The sites I visit, whether they are stressing conservatism or genetics, keep coming back to the idea of low birthrate among smart people spelling doom for us all. The women are usually blamed more than the men for this. We measure birthrate on the female side, so that is going to suggest the role of women automatically at every turn, but I think we would focus on them anyway. Women entering the workforce, more years of education and the delaying of marriage, and many strains of feminism devaluing and discouraging the raising of children are all mentioned rather declaratively, which tells me it’s not just being cued by how the statistic is reported. We’re all going to hell in a handbasket, and it’s your fault, lady.
A moment to remind you of Bethany's observation over at Graph Paper Diaries on the subject of fertility. Also, having children is an expression of optimism about the future. A dozen years ago, I saw a correlation between being an oppressor nation and a diminished birthrate.
There’s more than one thing wrong with this. That men also have some say in “Hey, I just don’t think we’re ready to have kids right now,” or “I think we have enough children” is pretty obvious. Yes, it is complicated in every relationship, and for that reason difficult to sort out on a cultural level which sex is driving down the number of children. I don’t think there is a clear general answer to that other than “It’s not just the women.” The availability of birth control is certainly a much larger cause. The fact of a pregnancy changes everyone’s theorizing about what they think is optimal. The purpose of birth control is not really family planning, or choosing when to have children. It’s a tool one uses to not have children at a particular time, and thus inevitably, to reduce the number of children. It may in individual cases result in the same number of children, but the overall trend is going to be down.
There are deeper questions. What is it we are trying to preserve? A society? For Christians, it is this world that is temporary and the individual that is immortal. It is a value of Western Civilisation to improve institutions “so that those who live after may have clean earth to till.” Christianity encourages this, but regards the matter as secondary. It is a type of good work, which a person might engage in for the benefit of his fellows, but it is not required. It does not remotely show up in the Ten Commandments, The Creeds, the Lord’s Prayer. It is derivative.
What is it we are trying to preserve? Well, what do we think is going to go wrong? In this future world where we have ever-fewer of the “right” babies, tempting us to adopt the European solution of taking in immigrants whose qualification is that they are younger and likely to have more children than our own culture does, will we be poorer? Given technological advancements, probably not. Will we have more crime? Perhaps, but I think technology will help us out there, at least some. Will we be in more danger from other nations? We may, in terms of the necessary technologies of war, or cold war. Yet immigrants may be more willing, not less, to resort to violent defense if needed, judging from their home cultures. The mostly-European settlement of America was a context of people who were both sick of war, but also very clear that sometimes battle is necessary. That is likely going to be true of any immigrants going forward. It is the populations which have been at peace in America for generations that people the antiwar protests.
An immigrant population may be less willing to fight strategic wars. That might matter. Yet there is not universal agreement that strategic wars have worked out that well for America. Or anyone else, really.
I think there is a real worry that if America, or the Anglosphere in general is less in command of its own culture as currently understood that some valuable things will be lost. Not money, not hot dogs and condiments, nor merely drive, entrepreneurship, and that can-do spirit, but human rights. Individual rights are being forced backwards*, as group memberships are again being considered evidence of guilt or innocence; rules of evidence still persist in court, but those may be eroding as well, as judges try to include what people would like to be true; the role of evidence in academic debate is greatly weakened in many fields, and if mathematics is not immune, we have to fear that things could get very bad indeed. There is of course an irony, that the stress on individual rights is what has protected women and minorities up until now, and increased their freedom of action. If we are to increasingly restrict rights of people to be heard, and even to speak at all except in approved manner, the unintended effects may not be pleasant for the very people they were intended to help. Feminists who are being shushed about what they cannot say about transgenders are appalled. Being shushed is a very big deal for them. Trust me on this.
Back on task. I recently wrote about what culture we are preserving, exactly. We are talking about culture being swamped, and not just the eel pies. However, how much of that is going to be a result of the birth rate? Even if we went to the All-American fantasy of half the people going to college suddenly saying Screw that. We can get better paying jobs doing something else now, let’s get married, get a small house, and have a bunch of kids, with half of the remainder doing college from home with similar plans, and stunningly, the fashion turns to having a collection of free-range kids - the coolest thing for the next two generations and the birthrate jumps to 3.3 - how much would even that change things? Some. But I don’t think even magical changes are going to reverse other cultural trends. Worldwide, the trend is that everyone’s birthrate is falling.
*Again. The rights of the collective against the individual have always been strong, even in America. Just not as strong as other places. We may have hit a high-water mark in our lifetimes, which we are now receding from. The behavior of the ACLU may be one measure of that.