The birthrate in America has fallen to an all-time low, with one in five women not having children in 2010, compared to one in 10 in the 1970s.

In Orange County, the rate has dropped from 50,000 a year in the '90s to about 38,000 in 2011. Many couples defend their childless lives, pointing out that it's their choice, it means more time to do what they want, and the world's population is rising too fast. They also point to the cost of raising a child to adulthood, estimates of which range from $200,000 to $300,000. Pro-family advocates claim that those who choose not to have kids are selfish, are contributing to the decline of the American family and depriving the country of consumers and taxpayers.

Q: Does the drop in births worry you in terms of what it means for the future of America?

  

The husband-wife-children family unit established by God from mankind's very beginning has always been the essential building block of every society. Any harm to or deviation from this clearly defined unit and its God-given purposes is a step toward the downfall of any nation or culture. God created one man and one woman and commanded them to "be fruitful and multiply." As a blessing, they would "fill the earth and subdue it; and rule...." God tells us that "children are a gift of the Lord; the fruit of the womb is a reward" (Psalm 127:3). A healthy population size means strength: "In a multitude of people is a king's glory, but in the dearth of people is a prince's ruin," says Proverbs 14:28.

America's drop in births worries me because of the negative and even sinful reasons it's happening. It's dropped due to the violence of abortion. It's dropped due to people's fear that God won't provide for them. It's dropped due to self-centeredness and self-pleasing as the major goal in life and the false belief that children will ruin a person's life. In contrast to these, compassion and faith and self-sacrifice are the positive, godly virtues that will help our nation nurture life and ensure a secure future.

Pastor Jon Barta
Valley Baptist Church
Burbank

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Absolutely not. I am childless by choice, so my response here may be seen by some as selfish. However, I was very much influenced in the 1960s by Paul Ehrlich's book, "The Population Bomb," and I decided then that if I didn't truly, passionately want to have kids, I shouldn't; and I didn't.

As far as the future of America is concerned, I do not worry because more and more of the world's peoples seem to want to come here. They may not look the same as you do, but so what?

The group Zero Population Growth has changed its name to Population Connection, but I still trust the information it puts out.

Did you know that every child born puts the equivalent of another one-half car on the freeway? Also, have you heard that if all the food in the world were distributed equally, each of us would go to bed hungry every night?

Is it really right for you and me to put other hungry mouths on the planet when so many in Africa and elsewhere seem to be starving? I can't shake those images of starving people and I would suggest that it is almost irresponsible for some people to have children when there are others who are starving.

And another thing: Does Los Angeles appear to be shrinking? How about San Diego and San Francisco and San Jose? No, California is still the Golden State and America is still the hope of the world, and both of those things mean that people will continue to flock to our shores.

If people choose not to propagate, encourage them. Besides, as the Pro-Life crowd likes to say, "adoption, not abortion." You really want to raise a child? Adopt one. Doesn't look like you, so you don't want to? Then what kind of selfish parent would you be?

The Rev. Skip Lindeman
La Cañada Congregational Church
La Cañada Flintridge

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My first thought isn't for the future of America but for the long-term effects for those who are making the choice not to have kids. Speaking without judgment as someone who also has never had biological children of my own, I think that not having kids can make a difference in your life.

I worry that it's made me more selfish, self-centered and small-hearted than I would have been — never to have gone through that experience of tossing your own needs and agendas out the window upon the birth of your children and continuing to sacrifice your interest for theirs. I think it throws off your balance of energies, not to have kids' spirits in your life. And it demands the question of your legacy — if your kids aren't going to be the best thing you ever accomplished, the thing that lives on after you, then what will be?

I'm not saying that it's wrong not to have kids. But it might mean you need to be more intentional about getting over yourself — making sure you do things for others and finding ways to lay aside your self-absorption (the author said to herself). It might help to make sure you've got other sources of kid-energy in your life: nieces and nephews or kids at church or in the neighborhood. And it definitely means paying attention to the spiritual question of what gives meaning and ultimacy to your life if it's not going to be kids and parenting.

Finally, consider it not just a moral or patriotic imperative, but a matter of what size you want your heart to be, to vote and act for the sake of the generations to come; to have a care for other people's children and grandchildren, and the future of the Earth.

The Rev. Amy Pringle
St. George's Episcopal Church
La Cañada Flintridge

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I'm guessing that the current reproducing group will become the predominant population before too long. Keep that in mind, advocates of abortion. My own grandparents on my mother's side were siblings to about a dozen each. They trimmed production to a quarter of that and now equilibrium has been reached and we're all siring the standard 2.06, or whatever it is at the moment. Much of that background had to do with rural life but with many emerging groups, it has to do with their commitment to some religious persuasion.

There's a funny bit in the Monty Python movie, "The Meaning of Life," where a Catholic family has so many children that they have to start selling them off. Since the Vatican forbids birth control, you can see the humor. Meanwhile, the movie depicts the Protestants across the street without any children at all, having availed themselves of contraception to the extreme. Protestants don't follow Rome in its view on reproduction and the Bible makes no stipulation either way, but America has a way of setting a tone among both groups. The Bible does say that kids are a blessing from God, so we should consider them assets, not expenses; "children born when one is young are like arrows in the hand of a warrior. The person who fills a quiver full with them is truly happy...." (Psalms 127:4-5).

While I think it's good to have as many children as we're able, I don't see any moral mandate to do so and if couples choose not to have any, they probably aren't the kind that would be good parents anyway, so let them enjoy their zero progeny — no guilt intended. Besides, America tripled in population since the beginning of last century. Should we be terribly worried?

The Rev. Bryan Griem
Montrose Community Church
Montrose

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I have no doubt that our dwindling birthrate will have a negative impact on future economic growth. However, I worry about a much deeper type of personal impoverishment that can accompany couples who remain childless. While it is true that choosing not to have children means you can indulge in more luxurious vacations, pursue your own interests and amass more toys, there are many deeply satisfying benefits children bring that a childless couple never experiences.

There are no words to describe the depths of love shared between new parents as you look into the face of the wondrous and totally original little being you have jointly created. As a father of four, I have a rich database overflowing with memories of holiday celebrations, hilarious moments, priceless handmade objects of art and an abundance of family traditions and culture.

Each one of my children has challenged me to develop new problem-solving skills, enhance my creativity quotient and explore ideas and activities I would never have ventured into on my own. It has been a unique privilege to watch the mystery of their individual personhoods unfold over every stage of development from eager toddlers to the confident, capable young adults they are today.

I am humbled and more than a little amazed at our life journey together thus far. They are, hands down, my most meaningful legacy to the world, as well as being some of my best friends.

God knew what a gift children would be when he inspired the psalmist to pen: "Children are a heritage from the Lord, offspring a reward from him. Like arrows in the hands of the warrior are children born in one's youth. Blessed is the man whose quiver is full of them." (Psalm 127:3–5)

Pastor Ché Ahn
HRock Church
Pasadena

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The declining birth rate is troubling for reasons that are both spiritual and social. Certainly, whether to have children is a matter of choice. Personally, I believe that those who don't have children deprive themselves of one of life's greatest joys.

On a secular level, the childless trend is a problem because each generation is tied to the next economically. Countries that have reported sharply reduced growth in recent decades are placing a huge financial burden on younger generations. The BBC reports that because of China's one-child policy, a young person entering the workforce today may face caring for six: his or her parents plus four grandparents as they enter retirement.

The LDS church teaches that having children is a blessing because parents act as partners with God in bringing life to the world. By providing love, nurture and education, we help prepare children to live in a manner that allows them to return to his presence. As parents, if we do our jobs correctly, we also learn to be less selfish by making sacrifices on behalf of our children. The powerful, hard-to-explain love we feel for them helps us understand, in a small way, the love God feels for us. Finally, we believe family relationships can extend beyond mortality. So although there is no rule that says LDS couples must have children, most choose to do so.

I am sometimes asked why Mormon families tend to be large. There is no requirement regarding family size. I know that for some, the decision to have more is based on a desire to participate more deeply in the blessings of parenthood. However, we are taught that this is a private matter for husbands and wives to determine based on a prayerful consideration of their financial and emotional capacity to deal with the cost and hard work of parenting.

Michael White
The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints
La Crescenta

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Demographers seem to agree that fertility moves up and down with the economy, which strikes me as more likely than people having children or not because of their political and social views. "Baby, let's reverse the decline of the American family" wouldn't get me in a reproducing mood.

The drop in U.S. birthrates does not worry me at all. Reason one is that the world's population is growing too fast anyway. Reason two is that birth rates have stopped falling as of 2013.

The U.S. Fertility Forecast, done on contract for the National Center for Health Statistics, predicts fertility will rise in 2013 and concluded that "this fertility decline is now over." (USA Today, Aug. 1.)

At the NCHS website I also find research showing that despite the recession, the fertility intentions of young women are high; they are expected, on average over their lifetime, to have 2.2 children each.

So if we want to worry, or better still, work for change, let's focus on overpopulation and taking care of everyone already here.

Roberta Medford
Atheist
Montrose

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What worries me much more than the dropping birth rate in America is the lack of hope and aspiration that seems to exist among American young people already born. The Pew research center reports that 40% of young adults are moving back to their parent's homes after college graduation with no strong plan for a future. AARP says that American young people's life expectancy is one of the shortest in the industrialized world, certainly shorter than the generations that have preceded them. ABC News reports that while baby boomers still use the largest amount of illicit drugs, nearly 10% of American youth also use drugs illegally. Among American youth, finding something to live for seems very difficult.

The citizens of America or any other country are always at their best if they have something clear for which they strive. Freedom from unjust rulers, righting the horrible injustices of slavery, understanding women as equal and cherished citizens, standing together against international tyranny and working to end world hunger have been a few themes that have given American youth and young adults a sense of themselves.

Media's glorification of lavish lifestyles, moral double standards and the worship of the all-important youthful appearance (aging is almost seen as a character flaw) have caused many young people to not be interested in surviving for a long length of time, much less having children. The slogan "Live fast, die young," taken from the 1958 movie by the same title, seems to have been replaced with a tattoo: "Live fast, die pretty."

I wish I had had children. If I did, I think I would have raised them to be more than just good Americans. I think I would have raised them in the shadow of Proverbs 9:10: "The fear of God is the beginning of wisdom and the knowledge of the Holy One is insight."

The Rev. Dr. William Thomas Jr.
Little White Chapel
Burbank

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I am at least one of the people writing for this column who remembers ZPG, or Zero Population Growth. It was a movement begun in the 1960s and '70s that encouraged people to limit their reproduction rate to simply replace themselves and not increase the population. The basis for this commitment was not just about personal choice or fulfillment. It was begun out of concern for the ability of our country and world to support an ever-increasing population with the finite limits of our natural resources. And I was a supporter of that movement both in theory and practice. My husband and I were intentionally the parents of only two children — both of whom were loved and cherished.

Now I read that people are concerned about the dwindling population growth and am perplexed. If anything, living conditions in our country have become even more alarming than they were in the 1960s and '70s, with a growing number of children and families living beneath the poverty line. Some women may find great fulfillment in being mothers and may have the financial support to bring lots of children into the world. But what about the children who will not have enough food to eat, water to drink, homes to live in or clothes to wear? I believe we need to think beyond what we want as individuals to what is best for the future of humankind.

I am convinced that instead of judging people who choose not to have children as selfish or uncaring, we should thank them for supporting the health and welfare of our planet. Contrary to what some people are suggesting, producing more children in our country is not about supporting our economy or increasing the number of taxpayers. As people of religious conviction, I believe that our calling is to improve the quality of life for all people, not just ourselves.

The Rev. Dr. Betty Stapleford
Unitarian Universalist Church of the Verdugo Hills
La Crescenta