What happens when a society stops reproducing itself? Well, we’re in the early stages of finding out.
Toys R Us, otherwise known as heaven for us kids who grew up in the 80’s and 90’s, is closing all 800 of its stores’ doors. One of the nation’s largest and oldest toy retailers, the toy chain made the announcement last week.
In its annual filing, the company pointed to online competition like Amazon, as well as traditional retailers like Walmart and Target, as the major reasons for its bankruptcy. But Toys R Us (which also runs Babies R Us) cited another and much more troubling reason for its collapse: sagging birth rates.
“Most of our end-customers are newborns and children,” writes the toy chain’s management. “Our revenue [is] dependent on the birthrates in countries where we operate. In recent years, many countries’ birthrates have dropped or stagnated as their population ages.”
It’s so obvious, most people don’t even consider it. But a toy chain’s business model is dependent on, well, children. One of the reasons toy retailers are dying is because their base of small customers has become … well … too small.
The U.S. fertility rate is now at an all-time low. Some experts estimate it could be nearing 1.77 children per woman, which is well below what’s known as the “replacement rate”—or that number of babies each couple must have on average in order to keep the population from shrinking.
Little wonder, since according to a recent Pew Research poll, young Americans today are less likely to be married than any prior generation. In 1965, nearly 80 percent of “silent generation” members between 21 and 36 years old were married. Today, just 37 percent of Millennials that same age are married.
As a result, the non-immigrant population isn’t just shrinking, it’s also graying—and fast. The U.S. Census Bureau predicts that by 2035, senior citizens will outnumber children for the first time in U.S. history.
With trends like this in progress, the closing of toy stores may be merely a bellwether of further effects of low fertility to come. Smaller generations mean smaller consumer bases, which in turn mean less economic growth, and further declines in fertility.
As I explained on this program back in December, low fertility is also an unfulfilling way to live as a society. In a 2014 Pew poll, two out of five mothers nearing the end of their childbearing years said they wish they’d had more kids.
Babies are catalysts … they lead adults to care more about the future: to save, invest, make sacrifices, and defer gratification. With fewer children, there’s less of that other-centered love that children inspire. And our already me-centered culture may yet become even more me-centered.
In fact, the consequences of long-term population decline and aging can be seen in other countries ahead of us on this downward demographic curve. For example, Japan has shrunk by over a million people since 2010. The remaining share of Japanese students and young adults face crushing financial burdens, sometimes working 16-hour days to provide for older family members and prop up the country’s entitlement system. Many young people succumb to despair; Japan has one of the highest suicide rates among school-aged children in the world.
Folks, the negative consequences of a culture that fails to see children as the blessings they really are and who view family as a second priority at best, far outweigh any short-term gains. If you couple child-free lifestyles with our society’s disregard for marriage and support for abortion, we will deprive ourselves of more than just toy stores. We’ll be depriving ourselves of a future.
John Stonestreet is President of The Chuck Colson Center for Christian Worldview and BreakPoint co-host.
G. Shane Morris is a senior writer at BreakPoint, a program of the Colson Center for Christian Worldview. He’s also written for Summit Ministries and The Christian Post, and blogs regularly at Patheos. Shane lives with his wife and three children.
Editor's Note: This piece was originally published by BreakPoint.