(CNSNews.com) - An extended adolescence that celebrates self-gratification at the expense of marriage and family is one of the main causes of the world's self-effacing population decline, according to the new film, "Demographic Winter: The Decline of the Human Family."
The soon-to-be-released hour-long documentary is filled with data and experts that contend that the erosion of the traditional family and rapidly declining birth rates are producing social and economic suicide on a global scale.
"Demographic Winter" refers to the low birth rates, particularly in Western countries. "When there aren't enough young people to replace an aging population, we will experience economic collapse and social deterioration," the film contends.
"Demographic Winter" was screened at the conservative Heritage Foundation on Tuesday, where panelists and audience members also discussed the film's message.
Over the past few decades, it has become fashionable for young people, especially men, to put off marriage until later in life or to avoid it altogether, Kay Hymowitz, a scholar and noted author with the Manhattan Institute, explains in the film.
This is partly because women have become more career-minded and economically successful in recent years and are less inclined to have children as a result, she says. But there is also a certain unwillingness to enter adulthood and all its responsibilities that affects men disproportionately, Hymowitz argues.
"Men have a harder time growing up without women than women do growing up without men," she observes in the film.
No-fault divorce laws and a co-habitation mindset that sidestep the guarantees that come with marriage are identified in the film as major contributing factors behind the looming "demographic winter."
And the key trends undermining natural families are intertwined, studies show.
Statistics cited on the film's Web site, for instance, indicate that almost half of all marriages in the West are broken by divorce. Moreover, social scientists find that the children who grow up with divorced parents are less likely to marry and less likely to have children.
Young people who substitute co-habitation for marriage are also less inclined to have children. In parts of Europe co-habitation is becoming more the rule and less the exception. The number of co-habitation partners in Scandinavia, for example, nearly equals the number of married couples, census data show.
To reverse this trend, Phillip Longman, a senior fellow with the New America Foundation, called for a return to traditional, patriarchal family structures during Tuesday's panel discussion.
Longman, who is in the film, is the author of several books on demographics and economics. While it may not be politically correct to speak in terms of patriarchal family models, he said, these structures impose responsibilities on men that they would just as soon avoid.
Longman sees hope for the future among those who hold religious worldviews and among young people especially.
"There is a self-correction side to this," Longman said. "Secularism correlates so strongly with childlessness that there is almost by default a shoring-up of the family with traditional values.
"I think we can see that today. There is evidence of rising aspiration among younger folks today for marriage. I'm talking about people in their 20s. This new millennial generation is so different in so many ways from Generation X," Longman added.
Don Feder, communications director for "Demographic Winter," expressed similar views.
"People who have faith in the future have children," he told Cybercast News Service .
Over time, traditional Catholics, evangelical Christians, Orthodox Jews, and other religious groups will find they must confront the "anti-child, anti pro-creation" that views large families as an oddity, he said.
With the public's attention consumed by media-driven prognostications of environmental catastrophes connected with the highly debatable notion of man-made global warming, it has been difficult for legitimate demographic concerns to find expression, said Feder.
For too long the dialogue has been built around the myth of a "population bomb" as opposed to declining birth rates, he observed. The film is designed to help the public come to terms with disconcerting social patterns that often go unnoticed and unreported, he added.
The film is laced, for instance, with data that suggest the human population will experience significant declines on a global scale in the not-too-distant future.
The term "Demographic Winter" refers to the global decline in birth rates. There are now 59 nations with 44 percent of the world's population that all have declining birth rates, the film reports. To maintain current population levels, the average woman must have 2.1 children in her lifetime, according to social scientists quoted in the film.
Europe's birth rate on a continent-wide basis is down to 1.3, the most recent data show. This means there are no European nations at replacement birth levels. Italy's fertility rate is 1.2, while Spain is 1.1, according to the film.
Meanwhile, these same demographic experts note that Russia's birth rate now stands at just 1.17, an almost 50 percent decline from where it was in 1990.
The United States stands apart from these trends in that its fertility rate remains at replacement levels, thanks in part to immigration, Feder explained. But this reality will not necessarily hold and should not be cause for complacency, he said.
"All of the factors that are driving Europe into the depths of the demographic litter are very much in evidence in the U.S. through divorce, late marriage and voluntary childlessness," Feder said.
"People are putting off childbearing for their careers, their education, and co-habitation without marriage. There is a culture that tells people that their principle purpose is to satisfy and gratify themselves," he added.
Since 1990, 60 percent of the population growth in America has come from immigrants and the children of immigrants, especially Latinos, the film documents.
However, census data now show the fertility rate is also dropping throughout Latin America. For this reason, some of the experts featured in "Demographic Winter" caution against relying upon immigration to sustain the U.S. population.
Even so, relying upon immigration in America and Europe involves trade-offs people may not want to make, Feder said. By 2030 the European Union anticipates a labor shortage of about 20 million, he noted. These jobs are currently being filled by people in North Africa and the Middle East.
"The Europe of 50 years, hence, will not be the Europe of today," Feder said. "It will be different ethnically, culturally and religiously. Many people living in Europe today won't want to live in the Europe of the future. That's a trade-off people may not want to make, because it means losing your culture and your national identity."
The filmmakers believe the best way to lessen the "demographic winter" and to reverse it long-term is to interject politically incorrect ideas about the natural family into policy discussions and the bully pulpit of public leaders.
The news media, the entertainment industry, academia, and government have all contributed in some way to the promotion of lifestyle choices that threaten traditional family structures, Barry McLerran, the film's producer, said in an interview after the screening.
"Our great hope here is to reframe the debate," McLerran said. "Right now it's not politically correct to talk about faith or the natural family. The challenge now is to change hearts and minds back in favor of families without forcing anything on people and to ask how this can be done without becoming a theocracy."
Fortunately, there is now a large body of data available that weighs in favor of traditional marriage and family as they pertain to the health of human civilization, McLerran said. Even academics who prefer to "step around the [politically correct] minefield" now acknowledge the virtues connected to committed marriage.
Make media inquiries or request an interview about this article.
Subscribe to the free CNSNews.com daily E-Brief.
E-mail a comment or news tip to Kevin Mooney
Send a Letter to the Editor about this article.