neighbor is pregnant with his third child. We all live in fear what kind of demon she will give birth to this time!
      Come and live in our building for a few months. After that, I guarantee, you will never ever want kids again.

      • Scott

        I know you are not a believer, but call a priest who does exorcisms… and if that doesn’t work, move.

        Seriously this family needs prayer. What are their names (first only)?

      • Just One Voice

        Oh wow! That is definitely an exception. Knife attacks? and throwing bricks at windows? Dang! Yeah I think my desire to have kids would definitely be less, if that was the norm.

        Thankfully, it is not the norm; at least where I live.

        Sounds like those parents need to take parenting 101!

        • Phoenix1977

          Or not reproduce at all.
          I have always found it strange that you need licenses and proof of ability for virtually everything in society, except for having and raising children. I know quite a few parents who would fail that exam miserably.

          • Just One Voice

            Haha, yes! I’ve always found it strange too, the need for a license, certificate, for almost everything. Seems we’re gonna need a license to buy groceries, eat food & drink water soon enough. But yeah, where’s the parenting certificate/license?

            Of course, that would get messy real fast when it came to who decides the parenting rules & standards.

          • Phoenix1977

            “Of course, that would get messy real fast when it came to who decides the parenting rules & standards.”
            Government and society already decide those rules and standards. After all, Child Protective Services already intervenes when those rules and standards are violated too much or too often. However, it would prevent a lot of damage, sorrow and misery is the problem cases would be identified before having children.

          • Just One Voice

            Yeah, government sets a few standards for this, but thankfully not too many…yet. And that’s a dangerous line right there even: just how many standards SHOULD government set for parenting? How involved should they become?

            My mother-in-law runs a child care service. Every time her licenser comes, seems there’s a new (and stupid) government regulation.

            This country was found on many freedoms, but sadly, it’s only a matter of time before history reinvents here with some variation of Nazi or Soviet government. It won’t be exactly the same, but they’ll be governing our every behavior, telling us how to eat, sleep, think…or else!

          • Phoenix1977

            “Yeah, government sets a few standards for this, but thankfully not too many…yet. And that’s a dangerous line right there even: just how many standards SHOULD government set for parenting? How involved should they become?”
            Well, I think they should become a hell of a lot more involved. To crunch some numbers:
            On September 30th 2015 there were 427,910 children in federal foster care (I couldn’t find state statistics). 243,060 left federal foster care in 2015, but almost exclusively because they turned 18 years old, at which age the government simply cuts them loose, no matter the consequences. The ones leaving foster care were replaced with 269,509 new foster children.
            At the same time there is quite a bit scientific literature stating children from the foster care system are less able to bond significantly with others, have a higher education (and therefor chances to a better future) and are almost 14 times more likely to suffer from mental problems like depression, anxiety disorders, loss of coping or even dissociation disorders, almost exclusive due to the events they have been through or the constant shifting from one care system to the next. Criminal behavior and substance abuse are almost 4 times more likely in children in the foster care system or young adults after leaving the foster care system and virtually no (young) adult coming out of the foster care system is able to break the circle since most children from people who were once in the foster care system end up in the foster care system.
            So, basically, the federal government ruined almost half a million children beyond repair because they only acted after things went wrong entirely. These children could have been saved (in more ways than one) if the federal government would have taken a more proactive role in making sure things didn’t go wrong in the first place. And than I’m not including the numbers of children who will go down the deep end in the future because the circle will repeat itself.

            “This country was found on many freedoms”
            From a European point of view your country has no freedoms buy controlled anarchy. Everything in the US seems to be about individual freedoms instead of the collective common good. As the mayor of New York City says in the movie “Ghost busters 2”: “Treating another like dirt is every American’s god given right and I will not take that away from them”
            That’s why we have a saying in Europe: “Only in America”, which we use every time we hear or read something which is completely ludicrous from our point of view, from bakers who refuse to make cakes for same-sex weddings to electing presidents who like to grab them by the *****. To us Europeans entertainment doesn’t come just from Hollywood but from the entire United States.

          • Just One Voice

            Heh, wow, going off the deep end a bit are we?

            Wasn’t it was freedom FROM you Europeans (namely the British) that we initially sought? So yeah, of course it’s going to look like entertainment to you. But we’re pretty happy with it, for the most part.

            Aaaalll that stuff, (as well as the government getting involved with raising kids) can be summed up in a single word: selfishness. And Christianity addresses that disease to the fullest. Unfortunately, it’s been twisted & abused a million times over.

            That’s it for me on this round. Meanwhile, I’ll just be thankful that we have enough checks & balances (for now at least) to remain free from people like yourself who–based on everything you write–I fear would rule us with an iron fist.

            Over & out.

          • Phoenix1977

            “Wasn’t it was freedom FROM you Europeans (namely the British) that we initially sought?”
            Not exactly. Did you know your Pilgrim fathers first settled in the Netherlands after fleeing Britain? And that the only reason they left for the New World as because they feared the Netherlands was too close to Britain to be truly safe? Not because they felt they weren’t free enough in my country.
            Or are you talking about your war of independence? Didn’t the former British colonies have some trouble getting the former French colonies on board with that?

            “But we’re pretty happy with it, for the most part.”
            Yes, we saw how “happy” you people were November 2016, when you elected your worst choice for president to this date. Anger, hatred and distrust ruled and will keep ruling your country until at least the Midterm elections next year, when the chances are the Republicans will lose Congress, leaving your *****-grabbing president a lame duck.

            “And Christianity addresses that disease to the fullest.”
            Yes, I know. I experienced that first hand, thank you. Ever heard the saying: “The cure is worse than the disease”?

          • Tyler

            Careful, what about reproductive autonomy? Toeing the line of eugenics talk here. I made this comment before on a different article. There seems to be this double talk on both sides. The Pro-choice crowd one the one hand says, “it’s a woman’s right to make her own decision…unless she’s unfit, then she shouldn’t be allowed to (or) you need a license for everything else, why not this?” The pro-life side always says “we should welcome all children, every life is valuable, the more the better” and on and on, but then sadly also at times will say things about how certain people have too many kids, and certainly types of people (typically criminals from my observation) should be sterilized. I think we need a more measured approach.

          • Phoenix1977

            “Careful, what about reproductive autonomy?”
            What about that? I’m not talking about people not being allowed to reproduce. I’m saying people should demonstrate at least some parenting skills before reproducing. Would save parents, children and society a lot of misery.

          • Tyler

            I probably should have said “Bodily autonomy,” this is what pro-choice folk say a lot when they refer to “reproductive freedom.” It’s the woman’s body, she should have to right to do with it what she pleases, no restrictions. 100% bodily autonomy. You can’t require someone to pass a test or show competence to exercise bodily autonomy, so the argument would go.

          • Phoenix1977

            “You can’t require someone to pass a test or show competence to exercise bodily autonomy, so the argument would go.”
            Actually, you can. In quite a few states you are required to prove you can swim before you are allowed in a public pool, just as you are required to be either 18 or 21 before you can have a tattoo. Informed medical consent for any procedure requires the doctor to inform the patient but also for the patient to understand the doctor. If a doctor is not convinced the patient understand the risks or has unrealistic expectations of the results of a procedure the doctor can refuse the treatment by simply stating there was no informed consent.
            All those aspects involve “bodily autonomy” and yet are perfectly acceptable.

        • gladys1071

          I have never desired children, i am now 41, been married 21 years, still don’t want children, i cannot even fathom the idea of having a child. I mean here you have the responsibility of raising a person that you will always be attached too and always worry about even when they are adults on thier own, i really don’t relish that idea.

          My mother worries about me if i don’t answer the phone, that is not the kind of life i would want, constantly being pre-occupied by your offspring and what they are doing, are they in trouble? are they ok?

          I have a husband and i worry about him that is enough for me, I had a cat that i cared for (he died last year) and having to be concerned for his well being was enough of responsibility for me, i will not be getting another pet.

          I think in this day and age with the fact that we are slaves to this Capitalist economy, and having to be at work most everyday to make money, who has the time or inclination to have children?

          I think back when were mostly farmers, i see more the benefit of having a large family, now most people have to drop their children off at day care to be at work EVERYDAY.

          That is my 2 cents on having children.

          • Just One Voice

            Thanks for sharing. That does indeed shed more light. Especially the 2 parts about worry, and the part about being a slave to a capitalist economy.

          • gladys1071

            I cannot answer if i am glad my parents chose life, if they had not, i would NOT be here to care.

            Since i have no memory of being in the womb, if i died, it would be like i never existed, so what?

            This question to me seems to irrelevent, not trying to be rude, but did you care about existing before you existed?

          • Just One Voice

            Oh wow, haha, I totally mis-worded that the second time around. All this time in my head, I’ve been curious about here and now, today, if you’re glad your parents chose life for you.

            But, having said that, it seems the dialogue has reached a dead end, so no worries. It’s Christmas time anyway! I really should be too busy to be on here. One of my precious kids is napping while his brother reads a book, so a little down time for Daddy 🙂

          • larzo

            I’m glad to be alive, but that doesn’t mean I owe anyone a baby.

            I would like to have a child. The problem is the terrible risk of no-fault divorce.

          • Just One Voice

            Of course it doesn’t mean that. I’m just Curious George over here 🙂 Sounds like you’ve given it thought, so you at should at least get kudos for that!

            I’m curious because people who talk negatively about babies, or are very abrupt to defend their no-baby choice so often appear very ungrateful. But you’re at least thankful to be alive 🙂

          • larzo

            Yes, I don’t understand some people’s disgust with the very idea of children. I know a woman who passionately loves animals to the point of being a vegetarian. But she says things like, “If I ever got pregnant I would rip that thing out of me.” There’s a real disconnect there in her respect for life. I told her to please not do that, and I would take the baby.

          • gladys1071

            what about a person having disgust with being pregnant? i am one of those i find the idea of pregnancy disgusting and abhorrent. I am not vegetarian though, i have no qualms with eating meat of all kinds of animals.

          • larzo

            The body can be quite disgusting normally. Pregnancy places it in an extreme position: the weird eating urges, morning sickness, the act of birth and how messy that is. If I ever have a child, I have no desire to see it come out!

  • Phoenix1977

    “The same forces that produced schools with only one student also produced elderly people dying alone.”
    That is not entirely true. Another issue is Japans rigid social structure. Getting involved with someone’s personal life, without being invited to be involved, is one of the biggest social no-go areas in Japanese culture. So if you know your elderly neighbor is ill but he/she has not invited you into her personal life you are to stay out. Interestingly, this social construct, which has been around in Japan since the early emperors, has always caused Japan to have a low birth rate. At no time in Japanese history large families were the norm and if you had 3 children you were quite extraordinary (which is another faux pas in Japan because, in Japan, you are meant to be average, not extraordinary). So, even though birth rates in Japan are really low today, nothing has really changed except the old social rules are enforced even stronger now more people are living in relatively small areas like Tokyo.

    “Thankfully, there’s something we can do to avoid this fate: have children.”
    How about asking the Danish government how calling people to have more children worked out there. The Danish birth rate dropped even lower, simply because people who might have had children decided not to due to the ad campaign. Their reason? They felt the entire campaign was government overreach. Never in the history of humanity did a government campaign backfire so spectacularly as the “Do it for Denmark” ads.

    • Tyler

      Incredibly interesting insights! I think the difference as seen through the lens of American Christianity is that children by and large (perception, not data based) are seen as a value, and even though some Christians wouldn’t go so far as to say “the more the better” as a specifically Christian value, (that’s a small, but sometimes vocal group), I think Christians more than other demographics are more likely to have more children. Likely because Christians tend to be pro-life, and even in a lot of Christian wedding vows there are statements about accepting children as God grants them. Very interesting to play this all out to it’s logical conclusion, the book Children of Men (and the film) are an interesting and terrifying possibility.

      • Phoenix1977

        “I think Christians more than other demographics are more likely to have more children.”
        That could very well be, and that would uncover a difference in societies here as well. Denmark is a secular country where Christianity never really got roots. Christians have always been a minority in Denmark and, considering the harsh and clod climate as well as the limited number of islands which can support life sufficiently in Denmark, small families have always been the norm. And the same arguments can be made for Japan, which has always considered Christianity a foreign religion unworthy of Japanese attention (Japanese culture is extremely xenophobic) while the largest parts of Japan are uninhabitable even with today’s technology.
        France, another European country with low birth rates, is downright hostile towards religion in general and Christianity in particular. That problem originated during the reign of the French kings, who were quite cruel and brutal, but who were kept in power with the help of the Catholic church who claimed the King was anointed by god and humanity should never question the laws given by the kings. After the French Revolution, where the French got rid of their kings and the rest of the royal family, they also got rid of Christianity. It wasn’t until the mid 19th century where the laws forbidding Christian churches were lifted. However, all churches remain property of the French government and all religions and their representatives are required to swear an oath of allegiance to the French flag.