Return of the Parents

In the “culture wars,” one of the battle grounds is between parents and the Childless by Choice crowd. I think I’ve seen someone mention over on flutterby.com (though, not apparently on that thread) that the unintended result of this is that “breeders” will be passing their values on to the next generation while the “childless by choice” crowd won’t. It is interesting that Foreign Policy has an article on this very subject: The Return of Patriarchy.

Patriarchy does not simply mean that men rule. Indeed, it is a particular value system that not only requires men to marry but to marry a woman of proper station. It competes with many other male visions of the good life, and for that reason alone is prone to come in cycles. Yet before it degenerates, it is a cultural regime that serves to keep birthrates high among the affluent, while also maximizing parents’ investments in their children. No advanced civilization has yet learned how to endure without it. … As the United States is discovering today in Iraq, population is still power. Smart bombs, laser-guided missiles, and unmanned drones may vastly extend the violent reach of a hegemonic power. But ultimately, it is often the number of boots on the ground that changes history. … 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 their parents. … By contrast, nearly a quarter of the children of baby boomers descend from the mere 11 percent of baby boomer women who had four or more children. … This dynamic helps explain, for example, the gradual drift of American culture away from secular individualism and toward religious fundamentalism.

(emphasis all mine) Wow! I’m definitely a “breeder” (four children puts me squarly in that category!) and I’m assuradly more conservative than most people in the “childless by choice” crowd, but I’m still a little uneasy with many of the conservative, fundamentalist crowd. But this article makes me wonder if, in fact, we could be witnessing a the beginnings of a long term shift back towards larger families.

7 thoughts on “Return of the Parents”

  1. makes sense to me

    sat listening to young, upwardly mobile, self-centered, let me have my time before I even think about having a child recently and realized … It’s a good thing that the majority of history has not allowed the option of pregnancy choice or a lot of people would never have come into existence.
    No I don’t think you will see a long term shift back to larger families. The trend of history in families tends to be that the more the people have financially, the more education, the less they want to be botherd with children. They have so many other things to do than to pass along the values and their history and ther genetic code.
    Fortunately the poor, the immigrants and those without lots of wherewithal otherwise make the biggest contribution … children to do the work, to study the courses, to become the next generation of providers.
    I addressed this topic in a column I wrote a couple years ago.

    http://lists.everybody.org/archives/joanh-column/2003-January/000143.html

    Odd isn’t it that the more we have the less we want to have children to share it with?
    The rich get richer because they don’t give as generously as the poor … in more ways than can be measured at the bank.

    1. Re: makes sense to me

      Look at the links in my replies to Jeff and Dan. I think there is some interesting information there.

      The rich get richer because they don’t give as generously as the poor

      I don’t know… that sounds like you’re saying that the poor are poor because they’re generous.

      1. Re: makes sense to me

        No I am saying that as people become accustomed to having more money, they want to spend more money on more expensive things and begin to think that they can not afford to give very much to programs they used to support because they want to spend the money on items they previously would have done fine without.
        I am saying that too often as we get more money, we become more self-centered and and less willing to share, because we want to use our money for that special item or event.
        A sermon illustration a while back. The guy comes in to talk with the pastor. … We promised many years ago to give X% of our income to God’s work. As time went along, my income went up, and we continued to give X%. But now we can’t afford to give x% anymore. Nothing has changed, we just can’t afford it. No sicknesses, the job is fine, the kids are fine, but we can’t afford it. So would you pray and ask God to give us permission to give less.
        The pastor said, “I can pray and ask God that He would reduce your salary until you are back to the income when you did consider you could afford it.”
        Poor people can be just as selfish as the rich. No one says they can’t, but perhaps they are more compassionate and remember when they also had needs.
        that’s what I mean.
        Somewhere I was reading about this man who had contact with a wealthy woman. He appealed to her at times to help in desperate straights … refugee camps. In one especially bad time, he needed a significant sum of money. He went.She was talking about some of the art work she had hanging in the house and how much it was worth. He mentioned the needs. She told him she just did not have it. He looked at her, looked at the paintings, thought about the great, great need and said, “if you would just sell one of the paintings you would have the money to help all these people.”
        She did not sell a painting and never asked him back.

  2. Breeding trends

    I, too, don’t think we’re on a long-term shift back toward larger families. Like Joan said, the more upwardly-mobile a culture is, the fewer children they are likely to have. This goes hand-in-hand with education levels: the more education one gets (a.k.a. the longer they are in college), the less likely they are to have a big family, because they are marrying later and putting off having their first child.

    I suspect this may explain some of the tie between large families and religious fundamentalism, although I’m just assuming here that religious fundamentalists have less education than your average American. I don’t have any statistics to back me up.

    Here’s another radical thought: as religious fundamentalists are taught that sex outside of marriage is a sin, there is much more pressure to get married so you can “do the deed”. I suspect that this group tends to get married earlier as a result, hence more time for producing kids. This might also partially explain why the divorce rate is the same (about 50%) among Christian and non-Christian groups: because Christians leap into marriage earlier than non-Christians.

    I’d be interested to find out if children who came from households with many children are more likely to have many children themselves.

    1. Divorce Rates and Birth Rates

      Actually, at least some statistics show higher divorce rates for “born-again” Christians versus some other religious groups (besides “Jews” — a group that I suspect contains some interesting variation). Christian survery group Barna says that “born again” Christians divorce at the same rate (37%) as “non-born agains.” Interestingly Protestants have a 39% divorce rate compared to a 25% rate for Catholics.

      Your idea about “doing the deed” may be part of the reason here. Catholics are slightly more likely to co-habitat (36%) than the average couple (33%), but divorce at a far lower rate. Meanwhile “born again” Christians co-habitat at a lower rate (25%) but at the same rate as average. Ref: Barna.

      Throwing a wrench into the works, look at divorce data for the Unification Church (aka “Moonies”). The Unification Church have mass weddings between people who’ve known each other very briefly for the express purpose of producing children. They also have more children than average. These two items (length of prior relationship and children) are “known stressors”. Yet they have a dramatically lower divorce rate (17%). (Note that the survey is conducted by a church member on church members and that the Mass wedding ceremonies are not legal marriages. The data remains interesting.)

      It would be interesting to see statistics comparing other conservative religious groups, such as Orthodox Jews (who evidently believe marriage is commanded for men) or Orthodox Christians to the larger groups, but I’m not able to find any. (Anecdotal evidence seems to say that Orthodox Jews have a divorce rate of around 5-10% — but I find no hard support for this.)

      This bibliography has some interesting quotes related to your last point re: family-of-origin size and its effect on the number of children. “The positive relationship between size of family of orientation and family of procreation holds only for individuals from intact homes.” Still, that little quote doesn’t tell us how strong the “positive relationship” is.

  3. Taking that conversation one further out…

    This is, alas, really a drive-by comment and I’ll try to come back later when I’m not trying to get back to work, but…

    A theory: If you have a violent society with a high birth rate, and that violence affects every distribution equally, then evolution favors the high birth rate. So, in fact, if the low birth rate accompanies some other advantage. like technological innovation, then the high birth rate culture has a distinct incentive towards violence.

    Somewhere there’s function of the technological advantage versus birth rate versus violence, and I’ll bet we’re seeing at least a local optimization of that function in the Middle East.

    I say this as someone without biological children (although there are various kids and young adults whom I’m trying to help in their lives).

    1. Re: Taking that conversation one further out…

      If you have a violent society with a high birth rate, and that violence affects every distribution equally, then evolution favors the high birth rate.

      I assume you mean here “if you have [several] violent societies” because otherwise I can’t make sense of the “every distribution” bit. But I could be dense.

      Am I mistaken or don’t those people producing violence in the Middle East have access to (even if they aren’t the ones innovating to produce) technology? Couldn’t you argue that violence is an incentive for technological innovation? Wasn’t the arms race of the Cold War a catalyst for much of the technological innovation? Or perhaps this helps your point since birth rates declined (at least in the U.S.) over that period of time.

      And what about the population trends in Russia? They’re not an especially innovative lot, technologically, but they have a falling birth rate and falling life expectancy. Maybe they aren’t violent enough?

      I think you need to clarify what you mean by “violent society”. How much violence and what type of violence must exist in a society for it to be considered violent?

      Also, I think the rising problem of nationalism throughout Asia is a bigger problem here, though, admittedly nationalism tends to create violence. China, India and Pakistan all have tendencies towards nationalism. Those three countries will be the top contributors to population growth in the next 20 years.

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