August 22, 2006


The Fertility Gap: Liberal politics will prove fruitless as long as liberals refuse to multiply (ARTHUR C. BROOKS, August 22, 2006, Opinion Journal)

Simply put, liberals have a big baby problem: They're not having enough of them, they haven't for a long time, and their pool of potential new voters is suffering as a result. According to the 2004 General Social Survey, if you picked 100 unrelated politically liberal adults at random, you would find that they had, between them, 147 children. If you picked 100 conservatives, you would find 208 kids. That's a "fertility gap" of 41%. Given that about 80% of people with an identifiable party preference grow up to vote the same way as their parents, this gap translates into lots more little Republicans than little Democrats to vote in future elections. Over the past 30 years this gap has not been below 20%--explaining, to a large extent, the current ineffectiveness of liberal youth voter campaigns today.

Alarmingly for the Democrats, the gap is widening at a bit more than half a percentage point per year, meaning that today's problem is nothing compared to what the future will most likely hold. Consider future presidential elections in a swing state (like Ohio), and assume that the current patterns in fertility continue. A state that was split 50-50 between left and right in 2004 will tilt right by 2012, 54% to 46%. By 2020, it will be certifiably right-wing, 59% to 41%. A state that is currently 55-45 in favor of liberals (like California) will be 54-46 in favor of conservatives by 2020--and all for no other reason than babies.

The fertility gap doesn't budge when we correct for factors like age, income, education, sex, race--or even religion. Indeed, if a conservative and a liberal are identical in all these ways, the liberal will still be 19 percentage points more likely to be childless than the conservative. Some believe the gap reflects an authentic cultural difference between left and right in America today. As one liberal columnist in a major paper graphically put it, "Maybe the scales are tipping to the neoconservative, homogenous right in our culture simply because they tend not to give much of a damn for the ramifications of wanton breeding and environmental destruction and pious sanctimony, whereas those on the left actually seem to give a whit for the health of the planet and the dire effects of overpopulation." It would appear liberals have been quite successful controlling overpopulation--in the Democratic Party.

They focused on themselves and ended up with nothing but.

Posted by Orrin Judd at August 22, 2006 12:03 PM

whereas those on the left actually seem to give a whit for the health of the planet and the dire effects of overpopulation

In short: We're the Anti-People Party!

We hate you and your pathetic existence. Now vote for us.

Explains a whole lot, doesn't it?

Posted by: Dreadnought at August 22, 2006 12:34 PM

Possible the most foolish thing held by these most foolish people is that culture does not matter, that the surpassing and going-under of ways of thinking and acting are matters of luck.

On the countary, the mos maiorum are what have brought us all this way, and high among these are family values. They could have gotten this from 19th Century evolutionary sociology, if they had cared to look, but it is really so obvious to be deducible upon the slightest reflection.

Posted by: Lou Gots at August 22, 2006 12:41 PM

"Some believe the gap reflects an authentic cultural difference between left and right in America today"

Captain Obvious groans, slaps his forehead....

Posted by: Bruce Cleaver at August 22, 2006 1:23 PM

147 per 100 and 208 per 100! Surely the article is confused and that's per woman, and not per adult.

If per adult, the average american liberal woman has 3 children, vs 4 for conservatives; that's not plausible.

Posted by: Mike Earl at August 22, 2006 1:25 PM

Mike Earl:

No, per adult is fine. If per adult, the average american liberal woman still has 1.47 children, versus 2.08 for conservatives. The average liberal man has 1.47 children, the average liberal woman 1.47 children, but each child has both a father and a mother, and so the average liberal couple also has 1.47 children. Your method counts each child twice. (We assume that the random sample of 100 adults doesn't have any couples who have kids together, but is of unrelated adults.)

Posted by: John Thacker at August 22, 2006 1:32 PM

Mike Earl:

As another way of looking at it, your reasoning makes a similar mistake to saying: "Each person has four grandparents, eight great-grandparents, and so on. Thus we see that the population must have been four times as great two generations ago, eight times as great three generations ago, and so on," ignoring that people share the same ancestors.

Posted by: John Thacker at August 22, 2006 1:35 PM

Ah, gotcha, it's only a sample, and unrelated (we're assuming male and females in each group have children at the same rates, but never mind that). So as you say, 2.08 (just barely replacement, if that), and 1.47 (positively european) in the usual children-per-woman scale.

Posted by: Mike Earl at August 22, 2006 1:49 PM


Note also that this is how many children that the sampled people have right now, also. There's a cutoff point for adults (18, 21, 25, what?), but certainly some of the adults intend to have more children later in life.

Actually, if liberals, all things being equal, are more likely to start having children later then the lifetime gap could be smaller than the survey gap. Imagine a hypothetical where everyone has two kids, but liberals all have their first at age 35, whereas conservatives have their first at age 25. Then the samples at any one time will be skewed by the different results of the 25-35 year olds.

Posted by: John Thacker at August 22, 2006 1:58 PM

John -- but isn't it the case that if liberals have children later, they are more likely to have fewer? Someone who starts young could easily have 3-4 kids with lots of space in between. A woman who starts at 40 will be lucky to have one.

Posted by: Lisa at August 22, 2006 2:06 PM

John -

Nice catch, and an interesting hypothesis about the age of first child. I'll counter by appealing to the observation that (as a generality) people grow politically conservative as they age, thus folks who start out as liberal/childless could actually end up conservative/child-ful later on. Another possibility is that the act of having a child tempers the liberal psyche significantly.

Posted by: Bruce Cleaver at August 22, 2006 2:09 PM

Sounds like an unfit sub-species to me.

Posted by: jeff at August 22, 2006 2:13 PM

"Then the samples at any one time will be skewed by the different results of the 25-35 year olds."

It also means that the generation cycle is faster for the conservatives than the liberals. In 100 years there will be 4 generations of conservatives but only 3 generations of liberals.

All in all, people are soon going to see and experience what happens on an exponential curve. Just like the collapse of the USSR--things slowly get worse until one day it collapses.

Posted by: fred at August 22, 2006 2:32 PM

Yes, certainly both Lisa's and Fred's points are correct. It's good to think carefully about statistics like this and what they mean. The faster generation cycle is absolutely important, and means that a simple measure of lifetime fertility, while important for the replacement rate, is not enough to determine how the population shift.

I brought up the bit about the statistics being a snapshot in time merely to point out that the 2.08 children per conservative is not a lifetime rate, and that the real rate is over replacement rate. I suspect that the liberal lifetime rate is probably still not over replacement rate, though I don't know for sure. More study is needed, the eternal cry of the scientist.

Posted by: John Thacker at August 22, 2006 4:08 PM

What's the difference in the birthrate of liberals vs conservatives. Kids don't necessarily follow in their parents' political footsteps.

Posted by: erp at August 22, 2006 4:47 PM

The "liberal columnist in a major paper" quoted was none other than Mark Morford, renowed as America's stupidest columnist.

Posted by: Greg Hlatky at August 22, 2006 7:22 PM