China has a problem. Actually, China has several problems, but this particular one has caught the world off guard since it’s hard to believe a country with 1.4 billion people is facing a depopulation crisis. The current data, even from Chinese sources such as one of its “official” news outlets, Global Times, is mentioning the obvious: China is in a demographic tailspin. 

Over half a century of its “one-child” policy has produced a declining birth rate that imperils the country’s ability to maintain its economic status quo and support an ever-growing retired and elderly population.

Other industrialized nations in Asia are in similar predicaments. Japan has been in this downward trend for much longer and there is a serious question if it can continue to survive if something does not change. In South Korea — another country that has seen amazing economic progress — there is an overt hostility toward children, embodied by selected public spaces being designated “No Kid Zones.”

The totalitarian China regime blames young women refusing to either marry or have children on some kind of insidious internet campaign. There are apparently videos of misbehaving children that, according to the Chinese regime, have created this anti-family frenzy. Of course, in a workers’ paradise where nothing can be questioned, China’s ruling elite refuse to entertain the notion that their current state of affairs is related to its “one-child” program that existed for 50 years — a true pogrom that produced millions of abortions of mostly female babies.

According to United Nations’ population reports, there are now 104.61 men to every 100 women in China. That does not sound bad until we factor in a country with over a billion people and then consider the substantial number of women in those statistics who are well past childbearing age. 

The official Chinese media sees it in practical economic terms, as does a recent piece in The New York Times, which observed the “real” crisis in China’s shrinking population as a marketing issue with global brands like Apple and Nike losing markets. Leave it to the capitalists to see the danger to the markets. 

But the fault is not in a dwindling consumer base for the next shoe or iPhone. The crisis also does not only belong to China or other industrialized Asian nations. It is a global decline that we see in Europe and here in the United States.

The U.S. birth rate bumped a little in the post-COVID era, but it had been declining steadily and there seems no reason to expect it to change. Our unique immigration process increases the numbers. That the United States is a multiethnic and mixed cultural thought experiment helps too.

But there is work to do here, even when it is within our own parish communities in the Archdiocese of Los Angeles. There was a time when a family in church with five children would barely warrant a glance, unless one or two of those children were swinging from the church chandelier. Today, a family with more than three children causes eyebrows to raise and maybe even an unkind remark. Or worse — pity.

It is a mixed bag of cultural shifts, dubious faith formation and sadly, economic pressure. The traditional family of a stay-at-home mom with a gaggle of kids can be a serious hardship, but it is not an impossibility, and Catholic families across the archdiocese have taken on this challenge with joy and hope. They may not be able to afford the latest piece of clothing or the most current electronics, but they have a treasure that does not need a warranty.

None of us are going to have much of an impact on the “No Kid Zones” that are popping up all over the world. But there are things we can do and say to those big families that can encourage and reinforce the commitment they made to be open to life as part of their wedding vows.

It is not Doomsday. That we will leave to God. Any prediction of future results rarely turns out the way the experts believed due to the large number of variables involved when we consider human beings.  But seeing children as cogs in an economic gearbox, or scorning children as a burden is not healthy either for economic survival or our souls. 

Maybe China is beyond hope, but maybe things will turn around here at home. And if they do, one of those variables will most certainly have been a spiritual one.