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Ten policies for renewing family life
The state of the family in many advanced societies is unsustainable. Which public policies could reverse this decline?
In the central part of the Sustained Demographic Development report, The Empty Cradle, Phillip Longman and others track in detail the patterns of demographic decline globally and their causes. At the end, the authors propose 10 key policies for reversing this decline and reinvigorating the economy. MercatorNet reproduces those policies here, in the second of three excerpts from the report.
What then are the appropriate policy responses to the unsustainable state of family life in many advanced societies? Here are ten proposals that might be helpful:
1. PROMOTE FAMILY ENTERPRISE.
2. INCREASE INCOME SECURITY FOR YOUNG COUPLES.
There is no single policy lever to pull that will put the family back into a healthy and sustainable balance with global market forces. We must grapple with issues like foreign trade, offshore employment, and downsizing. Yet it is essential that measures of efficiency not be so narrowly defined that they discount the vital role that secure, functioning families play in sustaining economic progress. To soften the blows young adults face from income and employment instability associated with globalization, countries should ensure access to affordable health care and lifetime learning to keep job skills from becoming obsolete.
3. EASE THE TENSION BETWEEN HIGHER EDUCATION AND FAMILY FORMATION.
To some extent, these disparities simply reflect differing individual priorities and preferences. They also reflect, however, the severe obstacles placed in the way of couples who want to start families while they are still biologically capable of doing so and at the same time want to pursue higher education. Under our current system of higher education, a woman who wants to, say, interrupt her education at age 20 to start a family and then return to school at age 30 will face steep handicaps in gaining admission. Institutions of higher learning, as well as employers, should include parents in their attempts to build diversity and overcome historical patterns of discrimination.49
4. BUILD LIVABLE, FAMILY-FRIENDLY COMMUNITIES.
The policy responses needed to address these threats to the family are much easier to state than to achieve. Yet such vital reforms as improving public education, reducing automobile dependency, and fostering walkable communities will perhaps be easier if these goals are tied to the needs of the family. Salt Lake City, which has the highest birth rate of any American metropolitan area, has since the late 1990s made a huge and successful commitment to containing sprawl and building light-rail under the influence of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints.52
5. HONOR WORK-FAMILY IDEALS OF ALL WOMEN.
Unfortunately, government family policy often ignores this diversity among women. Instead, there is often bias toward the needs of working mothers and neglect of those of home-centered mothers. Pronatalist policies are not likely to be effective if they primarily target career-oriented women; such women are not only a minority in any national population but are generally the most resistant to increased childbearing. As sociologist Catherine Hakim points out, family policy that is aimed only at the particular problems of two-paycheck families fails “to recognize and accept the heterogeneity of women’s (and men’s) lifestyle preferences.”55
Policy makers should embrace programs such as the highly successful Finnish homecare allowance, which provides parents who do not use public childcare with a stipend that they can use for their own family budget—or to pay a grandparent, neighbor, friend, or nanny to care for their children. In Finland, the allowance is less expensive than the cost of public childcare and is linked to increases in fertility.56 Most importantly, it has allowed women to choose the best caregiving option for themselves and their families.
6. SUPPORT MARRIAGE AND RESPONSIBLE PARENTHOOD.
First, many public policies unintentionally penalize marriage by reducing or eliminating public benefits to parents who marry and thereby have access to two incomes rather than one.57 Public policies aimed at families should either be offered on a universal basis or should allow the two parents to split their income when it comes to determining the family’s eligibility for public support.
Second, governments should test the effectiveness of social-marketing campaigns on behalf of marriage— especially those connecting marriage and parenthood. Experience has shown that well-designed social- marketing campaigns aimed at changing sexual behavior, drug use, and smoking habits can have a positive impact.58 In some cases, the impact of these campaigns has proved to be modest. Yet the extraordinary cost, both to individuals and society, of contending with, for example, out-of-wedlock births, makes social marketing aimed at changing such behaviors likely to be cost effective. These campaigns can also generate a larger, salutary conversation in the society at large about the importance of marriage for raising children.
7. PROMOTE THRIFT.
Better consumer-finance-protection laws and enforcement are part of the solution, from putting caps on usurious lending to enforcing standardized, easy-to-understand contracts for credit cards and mortgages. So is restoring the ethos of thrift that historically was a pillar of the thriving working- class and middle-class family. Until it petered out in the 1960s, Americans celebrated “Thrift Week” pegged to Benjamin Franklin’s birthday on January 17. Until the 1960s, public schools ran their own small banks for students, allowing millions of American children to better learn financial literacy and the habits of thrift. Savings and loans encouraged thrift through Christmas savings plans. And so on. We need to renew this ethos for our day. Restoring thrift is a generational project but also a prerequisite to restoring the health and fertility of the modern family.60
8. ADJUST THE FINANCING OF THE WELFARE STATE TO MEET THE NEEDS OF AN AGING SOCIETY.
Here is a suggestive policy idea for allowing the nurturing sector to keep a greater share of the value it creates for society: Say to the next generation of young adults, have one child, and your payroll taxes, which support the elderly, will drop by one-third. A second child would be worth a two-thirds reduction in payroll taxes. Have three or more children, and pay no payroll taxes until your youngest child turns 18. When it comes time to retire, your benefits (and your spouse’s) will be calculated just as if you had both been contributing the maximum tax during the period in which you were raising children, provided that all your children have graduated from high school.
9. CLEAN UP THE CULTURE.
To some extent, these cultural excesses and distortion can be expected to correct themselves. Just as during the Victorian age, when fear of underpopulation, particularly among elites, led to a reformation in manners and morals, there will be less and less tolerance for those who do not contribute children to society or whose activities contribute to children’s moral corruption. But Hollywood film makers, advertisers, and other cultural merchants need to catch up with the new demographic reality and become aware that we now live in a world in which strong families can no longer be taken for granted—much less endlessly mocked and trivialized.
10. RESPECT THE ROLE OF RELIGION AS A PRONATAL FORCE.
In recognition of the contribution that religion makes to family life and fertility, governments should not persecute people of faith for holding or expressing views that are informed by religious tradition, including ones that buck progressive or nationalist sensibilities. Alas, such persecution is now common in some countries around the world, from Canada to China to France.61 Faith brings hope, and ultimately it is hope that replenishes the human race.
None of these ten proposals is anywhere near adequate to solve the challenges created by the new demographics of the twenty-first century. Yet they are suggestive of the philosophical approach that is needed—one that emphasizes the critical role of the intact, nurturing, and financially secure family in sustaining and renewing the human, social, and financial capital of aging societies around the globe.
Phillip Longman is a senior research fellow at the New America Foundation in Washington, D.C.; Paul Corcuera is a professor and investigator at Instituto de Ciencias para la Familia at Universidad de Piura (Peru); Laurie DeRose, Ph.D., is a research assistant professor in the Maryland Population Research Center at the University of Maryland, College Park; Marga Gonzalvo Cirac, Ph.D., is a professor and researcher at the Institut d’Estudis Superiors de la Familia (IESF) at the Universitat Internacional de Catalunya (Spain); Andres Salazar is a professor and investigator at Instituto de La Familia at Universidad de La Sabana (Colombia); Claudia Tarud Aravena is the director of the Family Science Institute at the University of the Andes (Chile); and Antonio Torralba is an associate professor, a university fellow, and trustee of the University of Asia and the Pacific (Philippines).
Reproduced with permission. Read the orginal version for footnotes.
Next: The report finds that, throughout the world, support for the institution of the family is strong.
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