03 February 2007

If your parents never had children, chances are you won’t either

People who are social, religious, or political conservatives tend to have more children, and that fact has profound implications for culture, for politics, and for business. In the United States, for example, fertility rates are 12% higher in states that voted for George W. Bush in the most recent presidential election than in the more liberal and secular states that supported his opponent. Indeed, if the John Kerry states seceded and formed a new nation, its fertility rate would be just 1.8 children per woman—13% below the level needed to replace the population.

This link between fertility and conservatism is found not only in the United States but in Europe, Israel, the rest of the Middle East, and elsewhere. There is a strong correlation between adherence to traditional Christian, Judaic, or Islamic values and high fertility. And as an increasing share of all children is descended from people whose conservative values have led them to raise large families, we see the emergence of societies in which the patriarchal and highly pro-natal values of the Abrahamic religions are dominant.

So what caused the rise of liberal secularism in the first place? Patriarchy, as it has traditionally manifested itself, requires a man to marry a “respectable” wife and to take responsibility for the children she bears him. In part because of these obligations, traditional patriarchy is unappealing to many men. Similarly, many women take issue with the roles a patriarchal society prescribes for them. When broad swaths of the population come from something other than a conservative upbringing—as they did in the 1960s and 1970s—patriarchy’s constraints on personal freedom can seem excessive to men and women alike. Then gender roles relax, birthrates fall, and patriarchy goes into retreat.

But patriarchy always makes a comeback, because its adherents put more genes and ideas into the future than do their secular counterparts. This process is already well under way in the United States. For example, among American women just now passing beyond reproductive age, nearly 20% are childless and almost as many have only one child. Consequently, a relatively large share of the next generation is descended from a comparatively narrow and socially conservative segment of society that places a high value on reproduction. Today we see a culture in which social conservatives and the religious-minded play a far greater role than they did forty years ago.

…continued via the Harvard Business Review


Scott said...
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Renee said...

If your parents never had children, then you would not exist. Or are you referring to the adopted children of otherwise childless parents?