The Family Is Eroding

(ILLUSTRATION BY CHRIS MORRIS, CONTRIBUTING ARTIST)
(ILLUSTRATION BY CHRIS MORRIS, CONTRIBUTING ARTIST)

Recent setbacks for social conservative ideals – most particularly on same-sex marriage – have led some to suggest that traditional values are passé. Indeed, some conservatives, in Pat Buchanan’s phrase, are in “a long retreat,” deserted by mainstream corporate America sporting rainbow logos. Some social conservatives are so despondent that they speak about retreating from the public space and into their homes and churches, rediscovering “the monastic temperament” prevalent during the Dark Ages.

This response would be a tragedy for society. For all its limitations, the fundamental values cherished by the religious – notably, family – have never been more important, and more in need of moral assistance. The current progressive cultural wave may itself begin to “overreach” as it moves from the certainty of liberal sentiment to ever more repressive attempts to limit alternative views of the world, including those of the religious.

In the next few years, social conservatives need to engage, but in ways that transcend doctrinal concerns about homosexuality, or even abortion. It has to be made clear that, on its current pace, Western civilization and, increasingly, much of East Asia are headed toward a demographic meltdown as people eschew family formation for the pleasures of singleness or childlessness.

Although sensible for many individuals, the decision to detach from familialism augurs poorly for societies, which will be forced to place enormous burdens on a smaller young generation to support an ever-expanding cadre of retirees. It also frames a spiritual crisis in which people no longer look out for their relatives, but only for themselves, inevitably becoming dependent on government to provide the succor that used to come from families.

A First Step

Conservatives, in particular, need to give up the idea that the fifties – the era of “Leave it to Beaver” – will ever come back. Too many factors, such as women’s growing role in the workplace and the sexual revolution, have altered reality permanently. Only 45 percent of children live in intact married families, and those who cherish the institution of families have little choice other than to embrace other models, including blended families, single-parent households, as well as same-sex parent households.

Families today, notes demographer Wolfgang Lutz, struggle in an environment dominated by adults and their concerns. Many young grow up without siblings, cousins and the extended family network so critical to humans for much of our history as a species. Religion, which historically has supported families, has declined in most high-income countries, including, to a lesser extent, the United States, notes the Pew Foundation.

Secularization generally works against child-raising. Religious people – Orthodox Jews, practicing Muslims, evangelicals and Mormons – have many more children than their more secular brethren. As author Eric Kauffman puts it, secularism appears to fail to “inspire the commitment to generations past and sacrifices for those yet to come.”

These effects are clearly evident in an increasingly post-Christian Europe; German, Greek, Spanish and Italian birth rates are among the lowest in the world, despite the largely unwelcome presence of hundreds of thousands of mostly poor Africans and Middle Easterners. Phil Longman compares Europe to a woman whose “biological clock is running down. It is not too late to adopt more children, but they won’t look like her.”

Germany, with its ultralow birth rate and rapidly aging population, will need 6 million additional workers by 2025, or 200,000 new migrants every year, to keep its economic engine humming, according to government estimates. It will also require ever higher taxes on a diminishing workforce – expected to shrink by 7 million by 2023 – essentially a “demographic reserve” to pay for retirees.

 

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SOURCE: The Orange County Register
Joel Kotkin

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