Author (or Editor): Longman, Philip
Title: The Empty Cradle: How Falling Birthrates Threaten World Prosperity and What We Can Do About It
Publisher: Basic /
Physical description: hardbound, 240 pgs incl. index
Relevance to DOASKDOTELL: gay marriage, Childlessmess
Referral website (recently changed): http://www.newamerica.net/people/phillip_longman
Longmen here presents analysis that really is not new at all, but he provides a fresh interpretation and perspective on it. That is, that the falling birthrate (below “replacement levels”) in many countries is a threat to economic prosperity and social stability. But he is trying to argue from a liberal, progressive position rather than from a moralistic one that condemns childlessness as “selfish.”
We used to hear a lot about the “world population problem” as overpopulation, but concern for underfertility has been common in the past. Conservative Christians have only occasionally bragged a pronatalist program to increase the relative numbers of the faithful. He quotes Mary Pride as saying, “All we’d have to do is to raise children and raise them for Christ.” And Longman is right, there is a long term threat that cultures or countries that have many children at the expense of immediate standard of living will become politically and maybe militarily powerful. The people who don’t “get it” (the new self-directed culture) or who feel religiously or politically motivated will procreate more than those with higher standards of living, but the evidence that this is really happening in various regions of the world is rather ambiguous.
The fertility issue affects not just western countries, but many Asian
cultures as well (such as
But the dirty little secret that still relatively few authors delve into, is how much it costs to raise children in our culture, and the new economic incentive not to have children.
“Instead, the problem is that the value created by the ‘nurturing sector’ of the economy is, in effect, being taxed away to the point that it makes less and less sense for individuals to invest or participate in it, so increasingly they don’t. (p. 138)
“…parents are expected to potty train their children, keep them quiet and well-behaved, and let the joys of parenting be their own reward… A corollary of this view is that people who decide not to have children hurt no one, or even benefit society, and so cannot be criticized…The problem with these attitudes is that they fail to account for the deepening dependency all people have on both the quantity and quality of other people’s children.” (pp. 139-140)
A bit socialistic, to be sure. And a rebuttal to my own concept of meritocratic “responsibility for the self.”
Anecdotally, when I look around I see a lot of people still having kids and being dedicated to them, and I think the problem is more than just economics. It is psychology, aesthetics, and culture. People want relationships to satisfy themselves, not just to propagate their bloodlines. Aesthetics exists in many areas with only a remote connection to children, and can add a lot to a modern culture. The modern gay community provides an example. Gradually, people have come to define themselves apart from family responsibilities, and this may become a particular problem with eldcercare, as the number of longer-living elderly increases with fewer children to support them.
Here, I must say, I have lived most of my adult gay life as one of the selfishly, unsocialized childless. Perhaps I have gotten away with something that will not be possible in the next generation.
Longman finally gets to his policy proposals, and his main one is to reduce or eliminate social security taxes for married couples with dependent children. (Libertarians, remember, want to replace social security entirely with private retirement accounts, but that would not help homemakers or with paying to raise children.) As a sidebar he visits gay marriage:
“My personal view is that a good compromise would be to sanction gay marriage, but to insist that marriage be at least an initial requirement for receiving parental benefits.” (p. 175)
His other proposals regarding health care, family businesses (working from home), and reducing suburban sprawl seem less original and controversial. He does believe that better health care would extend the working career of most adults by ten years or so and reduce the burden of caring for the elderly, but this advice applies in a society that accepts a low birth rate.
Longman here sidesteps discussion of the symbolic importance to many people of the sex act itself and its connection to actually making children. It seems that he could have made a case here for gay adoption—if you encourage adoption, you encourage more people to take the chance of having children. You also provide another brake against abortion.
This whole discussion does call up our values—how important are people “as
people” compared to the values people represent. That is an important part of
gay psychology. Many people would want to be parents if they knew they would
Some conservative commentators have noted that illegal immigration, and President Bush’s plan to allow some illegals who do our “dirty jobs” to stay, relates to the lower birth rate among the affluent and the economic pressure perceived by many to delay having children. Immigrants will have more children, and their needs for social support and especially educational support in the schools will be much greater.
Readers may enjoy this commentary by Steven E. Landsburg, “Be Fruitful and Multiply: Do the world a favor: Have more children” at http://www.slate.com/id/2037/ The Genesis verse is (but see this commentary in Christianity Today from 2001, at http://www.christianitytoday.com/ct/2001/014/4.58.html The verse is viewed as a “blessing” and not as a commandment. Then there is also the Apostle Paul’s take on fecundity at 1 Corinthians 7:9, “it is better to marry than to burn”; for example, see http://www.bereanbeacon.org/articles/better_marry_than_burn.htm
Suzanne Fields, in “Destined for the supper dish: How can our society
survive an impulse for weakness,” The
Again, Suzanne Fields writes, “Making babies in
A commentary “Life Without Children,” by Michael McManus, in The
Here is a “scathing review” by T.J. Nelson from “brneuroscience”, link here.
A related book is by Angelo Bertelo,
Fertility: Power and Progress,
Confidence in Life and Genius, Problems and Paradoxes, with forward
by Prof. Bibek Debroy, Director, Rajiv Gandhi Institute For
Contemporary Studies, Rajiv Gandhi Foundation, Jawahar
You can read this book free at http://utenti.lycos.it/angelobertolo/
Ellen Nakashima, of the Washington Post Foreign Service, provides a story
David R. Sands, “
Molly Moore, “As
Peter N. Stearns, Michael Adas, Stuart B. Schwartz, and Marc J. Gilbert, history professors, in their 2003 text World Civilizations: The Global Experience write this about the decline of Roman civilization: “Revealingly, the upper classes no longer provided many offspring, for bearing and raising children seemed incompatible with a life of pleasure-seeking.” A tombstone would epitaph read, "I was not, I was, I am not, I have no more desires."
For a recent story about baby bonuses in
Senator (R-PA) Richard Santorum has a new book It Takes a
Family: Conservatism and the Common Good ( 2005,
ISI, ISBN 1932236295), which begs for a natural comparison to Hilary
Clinton’s “It Takes a Village (1996). Actually, the book is somewhat intended
as an attack on overzealous individualism as it competes with families under
the guise of social programs, or as it takes undue advantage of unsupervised
use of technology (as with pornography or adult content on the Internet).
Indeed, it is hard for low and moderate income families to raise their
children and stay together in today’s competitive culture. Santorum, however,
cannot afford to list really specific hard-nosed remedies to deal with it. We
will remember Santorum’s speech supporting sodomy laws before the 2003 Lawrence v. Texas decision as
dangerous to the stability of the family as a societal common element, and
his support from the Senate floor of a constitutional amendment banning gay
marriage, which died on the floor on CSPAN in July 2004. But he makes a clever nexus between gay
marriage and the falling birthrates in western countries, which is even more
In the high school social studies text The American Pageant (2002), David Kennert and Lizabeth Cohen discuss, toward the very end, the break down of “shared purposes” in the 60s, the rise of individualism, and the fact that the decline of the family is more than just unwed mothers. In the 1990s, one-third of all women 25-29 have never married, and three times as many adults lived alone (myself included) in the 1990s as in the 1950s. One-fourth of all children do not have two live-a-home parents (1/3 for Hispanics, 2/3 for African Americans).
Richard Jackson, Neil Howe, Rebecca Strauss, Keisuke
Nakashima. The Graying of the Great
Powers: Demography and Geopolitics in the 21st Century.
CSIS: Center for Strategic & International Studies. Paper, large pages,
216 pages. The authors don’t mince words that western nations (particularly
European civilization seems content with “presenteeism,” he argues. It believes it can outsource the mess of having babies, and then expect the imports to assimilate into their values, and not grasp the roots of Islam’s apparent religious “nilhism.”
This book is so “Islamophobic” as to be banned
Elinor Burkett The Baby Boon (mentioned on p. 139); Rauch Gay Marriage; Jennifer Roback Morse: Love and Economics Elizabeth Warren: The Two-Income Trap (this book mentions the disincentive to have children toward the end) Crittenden The Price of Motherhood Hewlett and West The War on Parents; Peter Peterson Running on Empty; Jonathan Rauch book on gay marriage; Anya Kamenetz Generation Debt Bruce Bawer: While Europe Slept
Back to doaskdotell book reviews
Back to doaskdotell home page
Email me at Jboushka@aol.com