'Feminist natalism' has failed. Will anything else work?
It’s cold here in the Shenandoah Valley. But holed up at home in the heat, there is ample opportunity for some serious demography reading. The most compelling piece I’ve stumbled across is Prof. Darel E. Paul’s “The Failure of Feminist Natalism”. While the title is distinctly non-PC, it is not anti-feminist in the least. Rather, it reveals the sad truth about an unmitigated failure of social policies intended to boost family formation.
What is “feminist natalism?” Here’s ace demographer Lyman Stone of the Institute for Family Studies:
[A] number of scholars and politicians have proposed that “feminism is the new natalism.” By this, they mean that nations that pass policies designed to make it easier for women to juggle work and family, afford children, and share caregiving with fathers are likely to enjoy higher fertility levels.
Professor Paul is at Williams College. His eminently quotable essay discusses Europe’s “stunning fertility collapse.” He proceeds to quantify this troublesome trend by summarising the 2023 population stats that have thus far become available.
The Czech Republic saw births fall 11 percent from 2022, 19 percent off 2021. In Poland, births fell 10 percent from 2022, 18 percent off 2021; German births fell 7 percent last year. Since 2021, Finland is down 13 percent, Sweden down 12 percent, Denmark down 10 percent. The good professor could have run through the entire continent, but we get the picture. So much for the post-Covid baby bust bounce-back.
Prof. Paul zeroes in on Sweden, where feminist natalism is government policy:
As one 2015 study claimed, it is precisely in “extraordinarily equal” Sweden, where “family-friendly public policies are especially effective,” that we supposedly see how “the spread of more egalitarian values on the national level and more progressive and family-supportive policies … will have a positive effect on fertility and family stability.”
That was 2015. Today, the data reveal something more ominous afoot, an unfolding calamity for the nuclear family:
Marriage rates, too, have been falling in Sweden for 15 years — precipitously since 2016. And marital unions aren’t being replaced by long-term cohabitation. Since the Swedish state began counting such “consensual unions” in 2011, there has been a steady decline in their rate of formation. Most notable are the falling rates of marriage and union formation among parents; in 2021, they were doing so at rates around half the level of just a decade earlier. While the country experienced a small post-Covid marriage boom in 2022, the effect still fell short of pre-Covid levels and disappeared in 2023.
And among the gender-egalitarian family-friendly countries of Europe, Sweden is hardly the worst performer. Fertility and family formation are declining in Norway and Finland even more dramatically.
This is a seething social malignancy on the cusp of metastasis. Family is the foundation of everything, the basic social unit upon which all else is built. As goes the family, so goes society, culture and civilisation. Families form organically as nature’s way of organising the species. When family formation becomes problematic in a society, something is radically wrong. A profound course correction is urgently needed. The survival of our species depends on it.
The Scandinavian countries deserve high praise for their proactive social welfare policies crafted to benefit dual-earner families. These include generous (paid) family leave for both parents, tax incentives and social support through affordable daycare and parental counselling. Scandinavian social planners view these policies as a utilitarian/egalitarian model devoid of gender bias. They are designed to provide, per Jeremy Bentham, “the greatest good for the greatest number.” Early on, feminist natalism showed signs of success, yielding modest upticks in fertility. No longer.
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Prof. Paul: “If feminism can’t save the family in Western countries, our policymakers are truly at a loss.” What to do? Wish I knew. Revisiting the “male-breadwinner model”, at least in the West, is not in the cards. With the demasculinising of society – how many times a day do we hear the phrase “toxic masculinity”? – reviving anything remotely resembling patriarchy is a non-starter. While the desire to get ahead in the world is commendable, these days, social conditioning, careerism and consumerism take priority over family.
Prof. Paul poses the $64 proposition:
Rather than looking only to social causes, it is time for more research into potential psychological, biological, and environmental reasons behind family decline.
This is echoed by Finnish demographer Anna Rotkirch in an interview with The Financial Times: “Whatever is going on in countries like Finland, it’s not primarily driven by economics or family policies. It’s something cultural, psychological, biological, cognitive.” That is deep. Could this be a crisis of the spirit?
Then there is Ross Douthat, the token pro-family guy at the New York Times. His recent essay “The Varieties of Anti-Natalism — and the Roots of a Demographic Crisis” treads on the toes of the progressive set. I highly recommend it. Douthat calls environmentalist fear-mongering the “anti-natalism of despair” but then cites something even more lethal, the “anti-natalism of bourgeois propriety":
This kind of anti-natalism isn’t anti-human, it doesn’t panic about teeming masses and polluted cities, it’s fine with people who want kids having kids. But it encourages a belief in family formation as a kind of consumer preference, one option among many, that deprioritises its pursuit in the crucial decades when having kids is possible or easy. And it sets social expectations in such a way that most people’s understandings of respectability and propriety and good sense end up delaying reproduction, shrinking family size and leaving too many people with unfulfilled fertility desires. [Emphasis added]
(Regarding “unfulfilled fertility desires:” Survey after survey indicates that a whopping number of people want more children than they have.)
This “anti-natalism of bourgeois propriety” is the commoditisation of family life, a suffused-in-hubris attempt to monetise our very human essence. It is the manifestation of a secularist, materialist ethos prioritising individual ambition above family. Worse yet, it is a stealth anti-natalism, as it is widely perceived to be a socially positive pursuit of personal fulfilment rather than a prescription for familial demise.
All these social, psychological, biological, cultural, cognitive and environmental factors undermining fertility are overlapping. Secularism rules while God is denied. The consequences of mammon worship are blatantly obvious.
A majority of adult Americans are overweight and pre-diabetic. Over 40 percent are clinically obese. In our modern world junk food, substance abuse, and sedentary lifestyles are taking a toll. Depression, anxiety and suicide are rising. Sperm counts are falling. Long Covid and vaccine-related injuries don’t help. The jury is still out on the effects of radiation from ubiquitous electronic devices. There is a creeping servitude to technology. Inflation (debased currency) makes family formation barely affordable.
Social media and PC groupthink discourage long-term commitment and family formation. Wage slavery is rampant. Most of the new jobs added to the US economy are part-time and do not provide a living wage.
Chronicles contributor Pedro Gonzalez recently posted “Eudaimonia Delayed”, where he mentions a young lady barely getting by:
Eliza disclosed these details about her life in a teary TikTok video. “I’m not made for this,” she said. “I don’t have the money, time, or energy to enjoy my life outside of work, and I don’t know what to do about it anymore.”
She’s right about not being “made for this” because humans aren’t. What Eliza described is not a life in the true sense but living and dying as an automaton.
Yes, Modernism is morphing into something of a dystopia. Were we “made for this?” Good question.
Mother Nature has the answer.
Louis T. March has a background in government, business, and philanthropy. A former talk show host, author, and public speaker, he is a dedicated student of history and genealogy. Louis lives with his family in the beautiful Shenandoah Valley of Virginia.
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