Tuesday, March 14, 2006

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When conservatives populate the earth....

Thanks to the redesigned Real Clear Politics, I see that Philip Longman has a USA Today op-ed and an essay in Foreign Policy on how conservatives tend to breed more than liberals. From the op-ed:

What's the difference between Seattle and Salt Lake City? There are many differences, of course, but here's one you might not know. In Seattle, there are nearly 45% more dogs than children. In Salt Lake City, there are nearly 19% more kids than dogs.
This curious fact might at first seem trivial, but it reflects a much broader and little-noticed demographic trend that has deep implications for the future of global culture and politics. It's not that people in a progressive city such as Seattle are so much fonder of dogs than are people in a conservative city such as Salt Lake City. It's that progressives are so much less likely to have children.

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....

Why couldn't tomorrow's Americans and Europeans, even if they are disproportionately raised in patriarchal, religiously minded households, turn out to be another generation of '68? The key difference is that during the post-World War II era, nearly all segments of society married and had children. Some had more than others, but there was much more conformity in family size between the religious and the secular. Meanwhile, thanks mostly to improvements in social conditions, there is no longer much difference in survival rates for children born into large families and those who have few if any siblings.

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.

This is one of those arguments that sounds ineluctable when first proposed... but then I begin to wonder whether it will hold as strongly as Longman believes. Other factors beyond politics affect fertility rates. Labor market institutions still have a powerful effect as well.

Assuming Longman is correct, gowever, the interesting question is, why is this phenomenon taking place? Longman implicit assumption is that it's because of the waning of patriarchy among liberals:

Throughout the broad sweep of human history, there are many examples of people, or classes of people, who chose to avoid the costs of parenthood. Indeed, falling fertility is a recurring tendency of human civilization. Why then did humans not become extinct long ago? The short answer is 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.

Through a process of cultural evolution, societies that adopted this particular social system—which involves far more than simple male domination—maximized their population and therefore their power, whereas those that didn’t were either overrun or absorbed. This cycle in human history may be obnoxious to the enlightened, but it is set to make a comeback....

Patriarchy may enjoy evolutionary advantages, but nothing has ensured the survival of any particular patriarchal society. One reason is that men can grow weary of patriarchy’s demands. Roman aristocrats, for example, eventually became so reluctant to accept the burdens of heading a family that Caesar Augustus felt compelled to enact steep “bachelor taxes” and otherwise punish those who remained unwed and childless. Patriarchy may have its privileges, but they may pale in comparison to the joys of bachelorhood in a luxurious society—nights spent enjoyably at banquets with friends discussing sports, war stories, or philosophy, or with alluring mistresses, flute girls, or clever courtesans.

Women, of course, also have reason to grow weary of patriarchy, particularly when men themselves are no longer upholding their patriarchal duties. Historian Suzanne Cross notes that during the decades of Rome’s civil wars, Roman women of all classes had to learn how to do without men for prolonged periods, and accordingly developed a new sense of individuality and independence. Few women in the upper classes would agree to a marriage to an abusive husband. Adultery and divorce became rampant.

Often, all that sustains the patriarchal family is the idea that its members are upholding the honor of a long and noble line. Yet, once a society grows cosmopolitan, fast-paced, and filled with new ideas, new peoples, and new luxuries, this sense of honor and connection to one’s ancestors begins to fade, and with it, any sense of the necessity of reproduction. “When the ordinary thought of a highly cultivated people begins to regard ‘having children’ as a question of pro’s and con’s,” Oswald Spengler, the German historian and philosopher, once observed, “the great turning point has come.”

Developing... over many generations.

UPDATE: Kieran Healy takes the time and effort I lacked to demonstrate why Longman's hypothesis is likely wrong.

posted by Dan on 03.14.06 at 11:10 PM



Christian and Muslim fundamentalists, and anti-consumerism activists, already understand exactly what the Great Temptation is, and how to avoid it. They insulate themselves from our Creative-Class dream-worlds and our EverQuest economics. They wait patiently for our fitness-faking narcissism to go extinct. Those practical-minded breeders will inherit the earth, as like-minded aliens may have inherited a few other planets. When they finally achieve Contact, it will not be a meeting of novel-readers and game-players. It will be a meeting of dead-serious super-parents who congratulate each other on surviving not just the Bomb, but the Xbox. They will toast each other not in a soft-porn Holodeck, but in a sacred nursery.

posted by: post pc on 03.14.06 at 11:10 PM [permalink]

Sherman Alexie pointed out years ago that conservatives do have more kids, but not all their kids grow up to be conservative.

posted by: Omri on 03.14.06 at 11:10 PM [permalink]

I doubt these demographics tell the whole story. People who are more educated, and who are richer, also tend to have fewer children. They may have fewer descendents, but those descendents are likely to have greater education, resources, and cultural influence.

posted by: Matt C on 03.14.06 at 11:10 PM [permalink]

James Taranto, on the WSJ's Best of the Web column, has written about this topic several times. He suggests that Roe v. Wade is a primary factor; i.e., that those on the political left are more likely to have abortions than those on the right, resulting in more children to conservative parents.

posted by: Tom T. on 03.14.06 at 11:10 PM [permalink]

Historically in America (i.e., 1880-on) the belief was that the enlightened WASP dominance was being threatened by the unrestricted breeding of the lower classes, the poor, the new immigrants, the non-WASP.

I love the "of course" in "Women, of course, also have reason to grow weary of patriarchy...."

posted by: Bill Harshaw on 03.14.06 at 11:10 PM [permalink]

Next up: How masturbation is depleting our Vital Fluids.

posted by: alkali on 03.14.06 at 11:10 PM [permalink]

The people that breed in excess do so because their children win a disproportionate number of Darwin awards.

posted by: patriotBoy on 03.14.06 at 11:10 PM [permalink]

Utter goo and drivel. Several absurd assumptions lie behind this. One: children become their parents. If so, then all political and social patterns would be static. Two: One example, Utah, does not make a trend. Consider the low birth rates of a place like North Dakota. Three: Roman aristocrats as a model. Give me a break. Is this guy trying to be a low budget VDH? Last and surely least, place plays are role. Take the boy out of Salt Lake City and move him to NYC. See what happens.

posted by: msj on 03.14.06 at 11:10 PM [permalink]

Two thoughts:

(1) The upper classes (very loosely defined) may see a relative drop in birth rates. Yet they seem to manage to hold onto the reins of power, whether socioeconomic, political, fiscal, or otherwise. Does that change even when the proportions among the classes change?

As America, at least, gets increasingly divided by class/wealth, it does not seem to me that a smaller group of people at the top is resulting in increasing influence among the lower classes.

Now, if the breakdown of upper classes starts to sway toward the conservative side, then I think we shall see a real increase in the influence of conservatism. Perhaps that is happening - but that's a different argument, of course.

(2) Immigrants. Hardly ever discussed in these kinds of broad-based social descriptions, despite the fact that people of color are fast overtaking whites in this country. I find that very, very odd.

If you take one subset, such as Southeast Asians, I think what you find is that as they emigrate, relocate in the U.S., and move up the socioeconomic spectrum (almost irrespective of their status in their homeland), they do seem to have fewer children - in this sense, to imitate the patterns of their white counterparts. I think the numbers bear this out.

But do they become more liberal or conservative? Do they tend to take on the political views of their subgroup, of their neighbors, or of their religious or cultural cohorts? Are they more analogous to the Salt Lake City folks, or the New York City ones?

If we're talking about who shall inherit the earth - or even just America - why aren't we looking more carefully (and empirically) at this?

posted by: savitri on 03.14.06 at 11:10 PM [permalink]

There is at least something to the patriarchal concept, but it isn't the whole thing - specifically it is not just the father. The extended family is involved too in terms of familial examples - rafts of same age cohort cousins to visit and play with, vacation swaps of children between siblings, etc.

Having a kin's children in your house for a week or two during the summer vacation from school provides opportunities for all to live the benefits of extended families - nieces and nephews get non-judgmental love and cousins to play with, etc. In addition to getting away from their parents.

posted by: Tom Holsinger on 03.14.06 at 11:10 PM [permalink]

Once they see Paris, there is no keeping them on the farm.

posted by: Lord on 03.14.06 at 11:10 PM [permalink]

As a boy who left Utah for NYC, I can assure you that not all who are born conservative stay that way. Thank God.

Besides, given consistent long-term trends of cultural liberalization, tomorrow's conservative is functionally equivalent to today's liberal, so what's the big deal.

Btw, for those of us raised in rural Utah, Salt Lake is the big, bad liberal city. And Denver is Gomorrah.

posted by: Dave B. on 03.14.06 at 11:10 PM [permalink]

Patriarchal does not mean conservative. My church - the Church of the Brethren (one of the German Baptist group, which includes Amish and Mennonites) - is patriarchal as all get-out, and we're so close theologically to Southern Baptists that we routinely swap emergency pastors with Southern Baptist congregations, but we're also Friends, i.e., liberal Quakers socially, culturally and politically.

ALL of my paternal grandfather's descendents over 30 years of age have had 2-4 children each, including my lesbian cousin Gayle, who had two by artificial insemination, and she's in a long-term relationship.

Family example/child-bearing pattern seems to count more than political opinions in terms of child-bearing. Only I and one of my cousins are Republicans, let alone conservatives, in my age cohort of my paternal extended family.

posted by: Tom Holsinger on 03.14.06 at 11:10 PM [permalink]

There might be another cause to the low family size in Seattle (Blue states) versus Salt Lake (Red States). The cost of living and raising a family is much higher in Seattle than in Salt Lake. One might expect rational decision makers to opt for fewer children in areas where the costs are higher.

posted by: JHA on 03.14.06 at 11:10 PM [permalink]

I wouldn't worry about it. The attraction of gay marriage is going to convert all those he-man conservatives to ghey liberals.

posted by: Ricky Santorum on 03.14.06 at 11:10 PM [permalink]

I have four caveats against the Longman hypothesis.

1. As other posters have been noting, children of conservative kids don't necessarily grow up to be conservative themselves.

2. Liberal blue-state liberals, even if they have fewer children among them, nonetheless probably have more time in their schedules to put out *cultural memes* that reel in many of the kids of conservative parents and make liberals out of them.

3. Even many overall conservative Red States in the Union (such as Mormon Utah) are seeing their own birth rates fall. Not long ago, the Mormons in Utah had an average fertility rate of 4 kids per couple. Now, that's edging closer to 2-- which is still much higher than the rates for White American in general, but not that much above replacement level. Ditto for many Bible Belt Red States, where fertility at least among whites is dropping below replacement level, albeit not to the remarkably low levels of Blue State white couples. I suspect that economic conditions (the incredible costs of raising kids these days and sending them to college, for example) have a lot to do with this effect.

4. The biggest fertility rates in the US these days are posted by ethnic groups whose political allegiances are tough to fit into the old-fashioned liberal/conservative traditions. One group with an especially high birth rate is African-American Muslims-- not the Farrakhan followers, but Black Sunni Muslims, by far the largest Muslim denomination among African-Americans at greater than 95%. Even here the rate varies, but it's often 4-5 kids per couple in many communities, and there's an enormously high rate of retention of Islam among the kids. Moreover, not only is there retention, but close to 200,000 African-Americans convert to Islam every year. This is largely not in the jails, even though prison conversions get publicity, but in community centers in the inner cities.

Quite soon, Islam will likely be the majority religion among urban blacks in the US. While they may in most ways be *socially conservative*, I'm not sure they'd fit in with the predominant tenets of Republican conservatives in the US. They tend to be quite ethnically conscious themselves and tend to support the Palestinian cause in the Middle East against Israelis, which is likely anathema to most conservatives on the Republican side.

Which brings up another point-- even though patriarchal, socially conservative communities may have more kids in general, they may also have a greater propensity to come into conflict with each other than more liberal types. Witness for example the fact that thousands of deeply religious, socially conservative Christian young men (who make up a very large fraction of the US Army and Marines) are being killed and severely wounded in a war against deeply religious, socially conservative Muslims in Iraq.

posted by: Ivan Hoe on 03.14.06 at 11:10 PM [permalink]

The Longman hypothesis may hold a little truth but there is less there that would first appear.

Big cities have traditionally reproduced less than other areas and will probably continue to do so. Before the public health revolution of the past century it was because cities were very unhealthy places which killed a lot of people, replacing the losses from the healthier countryside. Today it's because big cities are expensive places to live - a couple living in a 1-bedroom apartment don't have 4 kids.

But they still replenish themselves from the 'conservative' countryside. The immigrants tend to adopt the values (and ideology) of their new home.

Somehting else is going on however. Many formerly sparsely populated states are catching up to the former powerhouse states. Florida, Texas, Georgia, and North Carolina are catching up to New York, Pennsylvania, and California. The cities in these places tend to be more sprawling places with miles of suburbia rather than packed apartment buildings and townhouses. Their political character seems to remain more conservative than the traditional big cities. And these new-style cities probably make it easier for the inhabitants to breed more children.

Everything else equal there will be more children in a city where the average house is a 4-bed detached than where it's a 2-bed apartment. These are still cities - very much so. I think the average cost per square foot of living space has an enormous impact on fertility rates.....

posted by: Don S on 03.14.06 at 11:10 PM [permalink]

The solution is a new trend I am (I think) pioneering.

As a liberal elitist (I even went to college with Dand Drezner -- anthro, not econ variety of subspecies Eph)I packing up my five red-diaper babies and Euro-socialist spouse and heading for the hinterland.

It is way, way too expensive to have more than three kids in an urban area with good schools.

There are not enough hours in a week to earn that kind of money.

posted by: Tulkinghorn on 03.14.06 at 11:10 PM [permalink]

As a liberal elitist ... I packing up my five red-diaper babies and Euro-socialist spouse and heading for the hinterland.

Any signs of you or your spouse acquiring 'reactionary' habits, Tulkinghorn? A yearning to join the Baptists & be washed in the blood of the lamb? Reading the 'Left Behind' series? ;)

Or (most damnable of all) do you now shop at Wal-Mart? :0

posted by: Don S on 03.14.06 at 11:10 PM [permalink]

Flute girls! Those Ancients knew how to live The Good Life!

posted by: jaimito on 03.14.06 at 11:10 PM [permalink]

Shame on all of you! You want me to believe that YOU (yes, YOU) cannot have more children because children are too expensive and unaffordable for you, you - an American professional - member of the richest people ever lived on Earth. If an Ethiopian subsistence farmer living on the very edge of starvation is able to raise five or six children to adulthood, how come that you Americans with an average GNP of 50,000 dollars per capita cannot do it? Where are you Augustus to tax these pleasure seekers? Whose children are going to work and care for them in their old age? Whose children are going to defend them against the nation's enemies? As in time of Augustus, unmarried men over 30 should be publicly humiliated and stand in the circus!

What I am saying is that even if I dont believe in God, religion should be beaten into all of you.

posted by: jaimito on 03.14.06 at 11:10 PM [permalink]

was monica a "flute girl"?

posted by: thibaud on 03.14.06 at 11:10 PM [permalink]

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