Wednesday, March 15, 2006

Petrified Forest - A Geopolitical Perspective?

From Ash:

Yesterday, USA Today ran a piece by Phillip Longman, "The Liberal Baby Bust", which was adapted from his similarly themed piece, "The Return of Patriarchy", in the current issue of Foreign Policy. Personally, I think the Foreign Policy piece is the more persuasive of the two. But both have some intriguing points worth mentioning -- particularly in light of our discussion on childlessness.

In the "Liberal Baby Bust," Longman argues that American and European progressives and secularists have either no children or significantly less children than their religious and conservative counterparts. Longman writes:

"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.

"In Utah, where more than two-thirds of residents are members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 92 children are born each year for every 1,000 women, the highest fertility rate in the nation. By contrast Vermont — the first to embrace gay unions — has the nation's lowest rate, producing 51 children per 1,000 women."

Later in the piece, he continues, "This dynamic helps explain the gradual drift of American culture toward religious fundamentalism and social conservatism. Among states that voted for President Bush in 2004, the average fertility rate is more than 11% higher than the rate of states for Sen. John Kerry."

Through facts like these, Longham argues that progressives and secularists have a value-system that they cannot pass onto the next generation because there literally isn't a next generation to pass those values onto. Conservatives and religious, on the other hand, have another generation inculcated with its views, and that generation becomes proportionately larger -- and therefore its views become proportionately increasingly dominant.

Longham's case has a lot of intuitive appeal, but it isn't perfect. First, he deals with religiosity and political conservatism as if they were the same thing -- which they aren't. Second, he attributes birth rate to religion and political views, but doesn't address the impact of other influences -- education, ethnicity, immigration, economic status, etc. I think he'd have a stronger argument if he'd addressed those issues.

But this got me thinking. I compared the maps of age at first marriage, married couple households, unmarried couples, in the Census working paper, "Indicators of Marriage and Fertility in the U.S. . . ." the Census thematic maps of educational attainment and family size, and the CNN 2004 Election Results Map. And wow -- all but one of them were almost identical: framed the red-blue states amazingly consistently. Compared to the "red states," "blue states" all have higher ages at first marriage, higher college-educated populations, more unmarried couples and fewer married couples. Each one of those factors, independently, has consistently been found to lower the number of children a woman has. (For example, the longer a woman stays in school, the later she begins to have children, and the fewer she has.) Which supports Longham's thesis.

The only one that really didn't seem to gel was the one that would seem to really prove Longham's point the most: the family size map.

If Longham's right, then I would think that the "red states" should have consistently, significantly, bigger families -- but they didn't. Which makes me think of another key fact that Longham didn't address -- the fact that it's only (largely immigrant) Hispanic women who are keeping the U.S.'s fertility rate at the "replacement rate" of 2.1 -- and, at least, traditionally, we would consider them to be religious conservatives but political liberals.

All of which makes me think that religion and progressivism alone are worthy topics to address, but we also need to take those other factors into account. Perhaps Longham can in a follow-up, which I'd love to read.

Because of those questions, I think Longham's Foreign Policy piece is more persuasive. In that, he takes a broader historical view of how one political view can trump another by sheer size alone. From ancient Greeks to today, the idea is basically that if there are more of you, you win. Once you've won, by sheer numerical dominance, you fundamentally change the society. And, along the way, we can expect the numerically smaller groups to have less and less influence.

Which makes for some really intriguing thinking when we consider the fundamentally changing demographics of the world -- that the Western industrialized nations that have populations that are simultaneously shrinking in birth rate and aging, while the developing world's population is both growing and much younger.

I don't think either article is going to necessarily change anyone's decisions about having children. As Po has said, more articulately than I shall even attempt, having children is a personal decision based on factors and facts only that person can know. But I do think that Longham's pieces do lend further support to the fact that there are larger societal factors at work -- that childlessness may be less a "choice" but an outgrowth of time and place.

(Oh, by the way, if you can get to it, there's an equally intriguing Foreign Policy article on how the Chinese one-child policy is resulting in a societal crisis: the population has become so disproportionately male that there are millions of men who will never marry -- that the culture is now almost institutionalizing brothels as the only opportunity for them to have sex -- that there are so few women that there's apparently a boom in kidnapping them to force them into marriage.)


Anonymous tirzah harper said...

Phillip Longman also leaves out an important variable when he talks about segments of society becoming extinct:
We are not born into a lifelong caste system. We do not all inherit our parents' values or opinions along with their genes.
I have learned many of my current values from people that I have never met, who have no genetic relationship to me; people who will never know how profoundly they have affected my life and propogated their beliefs by sharing them, unknowingly, with me.
It's not traditional procreation, but it's a very real method of passing oneself on to the next generation.

12:18 PM  

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