The Liberal Baby Bust
Phillip Longman sees dire consequences flowing from the fact that conservatives have more children than liberals.
It’s a pattern found throughout the world, and it augers a far more conservative future — one in which patriarchy and other traditional values make a comeback, if only by default. Childlessness and small families are increasingly the norm today among progressive secularists. As a consequence, an increasing share of all children born into the world are descended from a share of the population whose conservative values have led them to raise large families.
Today, fertility correlates strongly with a wide range of political, cultural and religious attitudes. In the USA, for example, 47% of people who attend church weekly say their ideal family size is three or more children. By contrast, 27% of those who seldom attend church want that many kids.
This correlation between secularism, individualism and low fertility portends a vast change in modern societies. In the USA, for example, nearly 20% of women born in the late 1950s are reaching the end of their reproductive lives without having children. The greatly expanded childless segment of contemporary society, whose members are drawn disproportionately from the feminist and countercultural movements of the 1960s and ’70s, will leave no genetic legacy. Nor will their emotional or psychological influence on the next generation compare with that of people who did raise children.
Tomorrow’s children, therefore, unlike members of the postwar baby boom generation, will be for the most part descendants of a comparatively narrow and culturally conservative segment of society. To be sure, some members of the rising generation may reject their parents’ values, as often happens. But when they look for fellow secularists with whom to make common cause, they will find that most of their would-be fellow travelers were quite literally never born.
Many will celebrate these developments. Others will view them as the death of the Enlightenment. Either way, they will find themselves living through another great cycle of history.
Leaving aside whether these results are desirable, the logic here is quite strained. Most notably, while it’s true that the fastest growing churches are the most conservative ones, the overall trend in society is toward much more secularity and breaking down of traditional norms.
Take the language. Profanity that would have earned a film an “R” rating in the mid 1970s is now routinely heard on broadcast television during prime time. Words that got guffaws when Richard Prior or Eddie Murphy said them, simply because of their shock value, have become punctuation. Comedy Central’s “South Park,” which would probably have been given an NC-17 rating if released in the theaters in 1975, is now acceptable fare for teenagers. Indeed, there is such a thing as “South Park Republicans.”
The views on homosexuality have rapidly changed over the last thirty years; indeed, the last ten. To take one example that I cite with some frequency, Arlo Guthrie’s 1966 counterculture anthem “Alice’s Restaurant” contains the line, “And if two people, two people do it, in harmony, they may think they’re both faggots and they won’t take either of them.” One can’t imagine Pat Robertson using the term “faggot” today.
Even conservative, churchgoing women who are married have careers. It’s probably true that somewhat more of them who can afford to do so make the sacrifice of staying home and raising–or even home schooling–their children than their progressive peers. But the overall trendline is unmistakeable and quite unlikely to reverse.
Indeed, society’s answers to the test question that Longman suggests, “Do you find soft drugs, homosexuality and euthanasia acceptable?” is moving in a progressive direction. It’s true that there is a reactionary wave against gay marriage at the moment. But, then, the very idea of gay marriage would have been considered ridiculously radical twenty years ago. Indeed, one can scarcely imagine George McGovern–considered a radical left winger when he was the Democratic nominee in 1972–even conjuring the notion, let alone embracing it.
Longman can relax, methinks. It’s the conservatives, not the liberals, who are losing on cultural issues.