“Get married and start a family.”
Sage advice given to the next generation of young conservatives at the Intercollegiate Studies Institute’s conference, held this past weekend in Alexandria, Virginia. It’s about time the emerging new Right of the conservative movement got its priorities straight. If anything, something as timeless and as necessary as this should have been said decades earlier to prevent our current social failure.
The failure is that while our GDP goes up, our birth rates continue to go down.
As keynote speaker and U.S. Senate Candidate from Ohio J.D. Vance remarked, that’s the only metric that should matter. Or as John Zmirak put it, “It’s a sober, unfalsified vote count of what our citizens think about life in our country. Do they think it’s worth passing along? Or must we rely on strangers coming in and replacing our culture with their own?”
But it’s not the problem we face that needs further addressing, it’s the solution. And I hate to say this two paragraphs in, but I don’t have it.
Most panelists at the conference see this problem and immediately think it’s an economic challenge that needs addressing rather than a devastating moral collapse in social dynamics. And if they do recognize the latter as the real problem, they just don’t want to address it. Or rather, it’s uncertain whether controversial social policy would change the cultural tide at this point in the game.
So instead, they see this as an opportunity for conservatives to change their family policy and find incentives that will better financially support families and encourage them to have more children. But one thoughtful panelist, Helen Andrews, pointed out that most of our declining births are coming from a lack of family formation in the first place. These declining numbers are coming specifically from the unmarried and childless. Being that millennials are getting married less and later in life than any previous generation, it’s already expected that a quarter of my generation will never marry.
If there was a policy prescription to change this, it wouldn’t be in the realm of manna. It would be in the realm of sex. And there is no current politician brave enough to go after that issue with the vengeance that is needed.
I spoke with Vance. When I asked his thoughts on porn and birth control and their effects on familial decline, Vance admitted he wants to outright ban pornography. He went on to say, “I think the combination of porn, abortion have basically created a really lonely, isolated generation that isn’t getting married, they’re not having families, and they’re actually not even totally sure how to interact with each other.”
He’s dead right about the interaction, or lack of intentional interaction.
When you raise a generation to be irreligious, that thinks sex is casual recreation and an entitlement that one’s owed, that worships at the altar of their own orgasm, that thinks marriage is obsolete or doomed to fail because they grew up in divorced families, that assumes children are an accessory to one’s career or a burden to avoid altogether, that thinks it’s trendy to have baby mommas and daddies and “co-parent,” that believes getting a dog and living together is the best way to “try it out,” and to whom dating apps are preferable to forming real in-person connections—you will inevitably deter a marriage culture.
And what’s important to understand is that it’s the relaxing of laws surrounding marriage that got us here. No-fault divorce, legalized obscenity, birth control, abortion, and gay marriage have all contributed to this calamity.
And further, for Catholics, there’s a lack of men in the Church, skewing the ratio between men and women. Scholar Lyman Stone has written about this, calling it a “crisis of absent men.” That’s not to say that there are no good men, but rather there’s not nearly enough of them. As Stone mentions in his analysis, “It’s no wonder the share of Americans who meet their partner at church has plummeted from about 12% in 1940 to barely 4% today.”
As a single Catholic woman in her twenties who knows plenty of other young single women, I don’t need to be convinced that marriage and family are what will change the culture and prove to be more fulfilling than devoting ourselves to the post-industrial workforce. What we need convincing of, though, is that there are apt men to marry. What we need is not a new economic proposal but a revival of men willing to put to death the culture of self that has kept them from the Church, and who believe that the family they form will be what actually #MakesAmericaGreatAgain.
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