Fertility Rates and the Political Divide


Lauren Sandler, writing in New York magazine, notes something very interesting and not at all surprising to me. There seems to be a direct correlation between fertility rates and one’s political beliefs. The larger the average family size is in a state, the more Republican it is, and vice versa.

Stunningly, the postponement of marriage and parenting — the factors that shrink the birth rate — is the very best predictor of a person’s politics in the United States, over even income and education levels, a Belgian demographer named Ron Lesthaeghe has discovered. Larger family size in America correlates to early marriage and childbirth, lower women’s employment, and opposition to gay rights — all social factors that lead voters to see red. The converse, according to futurist Joel Kotkin, marks “the rise of post-familialism,” overturning the notion that a woman’s life requires a wedding dress and at least two kids to dutifully rear. David Brooks devoted a column to this report Friday, and his reaction demonstrates the red blood spilling over our shift to a freer attitude toward life and family choices. “People are not better off when they are given maximum personal freedom to do what they want,” Brooks wrote. “They’re better off when they are enshrouded in commitments that transcend personal choice — commitments to family, God, craft and country.”

Brooks is flagrantly wrong here because he is vastly overgeneralizing. People are not better off in either situation; individuals are better off in different situations because they have different personalities and goals. That’s the whole point of all that pursuit of happiness stuff, allowing each person to pursue the life that makes them happy, which is not necessarily the life that would make someone else happy.

This is exactly why it’s a good thing that women have more choices and opportunities today. A few decades ago, they were stuck in the life that society chose for them — you got married by a certain age (much earlier than today), you had as many kids as your husband demanded, and you lived your life within those tight restrictions. And that’s perfectly fine, for those who want it. The problem is, there was really no way for someone who didn’t want it to build a different kind of life for themselves.

Amanda Marcotte picks up on Sandler’s article:

Higher fertility in red states, for instance, is the product of the societal pressure on women there to marry young, have more children, and put less of their energy into developing careers. In blue states, on the other hand, women tend to limit their family size and have kids later in life. Lesthaeghe clearly believes that ideology precedes family size in this equation. Liberals care less about traditional roles for women and traditional authority, which in turn gives blue state women room to focus on their careers rather than marrying young or having big families.

But don’t buy the conservative hype linking ideology to family stability. Red states have higher incidences of teen births and divorce, after all…

And all for the same reason. When women have fewer choices and are pushed into early marriage and early and frequent childbearing, the results are obvious and predictable.

Comments

  1. eric says

    Its also worth pointing out that, until the advent of 20th century medicine, death by childbirth was a lot more common. It still is, in 3rd world countries. Having a family is/was a potentially life-ending risk to women, a risk not shared by men.

    Because of the difference in risk associated with having a family, Brooks’ “People are better off when they are enshrouded in commitments…” comment could, without too much strawmanning, be read as “Men and better off when women are enshouded in commitments…”

  2. says

    Brooks is flagrantly wrong here because he is vastly overgeneralizing. People are not better off in either situation; individuals are better off in different situations because they have different personalities and goals.

    Actually, it appears Brooks is using “people” to mean “individuals” in this case.

    That said, he’s still wrong, for exactly the reasons you note.

  3. jaranath says

    Dear DOG. Again I’m reminded of why I’m so disgusted by Brooks. Yes, David, clearly people are better off when they have less personal freedom and are “enshrouded” by lots of commitments. And by “better off” we mean “barely legal, barefoot, pregnant, in the kitchen, and voting Republican.” Ooohhh, but he’s such a nice, sophisticated, moderate guy when he’s playing apologist for his wingnut political family!

    Ugh.

  4. says

    I’m glad my family’s pretty liberal. I’ve seen occasional bits of people being constantly pressured to find Mr./Ms. Right and get married. That seems like a recipe for a broken family if the couple aren’t compatible enough, yet are harassed into marrying and having kids. Throwing in the difficulties of pregnancy, and I can see how it’s worse for women. There’s probably plenty of slut shaming for women who aren’t interested in getting married, too.

    I’ve never really been interested in dating. Barring an accidental encounter with my soulmate or something, I’m probably not going to get married. My parents are okay with that, and I’m grateful.

  5. busterggi says

    And larger families also require more government assistance programs, more police & fire protection, more schools (to drop ourt of) with school-based health clinics, more infrastructure, etc which means more government not less.

    Kinda defeating their own purpose but…

  6. barrydecicco says

    “Dear DOG. Again I’m reminded of why I’m so disgusted by Brooks. Yes, David, clearly people are better off when they have less personal freedom and are “enshrouded” by lots of commitments. ”

    Brooks is just a right-wing non-intellectual who’s mastered the art of spouting nonsense and lies all nicely dressed up in intellectual garments.

  7. brucegee1962 says

    I don’t want to pick on David Brooks. He may be just about the last moderate Republican left in the United States, at a time when all the moderates in politics are getting clobbered in primaries (and I’m looking at gubernatorial nominee Cuccinelli in Va., so obviously that tendency is going to continue) and most of the conservative voices in the media seem to deserve institutionalization.

    If the Republican party is ever going to meander back towards the center, it seems as if it would need a few guides to help it find its way.

    So OK, the GOP is becoming the party of the large, traditional family. And yes, there may even be some women who prefer that lifestyle. The moderates of the party ought to capitalize on that and come up with some REAL conservative party planks.

    As a parent, I don’t care about gay marriage — I care about my kids getting a first-class education. Don’t tell me about why the military needs a new plane — tell me about how I can afford to send my kids to college. If you’re eager to conserve things, why not start with the environment that my kids will inherit, instead of denying the science of global warming? And I think the conservatives may have a point that the deficit is our most urgent national security threat — and if their wealthy backers were willing to put their money where their mouth was to fix it, I might even have some respect for them.

    If these large-family households would start pushing the GOP to put their real best interests ahead of what they’ve been told their best interests ought to be, maybe the party could once again become a respectable alternative to the Democrats. But as it is, there’s no real contest.

  8. bobo says

    These same people, from the red states, are also fond of saying that they are afraid that muslims and non-whites are going to outbreed whites, and this is one reason why abortion and contraception MUST be outlawed!

    They also believe that liberalism is going to die out b/c liberal women and men don’t ever have any kids!

  9. bobo says

    Oh, I forgot to add, people like Brooks also believe that being forced to raise a family from a young age results in ‘maturity’

    I read a number of right wing blogs/forums for the comedy, and this is one theme that keeps on popping up

    That if people are forced into a family life immediately, they mature and become productive, moral members of society. If these people are liberals, and get an education, they become nothing but a drain on society.

    True ‘maturity’ can only be reached with a large family + going to church in their eyes. This is one reason why they also believe that the USA is being punished by God – liberalism, under the control of Satan, is steering people away from the mature lifestyle of forced marriage.

  10. freemage says

    In addition:

    Note that, despite the fact that religious conservatives ‘outbreed’ liberals, the country remains fairly divided on a roughly equal level. This suggests that from the group with the greatest experience in large-family, conservative-values living–the children of such families–are ‘defecting’ in large numbers, finding a liberal lifestyle preferable.

  11. raven says

    It is also worth noting that the average lifespan of white women with low education levels is falling rapidly.

    In red state areas of course.

    It’s not clear why, but teenage pregnancy is highly correlated and causal with life long poverty. It’s possible that this segment isn’t able to afford good medical care.

    Shorter. Being a christofascist moron kills.

  12. raven says

    Life Expectancy Declines for White High School Dropouts – AllGov
    www. allgov. com/…/life-expectancy-declines-for-white-high-school-d…

    24 Sep 2012 – …
    white women without a high school diploma lost an average of five years off their life
    to shave years off the life expectancy of white high school dropouts, … men who drop out of high school, while white woman with college …

    This drop in lifespan of low education white women is substantial, 5 years.

    If you look on a map, it occurs where you would expect, the area known as Fundiestan.

  13. raven says

    That if people are forced into a family life immediately, they mature and become productive, moral members of society.

    Which is factually wrong. Quite often they end up poor, uneducated, and divorced.

    The highest divorce rate in the USA is highest among fundies. The lowest is atheists. This data is from Barna, an evangelical survey organization.

  14. raven says

    David Brooks:

    “People are not better off when they are given maximum personal freedom to do what they want,” Brooks wrote. “They’re better off when they are enshrouded in commitments that transcend personal choice — commitments to family, God, craft and country.”

    “People are not better off when they are given maximum personal freedom to do what they want,”
    Oh really? How does Brooks know that? He doesn’t, he is just babbling.

    Fortunately since no one appointed Brooks god or dictator we can just tell him to fuck off and go away.

    “They’re better off when they are enshrouded in commitments that transcend personal choice — commitments to family, God, craft and country”

    This is just an opinion and is factually wrong. The fundie heartland leads in any indicator of social dysfunction you care to look at, child sexual abuse, low education, low IQ, high divorce, high rates of drug and alcohol abuse, high rates of child poverty etc..

    What Brooks is really saying here is, “My tribe good, other tribe bad.” Not intelligent at all.

  15. Randomfactor says

    They also believe that liberalism is going to die out b/c liberal women and men don’t ever have any kids!

    We don’t need to breed. We subvert THEIR kids.

  16. valhar2000 says

    “Men and better off when women are enshouded in commitments…”

    Are they, really? I’m sure these morons believe it, but I don’t buy it. They may be better off than the women around them, but I doubt they’re better off over all.

  17. raven says

    “They’re better off when they are enshrouded in commitments that transcend personal choice — commitments to family, God, craft and country”

    One of these is not like the others.

    Families, “crafts” which means jobs or professions, and country are real.

    The god thing is likely not. The Invisible Sky Monster is just one god among countless and most likely doesn’t even exist. The xian god is claimed to be all powerful but does nothing and says nothing.

    Who says moderate Republicans aka “The Democrats”, progressives, and atheists don’t have commitments to family, “craft”, or country? Brooks is just playing at tribalism here.

    Right now, thanks to democracy, we have been running the country for 4 years and doing an OK job of it compared to Bushco.

  18. valhar2000 says

    Note that, despite the fact that religious conservatives ‘outbreed’ liberals, the country remains fairly divided on a roughly equal level.

    According to Greta Christina’s wife:

    “They can’t recruit, so they have to reproduce.”

  19. says

    Brooks sounds moderate, presents himself as a moderate, and is presented by others as a moderate, but Brooks is not moderate. Look what he says, not how he says it. Talking wingnut nicely is still talking wingnut.

  20. bobo says

    quote: “The fundie heartland leads in any indicator of social dysfunction you care to look at, child sexual abuse, low education, low IQ, high divorce, high rates of drug and alcohol abuse, high rates of child poverty etc..”

    Thats what the FACTS might tell you!

    But we all know facts are wrong!

    And that liberalism is the root of all evil.

    From another fundie, I have learned that liberalism is going to lead to not only legal, but FORCED bestiality, pedophilia, gay sex etc.

    Did you know that the reason feminism is bad for women is b/c feminists push underage girls to have sex? yep, all true! And, feminism totes leads women from their ‘spiritual calling’ of having babies!

  21. baal says

    Raven, you win +1 internets. Brooks’ opinions seem awfully ill informed if a blog commentator can pull facts out that fast that are at odd with Brooks’ views.

    Reducing global population is an overall good thing. It plays some havok with right wing econ models that need ever more cheap labor but it also slows down environmental harm and improves the quality life for everyone if there are reasonable birth rates.

  22. Sastra says

    “People are not better off when they are given maximum personal freedom to do what they want,” Brooks wrote. “They’re better off when they are enshrouded in commitments that transcend personal choice — commitments to aiding and supporting the social welfare of others.”

    Okay, that last part isn’t from Brooks — but doesn’t it fit in smoothly? You can’t demonize ‘liberals’ for wanting to institute socialism and then wax eloquent and passionate on how individual freedom and personal choice should be sublimated to committing yourself to helping institutions and communities.

  23. magistramarla says

    Our family is the opposite of this.
    We are both very well-educated and liberal, but we chose to have a large family. We raised four very secure and intelligent young women and a bright and handsome young man who was bullied by his sisters.
    Three of them are liberals, like Mom and Dad. One works for a huge business that has a very conservative corporate atmosphere, so she claims to be “socially liberal, but fiscally conservative”.
    The youngest married a red-neck, and has become very right-wing. The interesting thing is that they have one child, and want no more.
    Stereotypes simply don’t work.

  24. Nibi says

    Modusoperandi

    Brooks sounds moderate, presents himself as a moderate, and is presented by others as a moderate, but Brooks is not moderate. Look what he says, not how he says it. Talking wingnut nicely is still talking wingnut.

    A new, improved dog whistle now available with a less shrill pitch.

  25. Ichthyic says

    The larger the average family size is in a state, the more Republican it is, and vice versa.

    *searches in vain to see the word “idiocracy” posted anywhere in this thread*


    really??

  26. escuerd says

    In case anyone’s interested, here’s a stacked bar chart from the General Social Survey showing number of children (variable name is “childs”) vs. self-identity on the liberal-conservative axis (“polviews”). N=45,883 total, taken every two years or so from 1972 to 2010:

    http://img515.imageshack.us/img515/4126/childsvspolviews.jpg

    The tendency for conservatives to have more kids than liberals is a real thing, but way too weak to make any strong statements at the individual level.

    It also doesn’t give you much to predict the future of something as complicated and malleable as political ideologies.

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