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Some Thoughts on Demographics by Aaron Hecht


World population map (Wikimedia commons)

A few days ago we had municipal elections here in Israel. If you're reading this blog, I would imagine you're aware of the fact that there was a heartbreakingly low turnout for these elections. There was, however, a massive number of Israelis who took advantage of the fact that election days are paid days off from work (and school) by flocking to the malls and other leisure venues for a day of shopping and fun.

In other words, they didn't stay home, they just didn't go to the polls.

Turnout for municipal elections is usually lower than for national elections, but this was low even by those standards. Most commentators said it was probably because people are just upset and tired about the war and they'd rather take the opportunity of a paid day off from work to go have some fun rather than vote.

As for me and my wife, we both voted in this election. It was easy to cast a ballot because our polling place is a short walk from our home, in the school our children attend. My eldest son might have wanted to sleep in that morning but he woke up at the usual time because his dog was whining and begging him to get up and play with her before school like he usually does. She didn't know it was a day off from school, she just wanted someone to throw the tennis ball for her.

I was also awake early because my body just woke up at the usual time whether I wanted to or not. My wife doesn't have an internal alarm clock like that and my youngest son can sleep for as long as he wants, so it was just me and my eldest that morning. After several minutes of playing with the dog, I told my son to get dressed and come with me to help me vote. He protested that it was a day off from school so he didn't want to go there (on principle since he likes going to school most of the time) but I told him to stop complaining and come with me.

We arrived at the school almost at exactly the same time we usually get there every morning and walked inside to discover that the room where I'd be casting my ballot was actually his very classroom. He made some more ritualistic complaints about having to be there on a day off from school, but then he cheerfully accompanied me inside. I told the crew that was checking ID's (yes, a person must present their ID to vote in Israel, and no one complains about it being "racist" or otherwise inappropriate) that it was his classroom and they laughed and then one of them said "not today" but I impulsively replied, "today there's a different lesson."

Then we went behind the screen, put the little slips of paper into the envelopes, went back out and together we put them into the big cardboard box. 

On the short walk home, I told him a few more things about the process of voting and how it all works. He listened attentively, asked a few questions, and we had a good discussion. When we got home, his little brother was eating breakfast and he was very upset that we'd gone without him. So I told him that he could go help his mommy vote as soon as she was ready.

My eldest son sat down to eat his breakfast and we continued our discussion, with my youngest asking some questions too (I had to repeat the entire lesson for his benefit) and that discussion took about a half hour.

As it was concluding, I reflected on the fact that despite this not being a school day, it had probably been very educational for my sons, and that made it a good day. By the time the younger one was ready to go help his mother cast her ballot about an hour later, he was bubbling over with excitement, telling her all about what he'd learned about the democratic process. It was very cute and heartwarming.

However, I'm not just telling you this story because it's so cute and heartwarming.

Deuteronomy 6:6-7 says; “And these words which I command you today shall be in your heart. You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, when you walk by the way, when you lie down, and when you rise up."

Being a parent is one of the most important roles anyone can have. Raising up the next generation so that they will become emotionally, psychologically, and physically healthy, as well as spiritually mature, is immeasurably important. Success in this area is vastly more important than success in one's career, ministry, or anything else.

No one says on their deathbed that they wish they'd spent more time at the office but MANY people express regret that they didn't spend more time with their children and families. But it's not just time, every single resource one has should be directed at this all-important task.

Of course, the most important lessons we must teach our children are about the Kingdom of God, the Word of God, the Body of Christ, and the roles and responsibilities each one of us has in all this. But there are also more pedestrian things we need to teach them, like the importance of etiquette, manners, and common courtesy. It also includes the basics of civilized behavior, things like eating with utensils instead of picking up food with our hands, wiping our mouths with a napkin rather than on our clothes, etc.

It also includes taking opportunities to teach them more sophisticated lessons about voting, managing money, making sacrifices for the community, setting a good example for younger people, being a good Witness for the Kingdom, etc.

In other words, if we want our children to grow up to be functional adults, contributing to both society and the Church, it won't just happen by itself. They won't learn what they need to know at school or even at the congregation. Most of the input that will go into forming them into what they will become as adults will be "caught" at home, rather than "taught" to them somewhere else.

That's the good news, and it's also the bad news. It's good because it gives us hope that our children will become what we hope they'll become despite all the negative influences they might be exposed to out there in the big, bad, scary world. But it's also bad news because it means we've got to work VERY hard and be VERY intentional to make that happen. The other bad news is that we're competing against a lot of other forces that would like our children to grow up and become something very different from what we're trying to help them become.

With all that in mind, let's zoom out and take a look at what this means for the broader societies in which we live.

Demographics is destiny

There's an old saying that "demographics is destiny". Another old saying among anthropologists and social scientists says "Civilizations will endure as long as everyday people continue to do everyday things every day."

Teaching children the things they'll need to know to carry on with a political, cultural, economic, and even religious framework when they're old enough to do so is one of those "everyday things". But for children to be taught, they must first be born.

If you want to know what the situation in a country, or a people group, will be like in a few years, all you have to do is look at the birth rate. If the birth rate is below 2.25 babies per woman, that country is in demographic decline. The lower the birth rate drops and the longer it stays low, the less of a chance that this country, culture, or entire civilizational group, will recover.

Almost every day, there's a story in my news feed about the precipitously declining birth rate in one country after another all over the world. This is true in Western democracies such as Canada and France and it's also in autocracies such as Russia and China. Some countries, notably Japan and South Korea, are simply disappearing as the number of babies born declines every single month and the number of older people who die of natural causes skyrockets.

Governments all over the world are trying all kinds of incentives to try and get young people to marry and have more children, but it's not working. Israel is the only country in the entire OECD where the birth rate is above 2.25 babies per woman.

But it's not just the OECD. The birth rate is below 2.25 babies per woman in many developing countries as well. In fact, almost the only countries in the world where it's higher than 2.25 are in highly dysfunctional places, where poverty is rampant, crime is high, educational frameworks are weak and the economic outlook is bleak.

In other words, the places in the world that export stability are shrinking demographically while the places that need help are exploding demographically. This does not bode well for the future of our planet.

How do you know if you've got a demographic problem?

The changes to a country from a low birth rate don't take long to be seen and felt. It starts when governments realize they don't need as many schools, so they start shutting schools down and laying off teachers and staff. Before long, there are not enough young people graduating from school to take job vacancies caused by older people retiring. This leads to economic contraction, which makes young couples more cautious about having babies, and so on.

This has all kinds of ripple effects.

The decline in economic activity which follows a decline in population means there's less tax revenue for governments, which means governments must either become less active or borrow more money to maintain essential functions. The longer they operate in this way, the more debt they accrue, and eventually, this debt makes everything more difficult for everyone.

(Here's a link to a website that tracks the debt burden that some of the world's biggest economies have accumulated. Make sure you're sitting down when you click on this link, and if you have heart and/or blood pressure issues maybe just don't even click on it at all.)

Some countries try to solve the problem of not enough babies being born by importing immigrants from other countries. If managed properly, this can work. If it's barely managed at all, which is what we see in most countries today which are experiencing a large influx of immigrants from other countries, then it just leads to additional pressure on the system. Soon, all kinds of things start changing, mostly for the worse as the system becomes more and more dysfunctional. If this goes on long enough, it can lead to the system collapsing.

This has happened several times throughout human history, on every continent where human beings have built civilizational units. There is absolutely nothing special about the period of history we're living in that makes it impossible for this to happen to us.

What is to be done?

It's easy to feel helpless in the face of this demographic train wreck which now seems all but inevitable. But as is true with so many other things, most of us can't do much about the big-picture stuff. All we can (and MUST) do is pray for those who DO have some power over these issues.

But we CAN (and MUST) take responsibility for our own immediate surroundings, especially our own children. As Deuteronomy 6:6-7 says, we must always be on the lookout for opportunities to teach our children, to give them an identity, to let them know who they are (and just as importantly, who they are NOT) and what God wants and expects from them. This includes teachable moments about both spiritual and secular subjects.

Most of all, we need to simply spend time with our children, acting the way we want them to act, speaking the way we want them to speak, and showing them how it's done.

If your children have friends, make sure those friends know they're welcome in your home, and be as kind to them as you can. They might be from a broken and/or dysfunctional home, so being in your home might be the only opportunity they will ever have to see what a functional home and family look like.

Volunteer to coach sports teams, lead scout troops, go to PTA meetings, and otherwise be intentional about helping the next generation. The kids you help by doing this will be the adults your own children live with when they're grown up. One of them might even be the person your child marries someday.

To sum up brothers and sisters, demographics is destiny. In order for your country, your city, your church, your community, and even your own family, to have a good destiny, it will take a consistent and intentional effort on your part to invest your time, money, effort, and energy into helping the next generation. It won't happen by itself, and you can't leave this work to someone else. You have to be in daily prayer and do as much more beyond that as you possibly can.

Look for opportunities to teach the young, nurture them, and help them in every way you can. Everyone can do something.

I'll end with a footnote on this topic.

A year ago my son wanted a dog for his birthday. I had resisted the idea for a long time because I didn't want the hassles and expense. But my son had been praying earnestly for over two years that I would let him have a dog, and when my wife told me that I couldn't say no anymore.

It has ended up being one of the best decisions I ever made. This little dog has been a huge blessing to everyone in our family. My sons are enjoying their childhoods much more because of her, my wife loves having another girl around the house and I've just simply fallen head over heels in love with my furry little four-legged daughter.

So if you want to bless your children, a good place to start is by getting a dog.

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