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How well are we fulfilling God’s original command?

When God created the world, he gave man a foundational command commonly known as the creational mandate: “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it, and have dominion” over it (Gen. 1:28). There are five imperatives in this creational mandate, but the first three – be fruitful, multiply, and fill the earth – all have to do with reproduction. It is striking that the very first three commands given by God to His image-bearers have to do with having children.

So how well are we as humanity in general, as Canadians, and as Christians fulfilling this command? Well, not very well. And, compared to an earlier version of this article, we are getting even worse at fulfilling this calling.

How badly are we doing?

Although Christians and demographers might have some debate on when or if the earth is “full,” it is difficult to argue that Canada is “full.” Canada has one of the lowest population densities of any country on the planet, with an average of only 4 people per square kilometer. By comparison, the Netherlands, one of the most densely populated countries (excluding islands and city-states) has a population density 130 times that of Canada, or 518 people per square kilometer. Although much of Canada’s landmass is not suitable for human habitation, Canada still has the third most arable land per person in the world, with 1.00 hectares (0.01 square kilometers) per person. That’s 17 times as much farmland per person than the Netherlands (0.06 hectares per person).

Relating to the command to be fruitful and multiply, Statistics Canada tracks the fertility rate of Canadians each year. It just published its data for 2022. Although the total fertility rate – the number of children that the average woman can be expected to have in her lifetime – has been declining for decades, the birth rate hit an all-time low of 1.33 in 2022.

What does this statistic mean? Well, the fertility replacement rate is 2.1, meaning that if the average woman in Canada had 2.1 children, Canada’s population would remain the same. This makes intuitive sense. Each woman would have to have two children to replace herself and her husband. Since not every child lives long enough to, or is able to, have children, the natural replacement rate needs to be just a little bit higher than two. So if the fertility rate exceeds 2.1, then Canada’s population would grow, and if fertility rates are below 2.1, the Canadian-born population will decline.

The current fertility rate of 1.33 means our Canadian-born population is guaranteed to decrease in the long-term as more Canadians will die each year than will be born.

This trend is not unique. The fertility rates across the G7 countries (a group of Canada’s wealthy and democratic peers) are all below the replacement rate of 2.1 according to the Statistics Canada report.

Why aren’t we fulfilling this command?

Fertility rates have been falling across the developed world for a number of reasons. The Institute of Marriage and Family, which joined the Christian think tank Cardus in 2016, identified three main reasons in a past report on Canada’s Shrinking Families.

1. Children aren’t a top priority

First of all, a Cardus report conducted by researcher Lyman Stone entitled She’s (Not) Having a Baby reveals that having children aren’t on the top of the list of desires for women. Two of the most common reasons and strongest predictors for not desiring to have a child in the next two years was the desire to grow as a person and to focus on a career. Personal and professional growth is increasingly prioritized over familial growth.

That said, women do still desire children but because of these competing desires, most women aren’t having as many children as they ideally would desire. According to the Cardus survey, almost 60% of women would ideally like to have more children, and only 7% of women would ideally like to have fewer children. While the fertility rate (the likely number of children a women will actually have) in Canada is currently at 1.33, women, when asked, express a desire to have closer to 2 children. Right now there is a “fertility gap” of women not having as many children as they would like.

2. Budgetary concerns

Second, economic factors are incentivizing smaller families. Raising children is becoming increasingly expensive, with the Chartered Professional Accountants of Canada estimating that raising a child under the age of 18 costs $10,000-$15,000 in direct costs each year, plus the opportunity costs of lost wages. Given that the median after-tax income of Canadian families was $66,800 in 2020, children take up a substantial portion of a family’s budget.

Women have also increasingly decided to pursue a full-time or part-time career not only to find personal fulfillment but simply to make ends meet. The desire to save money or to spend more money on leisure were also common factors cited in the Cardus study about why women were unlikely to choose to have children. These changing preferences have led many women to decide not to have children or to have a smaller number of kids than their parents or grandparents did.

3. Broken families don’t get big

Third, Canadian families are becoming less stable, prompting fewer couples to decide to have children. Cardus’ Canadian Marriage Map demonstrates how, of the total number of families with children, the percentage of married couples has declined while the percentage of common-law couples and lone-parent families have increased. As of 2016, approximately one third of families with children lack a married couple at the helm. Almost half of all couples – common-law and married – do not have children.

4. Kids can be killed

Finally, the prevalence of contraception and abortion has enabled Canadians to choose when to have children and how many children to have. Contraceptive pills, approved in Canada in 1960, as well other forms of contraception have become widely used. When contraception fails, many Canadians turn to abortion. Although the number of documented abortions has been declining over the past decades (87,595 abortions were reported in 2021), there is little data on the number of abortion pill prescriptions, which have become increasingly common in recent years. But if you consult Statistics Canada fertility data, the authorization to sell the contraceptive pill coincided with a dramatic decline in fertility rates in the 1960s.

What are the consequences of not fulfilling this command?

The major consequence of a low fertility rate is an aging and possibly declining population. Statistics Canada’s 2021 census report documents how the Baby Boomer generation (the uncommonly large age-cohort born in the decades after the Second World War) is retiring from the workforce. In 2016, the number of people over the age of 65, the age traditionally associated with retirement, exceeded the number of people under the age of 15 for the first time in Canada. Five years later, approximately one fifth of the Canadian population (19.0%) is over the age of 65 while 16.3% of the population is below the age of 15.

This trend is projected to continue, as the number of retirees grows faster than the number of children, for the foreseeable future. The number of people in the labor force compared to the number of retirees is also declining, meaning that there are increasingly fewer workers paying taxes to support our retirees each year.

The economic impact of an aging population is significant. In 2006, the Senate of Canada released a report on demographics forebodingly entitled The Demographic Time Bomb: Mitigating the Effects of Demographic Change in Canada, documenting how transfers to seniors and the health care costs of seniors would eat up an increasing percentage of government spending. This is a major consideration of whether federal or provincial finances are sustainable in the long-term (over the next 75 years). According to the Parliamentary Budget Officer’s 2023 Fiscal Sustainability Report, the federal government’s finances, provincial governments’ collective finances, and public pension plans are sustainable over the long-term. However, the “rising health care costs due to population ageing” are placing great strain on provincial health systems.

How might we better fulfill this command?

One way to reverse this demographic decline and at least fill our corner of the earth is through an increase in immigration. And that is precisely what Canada has done. Despite having a fertility rate well below the replacement rate (meaning that Canada’s population should shrink in the long-term) Canada’s population continues to grow, primarily through immigration. In 2023, Canada welcomed more immigrants and non-permanent residents than any other year in its history – over 1.1 million. While the populations of other G7 countries declined (Japan and Italy) or grew slowly (Germany, France, United States, and the United Kingdom) in the past five years, Canada’s population grew relatively quickly at over 1% per year.

While immigration may help mitigate our aging demographics and help Canadians collectively fill their country, God’s command to be fruitful and multiply applies to individuals too. Even Pope Francis pointed out this issue, arguing that too many people are choosing to have pets instead of children.

Changing the cultural conversation about children isn’t primarily the task of the government. Given the economic, cultural, and technological factors that are encouraging Canadians to have fewer kids, the ultimate fix isn’t a governmental policy but a renewed understanding of and appreciation for the goodness of children. Children are not primarily a financial burden, a drag on career aspirations, or an unwelcome source of work, but a joy and a heritage from the LORD (e.g. Ps. 127:3-5).

Nevertheless, government policies certainly can help raise the domestic fertility rate. Cash transfers to parents such as the Canada Child Benefit and generous parental leave policies alleviate some of the economic cost of children. Reforming Canada’s laws on marriage and divorce could help support stable marriages that are conducive to having children. Restricting abortion, both surgical abortions in hospitals and clinics and abortion pills taken at home, would increase the fertility rate as well.


Canada as a country, with a fertility rate of 1.33, is not fulfilling God’s command to “be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth” well. And it’s getting worse. A growing prioritization of personal and career growth, economic factors, cultural attitudes towards marriage, contraception, and abortion are all pressuring or enabling Canadians to have fewer and fewer children. Canada’s low fertility rate is leading to a rapid aging of our society, a trend that is only partially offset by increased immigration. Although changing cultural attitudes towards children is better led by the Church rather than the government, government policies can certainly also be reformed to encourage citizens to be fruitful and multiply.

This appeared in the March/April 2024 issue.

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Overpopulation is a myth, and we should have known

While overpopulation fears aren't causing the same panic they once did, this bogeyman hasn't disappeared entirely. The United Nations still has their Population Fund, advising nations on how to handle, as their mandate puts it, "population problems." While China has moved away from a One-Child-Policy – couples were fined, or even forced to have abortion if they had a second child – the government still has a Two-Child Policy. And while India's Supreme Court shut down that country's mass sterilization camps just this past year, the country is still committed to population control. So why does the myth persist? Two reasons: Most aren't familiar with the current state of the world. We don't hear about how things are improving, and how poverty is decreasing even as population is growing. Many still trust these doom and gloom prophets because they aren't familiar with the predictions that were made back in the 60's and 70s. The younger generation, especially, doesn't understand just how outrageously and how disastrously wrong these experts were. The world today Last year Japan’s birthrate fell below 1 million for the first time, while 1.3 million deaths were recorded. Since 2010 Japan’s population has shrunk by approximately 1.2 million (or roughly 1%). And they aren’t the only country shrinking; Russia has roughly 4 million less citizens than it had in 1995. We can see in Europe that population has leveled off, with deaths exceeding births for the first time in 2015, so growth is due only to immigration, not procreation. In Canada, too, we are not having children at replacement levels – whereas we would need 2.1 children born per woman to maintain a stable population (this number is slightly over 2, to account for children who don’t survive childhood), our birthrate is only 1.6. The United States, Australia, and the Western world in general are all under 2. There are problems that come with this, as an aging population doesn't have enough young people to care for it. The overall world population does continue to grow, with the growth focussed primarily in the developing world. For example, Africa's population has just passed 1.2 billion, up from roughly half that in 1990. But even as world’s population increases, we’ve seen not a shortage of food, but an increase in our ability to feed the planet. And poverty continues to decline worldwide – by one measure, extreme poverty has been more than halved over the last 30 years, even as the population has grown from 5 billion to more than 7 billion. Starvation does still occur, but that is due more to government corruption and war than to an inability to produce enough. The predictions of the past But how can things be getting better even as the world population increases? As one of the best-known population alarmists, Dr. Paul Ehrlich, noted, a finite planet cannot sustain infinite growth – at some point the Earth is going to run out of food, room, and resources. That seems to be a matter of basic math. And it's this basic math that had Ehrlich make this prediction in his 1968 book, The Population Bomb: "The battle to feed all of humanity is over. In the 1970s hundreds of millions of people will starve to death in spite of any crash programs embarked upon now. At this late date nothing can prevent a substantial increase in the world death rate..." People under 40 may not understand the scope of the disaster population alarmists were predicting. Ehrlich said England wouldn't exist by the year 2,000 – this was end-of-the-world-type rhetoric, and people were taking it seriously. This New York Times video does a good job of capturing just how scared people were. Clearly Ehrlrich was wrong. But to many it is less than clear as to why. One reason is a revolution in agriculture that was deemed "the Green Revolution." Even as Ehrlich was making his doom and gloom predictions, an American innovator, Dr. Norman Borlaug, was developing new strains of wheat and new farming techniques that dramatically increased crop yield. As Henry Miller wrote in Forbes: "How successful were Borlaug’s efforts? From 1950 to 1992, the world’s grain output rose from 692 million tons produced on 1.70 billion acres of cropland to 1.9 billion tons on 1.73 billion acres of cropland." Ehrlich was about as wrong as wrong can be. The world has not ended; things have dramatically improved. And lest we attribute it simply to luck – Norman Borlaug just happening to come around just when we needed him to save us from disaster – we need to view this from a Christian perspective. Ehrlich, and population alarmists viewed each new baby as being a drain on the planet. They didn't see them as human beings given a task to develop the planet. They didn't recognize that while each human being does come with a mouth that needs to be fed, we are also gifted by our Creator with a brain, and with two hands, with which we can produce. We not only consume, we create (and in doing so reflect our Creator God). That's how more people can mean more, not less, resources - that's why food production has gone up, and poverty down, even as population continues to rise. Not just wrong but dangerous Overpopulation alarmism isn't just wrong, it's dangerous. This end-of-the-world rhetoric had a role in the Roe vs. Wade decision which legalized abortion in America. It has been used to justify government-funded abortion, forced sterilizations, and actions like China’s One-Child Policy, and now Two-Child Policy, under which tens of millions of Chinese babies have been aborted, many against their parents' wishes. Meanwhile, in Africa, where the population is growing, the first annual Africa-China Conference on Population and Development was just held in Kenya and hosted by the Chinese government and the United Nations Population Fund.’s Shannon Roberts shared how some of the speakers pointed to China’s coercive population controls as worthy of imitation. And at least one Kenyan media outlet thought that wasn’t such a bad idea. The Daily Nation commented: “With a controlled population, the Chinese economy boomed, benefiting from cheap labour from its many people and rising to be the second largest after the United States. Should Kenyans do the same?” Population controls are not just a problem of the past – they exist and are still being advocated for today. That's why we need to bury the overpopulation bogeyman once and for all, before it kills millions more. Christians falling short The Bible doesn't speak to all issues with the same degree of clarity. But when it comes to the population alarmism, God couldn’t be clearer: children are not a curse to be avoided but a blessing to be received (Gen. 1:28; 9:1, 9:7, Prov. 17:6, Ps. 127:3-5, Ps. 113:9, etc.). Back already in the 1960s Christians could have spoken out against overpopulation alarmism, based on the clarity of these texts. And some did. But the Church is so often impacted by what we hear from the world around us. We let ourselves be muted, we let ourselves become uncertain. We start to ask, "Did God really say?" And then, like the watchman on the wall who failed to give warning (Ez. 33:6) we become responsible for the deaths we might have been able to prevent, if we'd only spoken out. It's back? While the overpopulation hysteria has died down in recent years, this bogeyman is primed for a resurrection. Global warming and concerns about CO2 emissions have some questioning "Should we be having kids in the age of climate change?" The argument, so it goes, is that people can't help but have some sort of carbon footprint, so the only sure way of reducing carbon emissions is to have less people on the planet. Once again we are being urged to have "one and be done." Once again children are being portrayed as a problem rather than as a blessing. The Bible doesn't address climate change as clearly as it does overpopulation alarmism, but what we can be certain of is this: obedience to God is not going to destroy our planet. While obeying God doesn't always lead to a smooth life for Christians here on Earth – following God can lead to a loss of friends, or business opportunities, or result in persecution – when we as a society turn to God then prosperity follows. Then we end slavery, open hospitals, develop Science, create industry. This obedience doesn't even need to be of the heart-felt sort to still reap benefits – even unbelievers, when they follow God's commands for marriage, sex, and parenting will have better results (for a book-length treatment of this thought, see Vishal Mangalwadi's The Book That Made Your World). Our disobedience can be destructive – our self-centeredness, greed, jealousy, and hatred can cause real harm. But not our obedience. That's why the begetting of many children is not something we need feel guilty about, or refrain from, out of concern for the climate. We can be certain that the world’s doom will not be caused by us, in obedience, listening to God and having children. God has spoken out against overpopulation alarmism, so we need to. The next time you hear someone talking about overpopulation, point them to the Bible and share how spectacularly incorrect all the doom and gloom predictions have been. We need to bury this bogeyman....