'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.

Further considerations

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.

Image: Pexels


Showing 7 reactions

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  • Maryse Usher
    commented 2024-02-14 19:10:38 +1100
    Young people are still getting married, but those who flourish happily with lots of children have several things in common: they gravitate to areas where housing in cheaper; they form communities whose focal point in the local Catholic Church; the wives closely support, encourage and empathise with one another, often in a designated social media platform. The husbands earn the bread and the mothers home-educate their children or send them to orthodox Christian schools.
    These families have a strong prolife ethic. Faith is their greatest strength. They abhor wordily ideologies, especially toxic feminism and those du jour. I regard the women as highly educated and professional in their roles as mothers and wives. They have turned it into an art form.
    All in all, it will mean the survival of the fittest, healthiest, psychologically strongest. Grandparents play a crucial role.
    Everyone wins – including society.
  • mrscracker
    Absolutely, Elva.
    I keep on repeating myself, but right down the highway from Mr. March there are a number of Anabaptist communities that have young people marrying with flourishing families, farms, & businesses. And they take no part in govt. social welfare programs, health insurance, or even social security.
    Many young married couples with children is also the case at the church I attend. If marriage & family are prioritized & supported within a community it will work.
    The one European exception to the Western birth dearth is the Faroe Islands. A combination of factors: importation of wives from higher fertility cultures, grandparents within walking distance to help with childcare, etc has allowed a replacement level or higher birth rate there. At least that was the case recently.
  • Steven Meyer
    commented 2024-02-12 07:53:17 +1100
    Elva Kindler, For better or worse. it’s not happening.

    And, in any case, I doubt a husband can support a large family on minimum wages.

    Remember that during the 1970s AFDC (Aid to Families with Dependent Children) was providing income support on a scale that, while still miserly, was generous by today’s standards. Many large families cheated – the husband pretending to have deserted the wife – in order to get the aid.

    Even today many large families rely to some extent on government programs like Medicaid and those much maligned public schools.

    I think you misremember the 1970s.
  • Elva Kindler
    commented 2024-02-11 21:21:34 +1100
    It is nearly always possible for a couple to raise any number of children lovingly, with Mom being given rest after births, as well as looking forward to managing the children and the home at her own pace. A couple must be living where people are starving in the streets for this not to be possible. Remember the 70’s in the United States? There was terribly high inflation, and couples were getting married, and having children, and wives were staying at home. And couples were supported by family and neighbors and church. It still happens, you know, when husband and wife together decide it is what they want.
  • Paul Bunyan
    commented 2024-02-11 17:49:05 +1100
    Louis, unless you can convince people to willingly become slaves to a new human being (or several human beings) for 18 years, you’re unlikely to see a rise in the birth rate in the modern world.

    As the saying goes, “Money doesn’t grow on trees.” And “baby bonuses” certainly aren’t enough for most families. What does the US offer? $5600 a year? That wouldn’t even cover the cost of formula for the child. Parents need to eat as well. Babysitting isn’t free, and children at work are likely to annoy co-workers and bosses, leading to reduced productivity. That’s a death sentence (loss of employment) in a capitalist system.

  • Steven Meyer
    commented 2024-02-11 16:44:53 +1100
    “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.”

    Contemporary capitalism in action.

    That bearded guy you all love to hate foresaw this state of affairs. In many ways he was quite prescient. he coined the phrase “wage slave”.

    Would you describe Eliza as a “wage slave”?

    You wrote:

    “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.”

    It’s worse than you think.

    Even More Young Americans Are Unfit to Serve, a New Study Finds. Here’s Why.

    “A new study from the Pentagon shows that 77% of young Americans would not qualify for military service without a waiver due to being overweight, using drugs or having mental and physical health problems.”

    “vaccine-related injuries”???

    You can’t resist this sort of thing, can you? No medical treatment is 100% safe. But the vaccines are very safe and the balance of risk says get your jabs unless there’s some medical condition that makes it unsafe for you.

    And important advice for readers. Trust your doctor ahead of some random guy on the internet pushing an agenda.
  • Louis T. March
    published this page in The Latest 2024-02-11 12:45:59 +1100