Today on Jezebel, Erin Gloria Ryan mocks Michelle Duggar’s assertion that there’s nothing wasteful about having 19 kids. For perhaps the first time ever, I’m on Duggar’s side. If nobody else is having many babies anymore—and we’re not—then it’s pretty okay for her to have a whole bunch. We’ve got much bigger sustainability and population problems to worry about than the occasional mega-family.
In a web interview with the Christian Broadcasting Network, here’s what Duggar—of reality show “19 Kids and Counting” fame—had to say about her and husband Jim Bob’s brood:
Well, first off, the idea of overpopulation is not accurate because, really, the entire population of the world, if they were stood shoulder to shoulder, could fit in the city limits of Jacksonville. So if you realize that aspect of it, we realize we’re not anywhere near being overpopulated.
That is not the part I agree with. That is, in fact, one of the most asinine arguments dismissing overpopulation that I’ve ever heard. And, honestly, the rest of her answer doesn’t get much more coherent: She agrees with Mother Theresa that saying there are too many babies “is like saying there are too many flowers;” believes that more babies bring more “joy” and “purpose” to the world; and says that other countries are begging the United States to “please let their people know that they need to have more children.”
But as woo-woo as her reasoning might be, the gist of Duggar’s answer—that it’s not wasteful or selfish for her to have a big family; that overpopulation is no longer an issue in most countries—is true.
First: The Duggar family. This whole thing starts because someone asks Duggar what kind of environmental impact her ‘super-large family’ is having on the world? Absolutely none. I guarantee it; in the grand scheme of global population, one 19-child family means squat. And if you think about it, one 19-child household probably consumes less resources than six three-child households, because things can be reused, and the amount of extra space/energy per kid in a family decreases exponentially (i.e., the more kids you have, the less each one costs, in terms of money and resources).
If everybody started having mega-families, would we be in trouble? Of course. But that’s NEVER GOING TO HAPPEN. The overall number of children born in the U.S. has dropped 8 percent since it’s peak, in 2007. The average fertility rate is currently 2.05 children per family, down from 2.48 in 1970, 3.65 in 1960, 3.42 in 1910 and 7.04 in 1800 (for the 20th century, it peaked around 1956). Population growth in the U.S. is at its slowest growth rate since the Great Depression, according to the U.S. Census. I don’t think we’re in any danger of super-large families becoming anything close to a norm again.
As for overpopulation: Countries around the world are having major issues because of the coming “gray tsunami.” In the U.S., one in eight Americans is currently 65 or older; by 2050, one in 10 Americans is projected to be over 90. That is not a good thing, even if you take away the issues of Social Security and Medicare sustainability. Italy and Germany have seen population decreases recently, and Japan and Spain will soon, according to the World Bank. Asian countries are also being stung by aging populations and declining fertility rates.
Death rates are outnumbering birth rates in some places. Countries are in crisis. I’m not advocating more people start having large families. I’m not arguing that any person should have any more kids than they want to (even if that number is zero). But I also think it’s just absurd to say the very small number of very large U.S. families are somehow driving us to overpopulation and environmental decline.