Seven months after welcoming baby girl Harper, celebrity dad David Beckham confessed he and his wife would love to have a fifth baby.
“We might have one more or two more, you never know,” the elite soccer player told talk show host Jonathan Ross earlier this month. “We’re not thinking about it yet, but if it happens, great.”
Admitting he’d welcome a fifth child distinguishes Beckham from the mainstream American perspective on large families. Birthrates have plummeted during the last 50 years, and now, families of more than two children are a rarity.
“We treat children as a commodity,” lamented Heritage Fellow Andrew Walker. “We esteem children outside the womb. But we also treat them like as something only to be had at the appropriate time, whenever the market conditions are correct.”
More young Americans are choosing childlessness, opting for successful careers and economic excess instead, Walker explained. He blamed this social revolution for America’s plummeting fertility rate and warned it would have economic repercussions. If American fertility rates continue to fall, a smaller population will mean a smaller pool of resources, reduced ability to pay off debts, and a strain on entitlement programs. Japan, the world’s “greyest” nation, already suffers from many of those problems.
In 1957, Americans averaged 122.7 births per 1,000 women. In 2011, the birth rate had dropped to 63.2 babies per 1,000 women. Birth rates among Christian families aren’t much different from the population at large.
Despite the preference for smaller families, some couples buck the trend. Mark and Kimberly Rivera have 11 children and are used to hearing surprised gasps and negative comments from strangers they meet near their Knoxville, Tenn., home. Kimberly Rivera mostly laughs off the stares.
“We never imagined having 11 children,” she exclaimed during a phone interview. “But we see them as a gift from God.”
Life as a mother of 11 isn’t easy. Most people don’t realize how long it takes to make peanut butter and jelly sandwiches for 13 people, or how long it takes to all the children into shoes and socks, she told me.
On her blog, Rivera keeps a track of innovative solutions as resources for other moms. She publishes meal plans, cleaning schedules and D.I.Y. guides, including one on how to make a bookshelf from a rain gutter. She is honest about money-saving tips, which include foregoing shampoo and using wash cloths as napkins.
The Riveras always knew they wanted children. But Kimberly admitted they reached a crisis during her fourth pregnancy. She said they wrestled with questions of prudence and provision, the same questions she hears from many of her Christian friends.
As they considered their future childbearing, they decided to let three principles rule their lives. First, they believe God when he said children will always be a blessing, not just under certain circumstances. The couple also believes God doesn’t create life accidentally and has a specific purpose for each of their children. And, they believe if he gives them more children, he will make provision for their care. After every birth, Mark received either a pay raise or a promotion.
Unlike some Christian groups, which push for big families as a biblical mandate, Rivera doesn’t argue her viewpoint should be the rule for every Christian couple. Instead she urges couples to make whatever decision they make because of scripture and not cultural norms that prioritize convenience and control.
“Go to scripture to see what God says about children,” she said. “Make whatever choice you make based on scripture.”
Similarly, Walker urged the church to push back against the culture of smaller families.
“We should reexamine the nature and function of careers in the church,” he advised. “Do battle with the concept that motherhood is somehow less significant and do a better job of examining the heart issues … behind intentional childlessness.”