For years, psychologist and Focus on the Family founder Dr. James Dobson has written about parenting and family from a biblical perspective, and until now you'd find his books exclusively on the non-fiction shelf. But Dr. Dobson has just unveiled his first novel, "Fatherless," using narrative as the latest way to communicate a timeless truth. During this week's broadcast, we interview Dr. Dobson, as well as economist Jennifer Roback Morse of the Ruth Institute, about the the looming and lasting effects of the unwillingness of modern societies to rear children.
According to statistics, for the first time in our history, the United States has dropped below replacement rate fertility. The U.S. joins nearly half of the earth's population—countries like Brazil, Japan, Canada, Russia, Australia, China and most of Europe—as a country which is not having enough children to replace its aging population. In other words, we are on a trajectory for population decline.
Dr. Jennifer Roback Morse
This may not sound like such a problem at first, but as our guests this week explain from the expert perspectives of family psychology and socioeconomics, dwindling population is no laughing matter. Problems ranging from increased crime rates in countries with one-child policies and permanent economic recession in some places, to a crushing burden upon the younger generation, members of whom will find themselves outnumbered and overwhelmed by the costs of their aging parents' needs, can result from population decline.
Dr. Jennifer Roback Morse, who has studied the connection between family and economics throughout her career, sees two causes of this population decline. First, she cites evidence that children simply aren't as valuable to members of prosperous, industrialized societies as they are in agricultural and undeveloped settings.
"Children are not as much of an economic help as they used to be," she explains. "You're not on the farm, you don't need all hands on deck. Children used to be an asset...in a farm or family business, but also in terms of providing for your old age. Those two aspects that are purely material and mechanical and economic, those things are much less important."
Secondly and probably more importantly, Dr. Morse attributes our sagging fertility rates to the sweeping popularity of a relatively new outlook on marriage, what she calls the "soul mate view." This way of looking at family drives a wedge between sex and child-bearing by making individual fulfillment the central goal.
"The soul-mate view of marriage and family is geared toward personal gratification," explains Dr. Morse. "The truth is that kids are a lot of work, and they certainly don't give you immediate gratification. The idea that we've developed is that children are something we choose, and we're entitled to choose... And if you really take that seriously, people just choose not to [have children] a lot of the time."
We are only beginning to understand the cost of millions upon millions of families worldwide making that choice. Dr. Morse addresses some of these from an economic perspective. But perhaps no one has articulated the consequences of our present course more persuasively or in a more riveting fashion that Dr. James Dobson in his new novel, "Fatherless."
A dystopian fiction in the vein of George Orwell's "1984" and Aldous Huxley's "Brave New World," "Fatherless" asks the question of what our world will look like in a generation if we do fall into population decline.
Dobson and his co-author, Kurt Bruner foresee a society in which the sparse middle-aged workers are desperate. Faced with a choice between providing the life they want for their children and caring for their aging parents, many turn to options we might today consider unthinkable.
"There's going to be enormous pressure on those people...to 'do the loving thing,'" says Dr. Dobson, "not because they want to die, but because by taking an early exit, they will give their resources where they're needed right now... That is in our future if the direction the train is going on the track continues."
America, says Dr. Dobson, may be the only country in the developed world which has yet to acknowledge this looming population crisis. In some nations, he notes, governments have even begun offering families monetary incentives to have more children. But unless a fundamental change in the way we think about marriage, family and children takes place, such policies may prove too little, too late.
Dr. James C. Dobson
"These are not predictions. And they're not prophecies, because I'm not a prophet. Neither is Kurt! They are projections of what it means to continue down the road we're going."
"Fatherless," is the first in a forthcoming trilogy which will also include "Childless," and "Godless," both of which are due for release shortly. As this story unfolds, Dr. Dobson hopes to play out the consequences of our current social trends—especially our self-imposed infertility—in the hopes that those who read will learn to reject the ideas in modern culture which are leading us down the path to voluntary decline and the extinction of the family.
"Nothing is inevitable with God," Dr. Dobson reminds us. "We need to be praying for this country...and we should be actively involved to support traditional families... We must not just sit around and watch [the family] go the way of all flesh."