Possibly the most annoying explanation for Western Europe’s ‘birth dearth’ is the claim that it is the product of some sort of profound spiritual malaise. Allegedly doomed by their secularism to an endless arid despair, Europeans are, it is sometimes suggested, too consumed with ennui, misery and themselves to bother with reproduction. To describe this argument as nonsense is to insult nonsense.
In fact the decision to have fewer children is simply a by-product of modernity, although ‘simply’ is not really the word to use: A fascinating piece by Anthony Gottlieb in the Economist magazine’s Intelligent Life shows us just how complex this topic can be. Most interesting of all, perhaps, is one idea that he cites, the notion that “having families can incline one to religion”. I’m not sure that I buy that (and, wisely, Mr. Gottlieb doesn’t come down on one side of the fence or the other), but, not for the first time, it got me to wondering what (if any) evolutionary function religion might fulfill. That’ll be food for thought for me amid the turkey and mince pies, but in the meantime, merry Christmas, one and all.