Hey, ladies. You may have been too busy walking your dog in the park or working on your career or discovering your own personal happiness to hear the most recent clarion call from Rome, but the Pope has put out a formal request that you start bearing fruit. Of the human baby kind. 

In a homily at the Vatican last week, the pontiff remarked that the "culture of well-being" has convinced people that it's better not to have children. "That way you can see the world, go on holidays; you can have a house in the country and be carefree," he said. "Maybe it is better, more convenient, to have a little dog, two cats; and the love goes to the two cats and the little dog."

But, he warned, you will die of bitter loneliness. In your cabin. In wine country. With a belly full of farmstead cheese and unwavering unconditional love from Fido at your feet. (This whole "culture of well-being" sounds like a real hell on earth.)

Of course, the Pope is making the plea to produce to "married women," but the fact is, fewer women in general are having children, and many more are eschewing marriage all together. According to a report last year from the National Center for Family and Marriage Research, the marriage rate is now 31 percent, the lowest it's been in a century. And according to Pew Research and Demographic Trends, nearly one-in-five American women ends her childbearing years without having borne a child, compared with one-in-ten in the 1970s. 

While the percentage of married households is experiencing a cliff dive (a nearly 20 percent decline since 1970), there's a dramatic uptick in "non-family households," defined by the U.S. Census Bureau as people who live alone or share their residence with only unrelated individuals. In Minnesota, non-family households now make up about 35 percent of all households. That's an increase of about 27 percent since 1990.

What's more, "householders living alone" constitute about 28 percent of all Minnesota households. It's true: Nearly 1 in 3 people in Minnesota lives alone. 

(Note: When a married couple with children becomes empty nesters, they are still counted as a "married-couple family." Yet when children move out of a one-parent family household, a parent living alone is counted as "non-family." Still, it's a dramatic increase in "householders living alone.") 

While talking heads and cultural theorists search for reasons for the marriage and childbearing decline, speculating on everything from rising awareness of feminist values to economic issues to marrying later in life, the fact remains that a majority of Americans spend a larger period of their adult life outside of marriage than ever before, and fewer women are choosing to have children. 

And given that the number of people living alone, cohabitating, or raising children alone could outnumber married-couple families in the next decade ("Married-couple families" only make up 51 percent of all Minnesota households) perhaps we need to start re-thinking how the Census Bureau defines people in "non-families". "Individuals" sounds like a good start. 

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