James Dobson’s flawed take on population decline (no.1: We’re not in decline)

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Photo by ann_jutatip via Flickr Creative Commons https://www.flickr.com/photos/27725455@N06/2583548876/

Photo by ann_jutatip via Flickr Creative Commons https://www.flickr.com/photos/27725455@N06/2583548876/

I don’t usually write responses to editorials. But this one is so factually and logically flawed that I couldn’t help myself.

Photo by ann_jutatip via Flickr Creative Commons https://www.flickr.com/photos/27725455@N06/2583548876/

Photo by ann_jutatip via Flickr Creative Commons https://www.flickr.com/photos/27725455@N06/2583548876/

James Dobson published an editorial in Christianity Today on population decline and, frankly, why people (maybe just Christians) need to start having more children.

He says that Americans are beginning to realize that we are facing a “demographic nightmare.”

Our problem is not too many people but a plummeting birthrate. There are more single women today than those who are married, and the birthrate has been declining steadily. If it were not for immigration, this nation would be below zero population growth.

First off: the statement is false.

Even without immigration, the replacement rate in the United States continues to be high enough to increase the population. Pew Research estimates that without immigration in the future, the population will still be equal (or slightly greater) 50 years from now. Of course, we will have immigrants and our population will continue to grow by another 100 million with immigration.

Moreover, the birthrate has not been declining steadily. There is clearly a decline in births during the late 1960s (hint: it had something to do with contraception being legal and available as “the pill”). Since that shift, the birthrate has remained steady, with ups and downs due largely to economics (in recessions women delay childbirth). Depending on which measure is used, the low for the birthrate could be recent, or in 2006, or back in 1976.

Even if the statement were true, it is not clear why it is a “demographic nightmare” for our birthrate to be falling only to be saved by immigration. Is it too controversial to ask if the nightmare is that “real Americans” are being overtaken by immigrants?

Dobson makes other claims that are less than factual.

…the population has been depicted as a pyramid, with the young being represented across its broad base and fewer older individuals nestled at the pinnacle. Now, we’re witnessing an inversion of the pyramid, where there are many more older people at the bottom and a smaller number of younger people and babies at the top.

What?! Not true at all. Try out this tool from the U.S. Census. It allows you to see this pyramid and its changing shape during the 20th Century. Here’s what you’ll see:

  • In every year, there are fewer older people than younger people. There’s never an inverted pyramid.
  • Changes occur during times of war. Watch the number of 18-24 year old men change during World War I and World War II.
  • Economics drives procreation. Starting in the late 1920s and continuing until the post-WWII gains in the economy, there are relatively fewer number of young children.
  • Then comes the baby boom.
  • There is a relative decline in children in the 1960s, but then it stabilized
  • Today, there is a leaf-pattern, a pyramid except for the higher numbers from the baby boom.

The most notable change is longer lifespans. People don’t die as often during childhood, in childbirth, in accidents, or later in life. This, at least in my opinion, is a good thing.

Dobson’s canards play into fears of demographic changes brought on by immigration. Or by Africa or Asia growing in population. We are not facing an inverted pyramid. Our population is increasing without immigration. With immigration (which is a good thing), the population growth in the United State is strong.

Putting all the false alarms (and this is difficult to do), Dobson’s editorial ironically treats people with the same utilitarianism that drives the population control policies he criticizes.

In his first draft of this essay (available here) he’s more explicit about his belief that God wants people to multiply. He blames riots in Germany and France on populations growing older (this, too, is incorrect: younger populations are less stable and more likely to have violence). Dobson links population decline to death panels, Hillary Clinton, socialized medicine, and other boogeymen. He calls for the government to pay (via tax breaks) those who have children. Dobson is using the same crass view of humans that he sees in population control policies. Persons are valued for their ability to maintain the economy, pay for government services, and provide for political stability.

Reading the CT editorial and the original essay, the problem Dobson is really attacking becomes clear: women aren’t fulfilling their role as mothers. They need to follow God, put aside their selfishness, and procreate at a level that keeps up the population. The problem is never fathers or men. Dobson repeatedly focuses on women. Dobson’s aim is to convince women that they need to have children. Sure, he says, women have the right not to have children but if they exercise that right, we’re doomed.

“Those [women] who choose not to have children are moving the culture toward extinction with a wagonload of humanity bumping along behind,” Dobson wrote.

The declining fertility rate in the world, Dobson wrote, “must be the reason why the Creator ordered Adam and Eve to, ‘Be fruitful, and multiply, and replenish the earth.’ (Genesis 1:28).”

[Note: if one wanted to be critical, one could note that the fertility rate in Genesis 1:28 was zero, as was the death rate]

Dobson concludes his original essay with a quote from a poem by “Mother Shipton.” I’ll let Dobson quote her and explain it himself:

…here is a stanza related to the demographics we have been discussing. She wrote:

“In those wondrous far-off days, the women shall adopt a craze to dress like men and trousers wear, cut off their lovely locks of hair. Then love shall die and marriage cease, and nations wane as babes decrease.”

Shipton had it right

No, she didn’t. And neither does Dobson.

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  • George Nixon Shuler

    What else could one expect from either Dobson? Facts are subordinate to ideology with this particular family of christofascists. Considering how Dobson pere advocated child abuse it is no surprise to find the apple hasn’t fallen far from the tree.

  • alison

    I’ve heard this same demographic data before, and not from Dobson. From NPR. One of the facts was that the market for adult diapers is now greater than the market for infant diapers. I suppose one reason is that people live longer than they used to. Another quote I heard recently was that financial problems in Europe can be attributed not to high taxes but to a lower birth rate. Have you heard these comments before? I generally consider NPR to be reliable.

  • Eric

    Thank you for this. Yet another reason Dobson needs to retire and shut up.

  • CarrotCakeMan

    Can you share a citation from their website? Thank you.

  • Alison

    From NPR’s website? I’ll look for it. I heard it on the radio, so I’m not really sure how to find it on the website, but I’ll give it my best shot.

  • Alison

    This might be it, but I’ll continue to look. http://hereandnow.wbur.org/2016/02/15/adult-diaper-market-booming

  • Alison
  • Alison

    Here’s another one about the birth rate in Europe. This is from Forbes. Is this enough or do you want more?

    http://www.forbes.com/sites/joelkotkin/2012/05/30/whats-really-behind-europes-decline-its-the-birth-rates-stupid/#769b36096455

  • yoh

    Dobson’s rhetoric involves a ton of sub rosa racism. He is simply repeating junk David Duke and company have been repeating for years but just in a different way.

    Birthrates and family sizes are only on the decline for white middle class Americans. Other demographics have not seen such reductions in family size. Immigration and with it an increasing number of population who are not white christians has been a major factor in stemming demographic decline as seen in places like Japan.

    So the urge for white christian women to make more babies serves a multiple role:
    1 To castigate women for daring to be educated or have careers and with that making family planning choices.
    2. To appeal to racism in the time worn tradition of worrying about a [insert color here] peril overtaking white christianhood and its alleged privilege in society.
    3.. To encourage demographic expansion of fundamentalist Christianity, because they certainly have little appeal as a choice of belief.

  • Debbo

    Exactly yoh. Dobson has a long history of political chicanery, clothed in his own, self-created wingnut distortion of Christianity.

    “Men, control your women.
    “LBTG are monsters.
    “It’s godly to beat your children.
    Etc.”

    Shame, shame on you, Mr. Dobson.

  • Khan

    Dog beating Dobson

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  • Found One

    Imagine that! Dobson is in denial and lies to his people. He must be taking his cue from the catholics on how to keep the pews full. Just keep popping out babies!

  • Spuddie

    Remember he only wants white Christian babies raised by fundies. Everyone else is a menace to him.

  • Drow

    Probably a minor nitpick, considering all the other blatant errors, but…

    “…must be the reason why the Creator ordered Adam and Eve to, ‘Be
    fruitful, and multiply, and replenish the earth.’ (Genesis 1:28).”

    Um, Mr. Dobson? You jumped the gun a little bit. Adam wasn’t created until Genesis 2:7, Eve until 2:22. 1:27-28 is when everyone else was made.

  • Andrew Glasgow

    He’s doing that stupid fundamentalist thing where they pretend that there aren’t two entirely separate creation stories in Genesis. (Three if you count Noah and the Flood.)

  • lili loo

    The book “What to Expect When No One’s Expecting” by Jonathan Last has become canon for this crowd. It’s all the same demographic fearmongering and utilitarian view of children they claim to love so much. The reviews on Amazon are just ridiculous.

  • CoolHandLNC

    And let’s not mention Utnapishtim. Best if the kids don’t find out about that version of the story.