Every Friday my syndicated column appears in a bunch of newspapers in southeastern Ontario. Here’s this week’s!
During the last election, one of my very conservative friends took off of work to vote. When he arrived back after lunch, his rather liberal co-worker was joking with him that they both could have saved the bother, since his vote cancelled out the other guy’s.
“Not for long,” my friend chuckled. When the co-worker looked quizzical, my friend replied, “You see, buddy, I’m raising eight voters. You’re only raising one.”
And it’s true. That particular friend has eight amazingly behaved children. I have another friend with nine, several with eight, and a couple with seven. My girls are even friends with two sisters who are growing up in a family of fourteen. I always bring the average down when we go anywhere with these families, with just my measly two.
But it occurs to me that perhaps my friend is right about the impact of demographic trends on our culture. For instance, the reason our fertility rate in Canada has dropped below replacement level is not because families over the last few decades are shrinking. It’s that fewer women are actually having children in the first place. Of the women who do have children, the number of children is actually creeping up slightly.
We’re diverging into two different cultures: one that has children, and one that does not. And those who are likely to have many children are also those who were more likely to come from big, intact families. While there obviously are exceptions, such as the very dysfunctional mom who has six kids with five different men, on the whole the nuclear family is growing where there is a commitment to it.
So the question is: which culture will end up ahead in the days to come? Will the conventional family make a comeback, or will marriage and childrearing continue to be devalued?
Our culture is betting on the latter. Media tells us that children are a drain—they cost money, emotional energy, and time, and they rob us of the fun we could be having! When friends like mine go out in public with their brood, they get the dirtiest looks, as if having a pile of kids is somehow wrong (even though none of these families is on social assistance).
Yet let’s think about this logically. The next generation will be made up of those who are not yet born. Where will these kids come from? They’ll be born to the people who are actually reproducing. The next generation is likely to resemble the people who are actually having the kids, not the people who are making the movies.
People who don’t value kids and don’t value the nuclear family don’t tend to have children—or if they do, they have very few. People who do value children do tend to have children—and they tend to have more. And then this is repeated. That’s one of the reasons why studies in the United States, for instance, have shown that attitudes against abortion have steadily hardened since Roe vs. Wade was decided in 1973. Prolife people tend to have more children, and so their values have been passed on more frequently.
This does not mean, of course, that the children of large, intact nuclear families will necessarily turn out well. It’s just that statistically they’re likely to be wealthier than average, more likely to get married, and less likely to end up in jail. That culture that values family, that passes on family traditions, and that yearns for a lifetime commitment has great staying power.
So perhaps my friend with the eight children is right. The traditional family may look bleak now, but I think it’s set for a comeback. And I’m gearing my own girls to be ready for it.
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