Monday, December 3, 2012

The Single Nation (Updated)

Back in mid-October, Joel Kotkin at the Daily Beast presciently noted:
President Obama brought up Planned Parenthood three separate times at Tuesday’s town hall debate. It was an appeal aimed directly at a key part of his base: If he is reelected, it will be because of the Single Nation. 
Democrats have woken up to the huge political rifts that have emerged over the past 30 years—between married and single people, and people with kids and those who don’t have them. And save African Americans, there may be no constituency more loyal to the president and his party than the growing ranks of childless and single Americans. 
He went on to note:

This reliance on single and childless voters could transform the Democratic party in the years ahead. Singlism, a term coined by psychologist Bella De Paulo, embraces the idea that far from undeserved subjects of derision or pity, the unattached represent a bridge to a more evolved humanity. De Paulo sees them as more cyber than the married set, and “more likely to be linked to members of their social networks by bonds of affection” rather than blood. Unlike families, who, after all, are often stuck with each other, singles enjoy the linkage to “intentional communities” and are thus more likely “to think about human connectedness in a way that is far-reaching and less predictable.”
A singleton approach to public policy, notes Eric Klinenberg, author of the widely celebrated Going Solo, notes, favors a high density, urban “new social environment.” This is particularly true in the central cores of social-media hubs such as Manhattan, San Francisco and, most of all, Washington D.C. In many dense urban areas now, 70 percent or more of households are childless. In contrast, the largest growth in families with children are found in places such as Dallas-Ft. Worth, Houston, Raleigh, and the Salt Lake area, which have relatively little impact on the national culture.
The new post-familial politics departs in many ways from the old urban politics. In the past, urban voters focused largely on issues concerning neighbourhood, public safety, schools, ethnic enclaves and churches. The new childless class, notes the University of Chicago’s Terry Nichols Clark, identify less with these mundane issues and more with cultural preference and aesthetics.
Clark also suggests the new singles-dominated electorate will have transcended the barriers of race and even country, embracing what he hopefully calls “a post materialist” perspective that transforms the baser considerations of those embroiled in raising children and maintaining kinship ties. No longer familial, as people have been for millennia, he predicts they could be harbingers not only of a “new race, but even a new politics.”
The emerging “new politics” of the rising Single Nation could impact elections for decades to come, particularly in Democratic strongholds like Chicago, New York or San Francisco. These areas will be increasingly dominated by a vast, often well-educated and affluent class of voters whose interests are largely defined around their own world-view, without overmuch concern with the fate of offspring, along with the urban poor and the public workers who tend to both groups. Since the childless frequently lack the kinship networks that are obliged to provide for them in moments of trouble, they tend to look more to government to care for them in hard times or old age.

However, Kotcin also notes that, for obvious reasons, this advantage will only last a single generation.
This, notes author Eric Kauffman, hands the long-term advantage to generally more conservative family-oriented households, who often have two or more offspring. Birth rates among such conservative populations such as Mormons and evangelical Christians tend to be twice as high than those of the nonreligious.

As a result, Kauffman predicts that inevitably “the religious will inherit the earth” and ensure that conservative, more familial-oriented values inevitably prevail. Even among generally liberal groups like Jews, the orthodox and affiliated are vastly out-birthing their secular counterparts; by some estimates roughly two in five New York Jews is orthodox, including three quarters of the city’s Jewish children. If these trends continue, politics even in the progressive nirvana of Gotham may be pulled somewhat to the right.
Addressing the same issue, Jonathon Last at the Weekly Standard points out:
Far more significant [to the election] than the gender gap is the marriage gap. And what was made clear in the 2012 election was that the cohorts of unmarried women and men are now at historic highs​—​and are still increasing. This marriage gap​—​and its implications for our political, economic, and cultural future​—​is only dimly understood.

Americans have been wedded to marriage for a very long time. Between 1910 and 1970, the “ever-married rate”​—​that is, the percentage of people who marry at some point in their lives​—​went as high as 98.3 percent and never dipped below 92.8 percent. Beginning in 1970, the ever-married number began a gradual decline so that by 2000 it stood at 88.6 percent.
Today, the numbers are more striking: 23.8 percent of men, and 19 percent of women, between the ages of 35 and 44 have never been married. Tick back a cohort to the people between 20 and 34​—​the prime-childbearing years​—​and the numbers are even more startling: 67 percent of men and 57 percent of women in that group have never been married. When you total it all up, over half of the voting-age population in America​—​and 40 percent of the people who actually showed up to vote this time around​—​are single.
What does this group look like? Geographically, they tend to live in cities. As urban density increases, marriage rates (and childbearing rates) fall in nearly a straight line. Carville and Greenberg put together a Venn diagram which is highly instructive. Of the 111 million single eligible voters, 53 million are women and 58 million are men. Only 5.7 million of these women are Hispanic and 9.7 million are African American. Nearly three-quarters of all single women are white. In other words, the cohort looks a lot like the Julia character the Obama campaign rolled out to show how the president’s policies care for that plucky gal from the moment she enrolls in Head Start right through her retirement. You may recall that because of President Obama, Julia goes to college, gets free birth control, has a baby anyway, sends her lone kid to public school, and then​—​at age 42​—​starts her own business (as a web designer!). What she does not do is get married.
* * *
How did we get to an America where half of the adult population isn’t married and somewhere between 10 percent and 15 percent of the population don’t get married for the first time until they’re approaching retirement? It’s a complicated story involving, among other factors, the rise of almost-universal higher education, the delay of marriage, urbanization, the invention of no-fault divorce, the legitimization of cohabitation, the increasing cost of raising children, and the creation of a government entitlement system to do for the elderly childless what grown children did for their parents through the millennia.

But all of these causes are particular. Looming beneath them are two deep shifts. The first is the waning of religion in American life. As Joel Kotkin notes in a recent report titled “The Rise of Post-Familialism,” one of the commonalities between all of the major world religions is that they elevate family and kinship to a central place in human existence. Secularism tends toward agnosticism about the family. This distinction has real-world consequences. Take any cohort of Americans​—​by race, income, education​—​and then sort them by religious belief. The more devout they are, the higher their rates of marriage and the more children they have.

The second shift is the dismantling of the iron triangle of sex, marriage, and childbearing. Beginning in roughly 1970, the mastery of contraception decoupled sex from babymaking. And with that link broken, the connections between sex and marriage​—​and finally between marriage and childrearing​—​were severed, too.

Where is this trend line headed? In a word, higher. There are no indicators to suggest when and where it will level off. Divorce rates have stabilized, but rates of cohabitation have continued to rise, leading many demographers to suspect that living together may be crowding out matrimony as a mode of family formation. And increasing levels of education continue to push the average age at first marriage higher.
 * * *
The question, then, is whether America will continue following its glidepath to the destination the rest of the First World is already nearing. Most experts believe that it will. As the Austrian demographer Wolfgang Lutz puts it, once a society begins veering away from marriage and childbearing, it becomes a “self-reinforcing mechanism” in which the cult of the individual holds greater and greater allure.

What then? Culturally speaking, it’s anybody’s guess. The more singletons we have, the more densely urban our living patterns are likely to be. Sociologist Eric Klinenberg believes that the masses of city-dwelling singles will sort themselves into “urban tribes,” based not on kinship, but rather on shared interests. The hipsters, the foodies, the dog people, and so on. Klinenberg teaches at NYU, so he would know. As a result, cities will gradually transform from centers of economic and cultural foment into what urban theorist Terry Nichols Clark calls “the city as entertainment machine.”

The urban tribes may be insipid, but they’re reasonably benign. Kotkin sees larger cultural problems down the road. “[A] society that is increasingly single and childless is likely to be more concerned with serving current needs than addressing the future,” he writes. “We could tilt more into a ‘now’ society, geared towards consuming or recreating today, as opposed to nurturing and sacrificing for tomorrow.”

The economic effects are similarly unclear. On the one hand, judging from the booming economic progress in highly single countries such as Singapore and Taiwan, singletons can work longer hours and move more easily for jobs. Which would make a single society good for the economy. (At least in the short term, until the entitlement systems break because there aren’t enough new taxpayers being born.) There is, however, an alternative economic theory. Last summer demographers Patrick Fagan and Henry Potrykus published a paper examining the effect of nonmarriage on the labor participation rate. Fagan and Potrykus were able to identify a clear statistical effect of marriage on men’s labor participation. What they found is that without the responsibility of families to provide for, unmarried American males have historically tended to drop out of the labor force, exacerbating recessionary tendencies in the economy. We’ll soon find out which view is correct.

And as for politics, the Democratic party clearly believes that single Americans will support policies that grow the government leviathan while rolling back the institutions that have long shaped civil society. The Obama campaign targeted these voters by offering them Planned Parenthood and Julia.

That the Republican party hasn’t figured out how to court singles may partly be a function of failing to notice their rapid growth. But before the GOP starts working on schemes to pander to singletons, it’s worth considering an alternative path.

Rather than entering a bidding war with the Democratic party for the votes of Julias, perhaps the GOP should try to convince them to get married, instead. At the individual level, there’s nothing wrong with forgoing marriage. But at scale, it is a dangerous proposition for a society. That’s because marriage, as an institution, is helpful to all involved. Survey after survey has shown that married people are happier, wealthier, and healthier than their single counterparts. All of the research suggests that having married parents dramatically improves the well-being of children, both in their youth and later as adults.

As Robert George put it after the election, limited government “cannot be maintained where the marriage culture collapses and families fail to form or easily dissolve. Where these things happen, the health, education, and welfare functions of the family will have to be undertaken by someone, or some institution, and that will sooner or later be the government.” Marriage is what makes the entire Western project​—​liberalism, the dignity of the human person, the free market, and the limited, democratic state​—​possible. George continues, “The two greatest institutions ever devised for lifting people out of poverty and enabling them to live in dignity are the market economy and the institution of marriage. These institutions will, in the end, stand or fall together.”
 All of this brings me to some final thoughts from Paul Rahe at Ricochet, discussing why libertarians should also be social conservatives (and vice versa).

The deepest source of our present discontents is the sexual revolution. Our abandonment of chastity as a norm has had dire political consequences. ... [I]n 1940 (before I was born) and in 1950 (shortly after I was born), something on the order of 3% of American children were born out of wedlock. By 1960, the number was up to about 5%. Then, it went up by leaps and bounds. In 1980, it was 18.4%. In 2007, it was 39.6%. Today it is somewhere in the neighborhood of 40%. As the editors at Pravda-on-the-Hudson proudly trumpet, bastardy is "the new normal." In 2009, 53% of all children born to women under 30 were born out of wedlock.
Now think about this. How available was contraception in 1940, 1950, and 1960? Condoms existed, of course, but they were outlawed in many states, and the pill was not approved by the FDA until 1960. Abortions could be had -- but not legally -- and they were , in fact, exceptionally rare. This should give you pause for thought. Since Roe v. Wade in 1973, more than 50 million unborn children have been killed.
So, what did women do in 1940, 1950, and 1960? For the most part, they exercised an iron self-control. They forced interested men to respect their needs and concerns, and men complied. Now young women do not have it together well enough even to be able to take a pill every morning or a shot every month. As contraception and abortion have become available, as they have become a frequent resort, the proportion of out-of-wedlock births has soared. If the trend continues, bastardy will be the norm, and the family will be regarded as a relic from an earlier, benighted age.
The heart of the matter is this. As a people -- thanks in part to our astonishing prosperity, thanks in part to technological change, and thanks in part to the ordinary human propensity for self-indulgence -- we have abandoned the notion that impulse-control is a thing both good and necessary, and we have abandoned it in a sphere that is fundamental. We are creatures of habit. In the absence of sexual self-control, there is apt to be very little self-control of any kind. The young lady who is sexually self-indulgent is not apt to be disciplined enough to take a little white pill every day or to present herself at a clinic once a month. That there are a great many exceptions to this rule we all know. But the statistical pattern is nonetheless clear.
All of this began in the 1960s, and it has grown and grown and grown. We now live in a society educated by televisions series like Sex and the City and its successors, and it is in no way surprising that single mothers are almost as common as married mothers -- and they now feel entitled to our respect and support. The most astonishing aspect of the November, 2012 election was that the Democratic Party took as one of its slogans: "Sluts vote!" And, by golly, they did.
. . . Single mothers and their offspring are bound for the most part to become wards of the state. For a man and a woman who are married to rear offspring is a chore. It may be fulfilling, but it is demanding and hard. It requires sacrifice and discipline. For a single person to do so and to do it well requires a species of heroism. For a single person to do so at all requires help -- and that is where we are. For we now take it for granted that we are to pay for the mistakes that the single mother (and her sexual partner) made. We now, in fact, presume that she is entitled to our help -- and we now have a political party in power built on that premise.We are to pay for her groceries through WIC (Women, Infants, Children), for her medical care through Medicaid, for the contraceptives that she does not have the discipline to use properly and for the morning-after pill should she slip up and need an abortion. Her right to be promiscuous trumps our right to the fruits of our own labor.
What I would say to libertarians is this: Liberty requires a responsible citizenry, and the sexual revolution (very much like the drug culture, which was and is its Doppelgänger) promotes irresponsibility of every kind. It promotes dependence, and it fosters an ethos in which those who exercise the virtues fostered by the market are punished for doing so and in which those who live for present pleasure are rewarded.
There are many reasons why Mitt Romney lost in 2012. Some, as I suggested in an earlier post, were his fault. Some of them were not. One of the latter is that the demographic deck was stacked against him in a fashion that it was not stacked against Ronald Reagan in 2008. If we do not find a way to reverse the sexual revolution, we are doomed. The future of liberty is contingent on the success of the social conservatives. The libertinism that some libertarians ostentatiously embrace provides the growth in the administrative entitlements state with its impetus. If to be a libertarian is to favor political liberty, then libertarians must embrace social conservatism. If to be a libertarian is to embrace sex, drugs, and rock and roll, then libertarians are the proponents -- whether witting or not -- of the soft despotism that threatens to engulf us.
Update (Dec. 9, 2012): Francis Porretto at Liberty's Torch weighs in on this issue, suggesting that Rahe has placed the cart before the horse, so to speak--i.e., the answer is not for libertarians to embrace "social conservatism." Porretto notes:
Paul Rahe's review of bastardy statistics is indeed compelling...but as he notes, the technology of contraception has been available far longer than the rise of illegitimacy might suggest. The massive surge in out-of-wedlock births began in the mid-1970s, fifteen years after the Pill and six decades after the condom. So technological advances are thoroughly disconnected from American social decline.

Jonathan Last's review of marital and fertility statistics suffers a similar flaw. Divorce, though rarer before 1970 than after, was nevertheless easily available to any couple that wanted to dissolve its marriage. Likewise, convenient contraception has been with us since at least the early 1900s. The time gap between those things and the great upsurge of "never-married" and child-averse Americans suggests that they didn't function as triggers for the demographic change.

However, there have been other changes, which neither writer addresses.
Porretto argues that it was society not censoring divorce, out-of-wedlock sex and childbirth, that gave rise to  the problem, and, therefore, to combat the problem, society must become more censorious. I agree. However, the surge in out-of-wedlock birth in the 70's, as well as the rise in divorce, actually coincides with another trend--the rise of modern feminism, which is a branch of progressive liberalism (which is merely itself a flavor of socialism, fascism, and communism), and the decline of Christianity in politics and society (i.e., forcing Christianity out of the public life).

I might go further and ask a question beyond the one posed by Porretto. He says the answer is to become more censorious. But how? How was society censorious in the past? Through religion. Thus, in the end, Rahe is correct--the answer is that fiscal conservatives and libertarians must become social conservatives--i.e., accepting and supportive of religion, even if they, themselves, remain agnostic or atheists.

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