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.