December 7, 2004


The New Red-Diaper Babies (DAVID BROOKS, 12/07/04, NY Times)

There is a little-known movement sweeping across the United States. The movement is "natalism."

All across the industrialized world, birthrates are falling - in Western Europe, in Canada and in many regions of the United States. People are marrying later and having fewer kids. But spread around this country, and concentrated in certain areas, the natalists defy these trends.

They are having three, four or more kids. Their personal identity is defined by parenthood. They are more spiritually, emotionally and physically invested in their homes than in any other sphere of life, having concluded that parenthood is the most enriching and elevating thing they can do. Very often they have sacrificed pleasures like sophisticated movies, restaurant dining and foreign travel, let alone competitive careers and disposable income, for the sake of their parental calling.

In a world that often makes it hard to raise large families, many are willing to move to find places that are congenial to natalist values. [...]

Politicians will try to pander to this group. They should know this is a spiritual movement, not a political one. The people who are having big families are explicitly rejecting materialistic incentives and hyperindividualism. It costs a middle-class family upward of $200,000 to raise a child. These people are saying money and ambition will not be their gods.

Natalists resist the declining fertility trends not because of income, education or other socioeconomic characteristics. It's attitudes. People with larger families tend to attend religious services more often, and tend to have more traditional gender roles.

I draw attention to natalists because they're an important feature of our national life. Because of them, the U.S. stands out in all sorts of demographic and cultural categories. But I do it also because when we talk about the divide on values in this country, caricatured in the red and blue maps, it's important that we understand the true motive forces behind it.

Natalists are associated with red America, but they're not launching a jihad.

We don't need to, because demographics is destiny. But the cool thing: if we decide to launch one we'll win it.

Posted by Orrin Judd at December 7, 2004 11:09 AM

So the theory is that, for the first time in recorded history, the children of a particular group are going to grow up holding the same values as their parents, as opposed to rebelling against them?

Posted by: HT at December 7, 2004 1:33 PM

Rebellious children are conformist adults.

Posted by: oj at December 7, 2004 1:41 PM

Most teens of religious parents aren't rejecting their parents religion (and so, one would assume, accompanying political beliefs).

Posted by: carter at December 7, 2004 3:29 PM

Most teens of religious parents aren't rejecting their parents religion (and so, one would assume, accompanying political beliefs).

Posted by: carter at December 7, 2004 3:32 PM

There's a statistic that 76% of statistics are made up on the spot. Or was it 84%? Or 29%? I don't remember. It seems history to many people is also made up on the spot, too. Children do react to their parents teachings, etc. It varies in how and to the degree as we, usually is the case, aspire to perfection. If we perceive our parents as having been too permissive, we will probably be less so with our own children.
The "rebellion" the above poster refers to, and I suspect enamored with, or at least the left-leaning variety, is a debatable subject. Is it true that it is found in societies that only have a long, drawn out childhood? Is it natural? etc.

Posted by: emily at December 7, 2004 5:26 PM

Rebellion isn't political, it's social and generational, and it definitely works both ways. Leftists breed horrified Republicans, just as Republicans scare their kids into being liberals. The UNC study strikes me as rather not on point, since teens don't vote--and what we'd actually like to know is how many ADULTS share the views of their parents once they in fact become adults. The level of influence parents have on kids in general is now well known I think, thanks to the "your kids listen to you" PSA attitudes used these days.

I think the initial commenter was making the point that if you believe conservative Republicans having many babies means in 20 years we'll have that many more conservative Republicans, I wouldn't tally fowl before it fully gestates, if you know what I mean. And the premise ignores, as Brooks consistently and fatally does, the large and growing chunk of the population that is not white. They are not, at least so far, showing any real inclination to leave the Democratic Party, as repeatedly downsized Hispanic votes for Bush in 2004 would indicate.

But I say have as many kids as you like. It's just another argument not to worry about funding for my Social Security. :)

Posted by: torridjoe at December 8, 2004 3:47 AM

torridjoe: Check out According to them, Bush did increase his vote by 5 percent from Hispanics.

As far as funding your SS, I say your concern for the future generations is really quite touching.

Posted by: Buttercup at December 8, 2004 7:04 AM