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Why God, Family and Tradition Do Not Equal Happiness

Conservatives are freaking out about the death of the traditional family. But the family appears to be getting better.
 
 
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Are we living in a post-familial age? According to a new report, The Rise of Post-Familialism: Humanity's Future? , the answer is yes: the traditional family unit is slowly dying out as more people choose to forgo children and even marriage. As a result, society is economically imperilled, lacking the necessary workforce to support older generations. We're also "values-challenged", entering a brave new world of materialistic indulgence, selfishness and protracted adolescence.

Sounds awful, doesn't it? Luckily, almost none of it is true.

People around the world are indeed delaying childbearing and marriage, and larger numbers of people never marry or reproduce at all. But that is not synonymous with a moral decline, or selfish decadence. It represents an uptick in women's rights, a commitment to creating the family one wants, and wider choices for everyone.

It's no shock that the drop in the number of children a woman has came along with the advent of the birth control pill. The countries with the highest birth rates aren't just highly religious; they're poor, have abominable human rights records and lack access to reliable birth control. Contrary to New York Times columnist Ross Douthat's position , it is not in fact the country with the most babies that wins: if that was the case, Nigeria would be running the show.

Despite the clear correlation between reproductive rights and prosperity, the report's author, joined by conservative commentators, laments the decline in childbearing because, as David Brooks says , it represents a rise of individualism and personal freedom – and that's a bad thing. Brooks writes:

"People are not better off when they are given maximum personal freedom to do what they want. They're better off when they are enshrouded in commitments that transcend personal choice – commitments to family, God, craft and country."

But the moral case against individualism and choice doesn't have legs. It's a moral good when people have a wide array of choices and increased personal freedom – not just for the individual, but also for children, family and society. And the evidence backs that up.

Valuing tradition, family and God doesn't automatically translate into healthy families or economic prosperity. Just look at the United States: the states that most idealise the conservative model do have higher birth rates, earlier marriage, higher levels of religiosity and more consistent church attendance. They make up consistent conservative voting blocks. They also have the highest levels of divorce in the country, the highest poverty rates , the highest teen pregnancy rates , the lowest child health ratings and the lowest education levels . On the other hand, the states that champion "liberal values" do have later marriage rates and lower birth rates. They're also richer and better educated, the children that reside in them are healthier and families split up less often.

And contrary to the assertions in both the report and the commentary surrounding it, a lower birth rate does not actually mean that individuals end up voting to support only the interests of affluent childless singles. Quite the opposite: the social safety net is much stronger in liberal, supposedly individualistic, lower-birthrate blue states. An array of choices seems to mean that people respect and support a variety of paths.

The rest of the world tells a similar story. There are obviously myriad complex factors that play into a nation's success, but the places where people are the healthiest and the most economically stable are the relatively liberal nations that provide for social welfare while allowing many different models of family to flourish.

 
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