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Baby makes three

The effort to raise birth rates will fall flat unless the number of marriages increases

Elon Musk and one of his children attend the annual political festival Atreju in Rome. Associated Press/Photo by Alessandra Tarantino

Baby makes three
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Prior to the 2024 March for Life, the pro-life diaper company EveryLife sponsored a billboard in New York City. The sign included a screenshot of Elon Musk’s tweet “Having children is saving the world,” with the phrase “Make More Babies” repeated numerous times below. Though he wasn’t involved in the creation of the sign, Musk shared his support for the message.   

EveryLife’s “Make More Babies” campaign targets “abortion, climate change alarmism, or the ‘career advancement above all else’ movement,” each of which are smokescreens for depopulation. Those in favor of depopulation range from the World Economic Forum to Bill and Melinda Gates.      

“We must create the next generation of humans or spiral into oblivion,” Elon Musk posted on X in 2023. “Having children should be incentivized, not be a financial penalty like it is in most countries!” Despite his praise for monetary incentives, most nations with pro-natalist policies have not seen a meaningful rise in births.  

Conservatives should be pleased that a coalition of influential leaders has arisen to combat demographic decline. But as is the case with Elon Musk, the pro-natalist movement includes many who detach having babies from its natural context in the family.  

To put it simply, a pro-family culture emphasizes what is good for the whole family, not the most technologically efficient way to create babies for adults who want them. Pro-family Christians recognize children are blessings from God and that we need more of them. They also know that children have the best social outcomes when they are raised by their married biological parents in a loving home. These two camps—pro-family and pro-natalist—often work together to increase the number of children born, but they diverge whenever childbearing is reduced to a means to an end.

Elon Musk’s own family is a powerful illustration of this. Musk has 11 children by three different women (not all of whom he married). Most, if not all, of his living children have been born through IVF, and he has used a surrogate at least once. Musk speaks highly of his children and claims to spend all his free time with them. 

Even with the best intentions, however, coordinating quality time with 11 children spread over three locations would be a logistical nightmare. Recent data from the Institute for Family Studies found that nonresident fathers only spent an average of 36 minutes per week with their children.

Musk’s approach fails to recognize that children thrive the best when their married biological mother and father raise them together in the same home.

Musk’s approach fails to recognize that children thrive the best when their married biological mother and father raise them together in the same home.    

Such children are far less likely to be poor, to commit crimes, to drop out of school, and to suffer from depression and other psychological problems. We also know that adults in such settings do better on average on almost all measures than do single parents. Married women with children, for instance, report higher levels of happiness than either single mothers or unmarried women with no children.    

Beyond these empirical findings lies the ethical principle that we should oppose methods and policies that treat, or risk treating, human beings as commodities—as mere means rather than ends in themselves. When the “package deal” of marriage, sex, and procreation are divided, either through lifestyle or technology, children are in some sense reduced to a utilitarian prospect.     

To achieve the pro-natalist goal of restoring birth rates, we need more than an emphasis on children. We need more marriages between men and women.     

Interestingly, the marriage-centric “pro-family” approach to childbearing is not merely a bastion of conservative or religious thought. It is also the only structure through which demographers have seen a meaningful and sustained increase in the number of children born per woman.    

As Lyman Stone argues in two reports for the Institute for Family Studies, marriage still matters for fertility. Indeed, it is perhaps the largest indicator of high fertility rates.

Unfortunately, cohabitation and single parenthood are increasingly the norm for many families. Not only is this detrimental for children who are increasingly raised without one of their parents in the home, it is counterproductive to efforts to increase birth rates. Married families also provide a sense of safety and strong social ties that fuel a child’s desire to have their own children one day.  

Until we get serious about encouraging marriage at the front end of a woman’s childbearing years, the likelihood that we’ll see a meaningful increase in children is slim.  

Emma Waters

Emma Waters is a research associate in The Heritage Foundation’s DeVos Center for Life, Religion and Family.

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