Fewer people today are raising children. The verb “raise” is apt, despite the longstanding insistence from style guides that the correct verb is to “rear.” Farmers “raise” crops and animals, activities vital for any society that hopes to have food. Of course, not everyone needs to farm, especially since industrialization has made food production more efficient. However, some percentage of the population must, or we will starve.

This is an example of a shared responsibility of citizens, an activity that no specific individual is obligated to do but that many individuals must choose to do if their society is to survive. Raising corn and cows isn’t only about making a living. It’s also about feeding people.

In the same way, not everyone can or will choose to raise children, but many people must if a society is to continue. The majority, in fact, must. If the number of children born each year does not equal or exceed the number of people who die, the population will age and shrink. This is the current situation across the developed world.

A major factor behind this predicament is that we’ve largely forgotten how to speak of shared responsibility today. Our choices, especially when it comes to sexuality and relationships, are seen in hyper-individualistic terms. We hardly ask how my choices will affect my neighbors, born and unborn, or society in the decades to come. Instead, we ask will this choice fulfill me? Will it make me happy? Will it serve my goals and dreams as an individual?

Increasingly, marriage and childbearing are evaluated through this individualist lens. The conclusion is that a family will not fulfill them, nor make them happy, nor serve their goals and dreams as individuals.

This blinkered cost-benefit analysis, as writers like Louise Perry have pointed out, when repeated in tens of millions of households, is leaving much of the developed world “sterile.” The long-term consequences of this sterility are no secret. As The New York Times admitted, the world’s population is likely to peak this century and, after that, rapidly decline.

Yet, in the same breath, The Times’ editorial board, who has repeatedly placed the responsibility for all kinds of other global trends on our consciences, assured readers that no one has the responsibility to reverse this trend, especially if it cramps feminist ideals for women being equally career-focused:

No people are making mistakes when they choose not to have children or to have small families. …It’s in no one’s hands to change global population trajectories alone. Not yours, whatever you choose for your life, not one country’s, not one generation’s. …And yet our personal choices add up to big implications for humanity as a whole. 

In a recent articel for Law and Liberty, Elizabeth Grace Matthew argued that secular writers have missed something in their cost-benefit analysis. Children, she argued, have value that transcends individual goals and dreams. They aren’t mere accessories of our self-expression. They are gifts to society who represent “a disposition of generosity toward God and His world.”

All things being equal, recognizing that not all who desire children are able to have them, raising the next generation isn’t just a choice among many for which no one needs to strive. As Matthew concluded:

There is societal value for all in the rearing of the next generation, even though its work is disproportionately undertaken by some. There is only individual value for some (and dubious value at that) in the freedom of the “child free” to pursue unimpeded hedonism.

Children challenge the secular, hyper-individualist worldview to its core. They present an immediate, shared responsibility that directs us beyond material gain and personal fulfillment to higher ideals. Simply put, more people must and should marry and have children if society is to survive. The reluctance of secular writers to say this, even in the face of devastating population decline, exposes a critical flaw in their beliefs. Some values are bigger than individuals. Some even require individual sacrifice. The future will belong to those who admit this fact and allow it to shape their choices.

This Breakpoint was co-authored by Shane Morris. For more resources to live like a Christian in this cultural moment, go to

Image credit: ©iStock/Getty Images Plus/Liderina

John Stonestreet is President of the Colson Center for Christian Worldview, and radio host of BreakPoint, a daily national radio program providing thought-provoking commentaries on current events and life issues from a biblical worldview. John holds degrees from Trinity Evangelical Divinity School (IL) and Bryan College (TN), and is the co-author of Making Sense of Your World: A Biblical Worldview.

The views expressed in this commentary do not necessarily reflect those of CrosswalkHeadlines.

BreakPoint is a program of the Colson Center for Christian Worldview. BreakPoint commentaries offer incisive content people can't find anywhere else; content that cuts through the fog of relativism and the news cycle with truth and compassion. Founded by Chuck Colson (1931 – 2012) in 1991 as a daily radio broadcast, BreakPoint provides a Christian perspective on today's news and trends. Today, you can get it in written and a variety of audio formats: on the web, the radio, or your favorite podcast app on the go.