Bioethicist and political thinker Leon Kass has often been called upon to weigh in on consequential moral debates. He lives both in the US and in Jerusalem where he serves as dean of faculty at Shalem University. His recent Wall Street Journal commentary, “Why the Jewish Way of Living Matters,” speaks to certain “Torah-based beliefs,” moral principles shared by the Jewish right and left. Some of these concern the centrality of family life. Dr. Kass states: “In this time of moral confusion and social fragmentation, Israel, by its example has something to teach us…..Alone in the developed world, it has a birthrate above replacement, with a low level of out-of-wedlock births.”
According to a Journal report, titled, “Why Americans Are Having Fewer Babies`,” the US relies on “a robust pool of young people. Without them, the US economy will be weighed down by a worsening shortage of workers.”
Demographers and economists are worried. In 2007, the number of babies born in the United States started to plummet. It hasn’t recovered. According to the Journal, the number of babies born last year was down about 15% from the number born in ‘07, “even though there are 9% more women in their prime childbearing years.”
We originally blamed the ‘08 financial crisis for the persistent drop. Now we look at other factors: The economy, feminism, and even concerns about the environment can influence childbearing decisions. But studies show, young women still want kids. The Journal article cites evidence which leads to the conclusion that “the gap between women’s intended number of children and their actual family size has widened considerably.”
In his documentary, “Birthgap,” data scientist Stephen Shaw points out that 80% of the childless women he studied wanted to have children. Many just thought they had more time.
This is heartbreaking for them and terrible for the country as we find ourselves in a childbearing trough. Hopefully, it’s not too late to turn this around.