Foreign aid for family planning should be about much more than birth control.

(iStock photo)

American women are having fewer children than at any other time on record, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said in August. Since the beginning of the Great Recession in 2007, the fertility rate in the United States has decreased by more than 10 percent to a new low of 59.8 per 1,000 women, or about 1.8 children per woman. Yet according to a 2013 Gallup poll, what Americans consider to be the ideal number of children has remained stable at around 2.6 since the 1970s.

A new poll from The Economist shows Americans are not alone in undershooting their ideal family size. In 11 of the 19 countries polled—at various levels of development—parents wanted more children than they expected to have. Financial pressures were the most common explanation given for the mismatch. The survey also found that those who had more children than their ideal seldom cited lack of access to birth control as the reason for overshooting—and most were just as happy or even happier with their “extra” kids.


Regrettably, family planning in the context of foreign aid has long been synonymous with contraception. It operates under the assumption that mothers in poor countries must limit their family size in order to reap the rewards of the globalized economy. Yet the experience in the United States, as well as demographic and economic “success stories” like China and Mexico, suggests that market demands may be setting those limits more than the desires of couples. This is exactly backward. Helping families prosper means helping them feel secure in their ability to have, not just avoid, children.

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Lisa Weber
2 years 3 months ago
Women have children when they feel prosperous. A feeling of prosperity is difficult to find when health insurance, childcare and housing are all more expensive than in the past.
Richard Booth
2 years 2 months ago
On the other hand, Lisa, people in poverty regions in the world out-populate the middle classes and the opulent.
Bruce Snowden
2 years 3 months ago
A Merciful , Omnipotent, Omnicient God presupposes a Providential God, Who in His own way and in His own time provides. This provisional help is often not recognized immediately, sometimes decades later, often taking on the appearance of the purely circumstantial. However, using the telescope of Faith searching the potentialities of human experience for evidence of the Divine, can lead to the reliable truth that, God did it! Here is, I think, a good example of that belief. Birth datings may be somewhat incorrect, but the story itself is absolutely true. There were six of us, born during a marriage of just ten years, I the oldest, then a brother two years later, followed by a sister a few years later, parented by a mother who practically singlehandedly raised her brood. I liked my Dad, the little I knew of him, a happy guy who liked to whistle. Unfortunately Dad couldn’t cope with responsibilities he helped create and simply took off, but not before the last child, a girl was born. Less than two years before her birth numbers four and five, twin boys, popped up. The Providential God had something in mind as he knitted those two boys together in Mom’s womb! I was a child at the time, playing in our yard as Mom was giving birth inside the house. Suddenly I heard the midwife shout out, “Jesus Christ! She can’t afford one more, now she has two!” It seemed catastrophic, but not to God who looking down the rocky paths of life had Providentially prepared the answer to our Mom’s financial needs. Those twins became Mom’s main financial support allowing her to have a good life, the two boys remaining unmarried Navy men, then Merchant Seamen, keeping Mom well-heeled with monthly Allotment checks. The rest of us did little or nothing, as one entered the Navy, then married, two went off to Religious Life and one other married and moved on. It was the twins whose birth seemed the “wrong thing” who turned out to be the absolutely “right thing” for our hard working and saintly Mother! They took care of her until they died, one accidental drowning at sea, the other from a heart attack aboard his ship. A sister later died too so Mom buried three of us – then she passed on a little later. Mission complete! Were the twins, Frank and Tom, “purely circumstantial” or were they “Providential?” I choose the latter.
Mike Evans
2 years 3 months ago
What kind of research is this? Go out and talk to real couples. Perhaps during the engagement period or early days of marriage, there is some romanticized ideal about a big family. But once the reality of child care, schooling, Moms' availability to be at home, family budget, and economic issues hit, it is no wonder that couples revise their concept of the ideal. Most families cannot afford to exist on a single income earner. Child care systems are still catch as catch can and quality care is expensive. A parochial school education is almost unaffordable except for high earners and university tuition is a back-breaker. In light of the real facts, this fluff piece needs drastic revision.
Edward Heller
2 years 2 months ago
The only thing "regrettable" about family planning and contraception is the Church's adamant refusal to incorporate it in it's pro-life agenda. If the authors of this article thinks that Mexico is an "economic success story", I'll gladly take them on a border trip to Nogales, Sonora, where young 14 year old girls live at the dump and fall prey to predatory men. ( incidentally the local Catholic community refuses to supply the girls with condoms, thus STDs and more infants are born into abject poverty ) Every human being needs economic stability so that they can raise children outside of poverty. I would like the authors to do a little more research on this subject. I think they would find that most parish priests live better than half of the world's population, and that says something about Church leadership.
Richard Booth
2 years 2 months ago
I agree with most of Mr. Heller's comments. This story does show a superficiality of understanding the research. It also demonstrates a naivete this magazine should not possess in an editorial of this importance. Hang on to Natural Law Theory all you want, but remember other theories exist as well. Natural Law Theory hints strongly of a mechanistic view of sexuality and family life. Finally, the idea of "getting in the way of Nature" was most popular at a time when extinction of human life was a major threat. The priests I know do not miss lunch because they cannot afford to fill their refrigerators.


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