Thursday, July 26, 2012


Published in the U Matuna, the newspaper for the Archdiocese of Agana, Guam on 7/29/12

Oh, so you didn’t know it was Natural Family Planning Awareness Week? Well, if you had plans for it, you’ll need to wait till next year. It ends today (July 22-29).  

NFP, for those who may not be aware, is a non-contraceptive system of birth regulation considered moral by the Church if employed for “serious reason” (HV, 10).

NFP, which relies on the systematic observation of bodily indicators to identify a woman’s fertile period, has its advocates and detractors. And while I personally find the whole discussion of birth regulation fascinating and could spend several columns on it, I’d like to cut to the chase in this column and speak directly to the thing that, for most married couples, makes the regulation of births an issue in the first place: money.

For most of us married folk, when it comes to “making babies”, the big issue is not moral, theological or doctrinal, it’s financial. We don’t check the Catechism before we engage in a potentially procreative marital act, we check the bank account. We ask whether or not we can afford another child, and more often than not, the answer is “no”.

We say, sure, grandma had 12 kids and mom had 6, but times are different, it’s more expensive these days. It’s harder to earn a living. It’s not like it used to be, etc., etc., etc. And for the most part, pastoral mentors agree and give couples wide latitude to limit the size of their families (albeit via moral means).

But given that the Church allows only one method of birth regulation - and allows it for only “serious reason”, and given that most of us blame “the cost of living” as the reason to not have another child, we must ask ourselves if the cost of living is a “serious (enough) reason” for a sacramentally married couple to intentionally delay or avoid pregnancy.  In other words: Is it really more expensive today than it was a generation or two ago?

The answer is yes and no. Let’s start with the “no”. According to, the Consumer Price Index in 1960 was 29.6. At the end of 2011, it was 224.9. That means it is approximately 10 times more expensive to live today than it was in 1960.

However, wages, over the same period, have also seen a ten-fold increase. According  to the Social Security Administration, average wages in 1960 were $4007.12 and 41,673.83 in 2010

So, statistically speaking, it is NOT more expensive to live today than it was 50 years ago. It’s about the same. So why is it that we feel we cannot possibly afford another child? Here’s the “yes” part of the answer:

Today we spend 10 times more on our sports addictions than we did in 1960, 37 times more on travel, 43 times more on games, 54 times more on hair care and cosmetics, 60 times more on pets, and...wait for it...178 times more on our “phone” bill - which of course is not our “phone” bill, but the cost of assuaging our incessant need to be permanently connected to the rest of the world through an ever expanding array of gadgets that we just have to have.

True,  the cost of housing is 72 times more than it was in 1960, which, when compared to only a ten-fold increase in wages, represents a significant financial burden.  However, some of that is our own doing. While family size has nearly halved since 1960, the average square footage per home over the same period has more than doubled. In other words, increasingly smaller families are demanding increasingly larger  homes.

And of course there is healthcare, which today costs 30 times more than it did 50 years ago. However, the real “elephant in the room” is the cost of education, specifically “higher education”.

Today we spend 146 times more per family on education than we did in 1960. And since 1985, college costs have exploded, increasing a staggering 498.49%. By comparison, healthcare costs have grown at less than half that rate.

True, many more of our children are going to college these days, but the question which concerns us is whether or not the desire to send our children to college qualifies as the “serious reason” necessary to justify the moral use of NFP.

Of course, the same question could apply to everything from “Do you really need that data plan?” to “Do you really need that big of a house?”

However, the cost of education is so disproportionate to every other expense that there is little question that the specter of its cost probably has more to do with our increasing reluctance to “accept children willingly and lovingly from God” (as we promised), than any other factor. (More later.)
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