[Welcome Instapundit readers and thanks for the link.]
Yesterday Glenn Reynolds noted a Sunday New York Times magazine article examining the demographic decline in Europe. He took the key meme from the article and summarized it as follows:
Flexibility is the key to success. But read the whole thing.
Having read the whole thing, I must say that Glenn Reynolds is correct that that is the major take-away from the article, but I also have to point out that the article was somewhat disingenuous in its most glaring omissions. In the Times article, the writer explains that adequate birth rates in Northern Europe and the United States are achieved in different ways, leading to the conclusion that flexibility is the key:
(pp. 4) This is a crucial difference between the north — including France and the United Kingdom and the Scandinavian countries — and the south. The Scandinavian countries have both the most vigorous social-welfare systems in Europe and — at 1.8 — among the highest fertility rates.
(pp. 5) If this reading of southern European countries is correct — that their superficial commitment to modernity, to a 21st-century lifestyle, is fatally at odds with a view of the family structure that is rooted in the 19th century — it should apply in other parts of the world, should it not? Apparently it does. This spring, the Japanese government released figures showing that the country’s under-14 population was the lowest since 1908. The head of Thailand’s department of health announced in May that his country’s birthrate now stands at 1.5, far below the replacement level. “The world record for lowest-low fertility right now is South Korea, at 1.1,” Francesco Billari told me. “Japan is just about as low. What we are seeing in Asia is a phenomenon of the 2000s, rather than the 1990s. And it seems the reasons are the same as for southern Europe. All of these are societies still rooted in the tradition where the husband earned all the money. Things have changed, not only in Italy and Spain but also in Japan and Korea, but those societies have not yet adjusted. The relationships within households have not adjusted yet.” Western Europe, then, is not the isolated case that some make it out to be. It is simply the first region of the world to record extremely low birthrates.
(pp. 6) So there would seem to be two models for achieving higher fertility: the neosocialist Scandinavian system and the laissez-faire American one. Aassve put it to me this way: “You might say that in order to promote fertility, your society needs to be generous or flexible. The U.S. isn’t very generous, but it is flexible. Italy is not generous in terms of social services and it’s not flexible. There is also a social stigma in countries like Italy, where it is seen as less socially accepted for women with children to work. In the U.S., that is very accepted.”
The disingenuousness comes from omitting the not so small point that much of America's demographic success comes from immigrants who become Americans while much of Northern Europe's demographic success comes from immigrants who remain unassimilated. This may yet change but until the prevailing multi-cultural mindset changes, all Northern Europe is doing is exchanging Scandinavians for pre-modern anti-Westerners.
Glee Reynolds also linked to his article from two years in which he dealt with deeper and more important reasons for the demographic collapse of Europe:
In these sorts of ways, parenting has become more expensive in non-financial as well as financial terms. It takes up more time and emotional energy than it used to, and there's less reward in terms of social approbation. This is like a big social tax on parenting and, as we all know, when things are taxed we get less of them. Yes, people still have children, and some people even have big families. But at the margin, which is where change occurs, people are less likely to do things as they grow more expensive and less rewarded.
So as we head into what looks like a major demographic debate, I think we need to look beyond subsidies and finances to culture. If people want to see Americans have more children, they should probably ignore Putin's advice, and they should definitely ignore Gibson's advice. They should look at ways of making parenting more rewarding, and less burdensome, in social as well as economic terms.
As is my wont I would extend Glenn's argument and suggest that our individual psychology is a crucial additional factor in the developments and the psychological trends can be reinforced or altered by social responses.
I have discussed on many occasions that one result of our great wealth and comfort as a people is heightened narcissism. The rapid advances in Medicine have resulted, starting in the post-war baby boom years, with a transformation in the meaning of a child. Because a child born in the 1950s, for the first time in history, would be reasonably expected to live until adulthood, every child became an object of heightened emotional investment:
In Part III of my series on Narcissism, Disintegration, Suicidality & the Fall of the West, I described how the confluence of material abundance and the decrease in childhood mortality led to smaller families in which each individual child was imbued with enhanced parental emotional investment:
[Prior to the modern era] Most children were not the center of their parent's universe in their earliest years, usually having to share their parents attention with multiple siblings; they had to learn to share at an early age. Furthermore, children who enter a world in which deprivation and loss is an all too real threat have minimal opportunity to develop over-abundant narcissistic expectations; no parent could afford too much of an emotional investment in a single child when the risk of losing children approached 50% before age 5:
After World War II, with the widespread use of antibiotics and vaccines, child mortality declined to <2%. The baby boomer generation became the first generation in the history of man which was born into a world in which the vast majority could be confidently expected to reach adulthood. After the horrendous blood letting of WWII, newly returned GI's and the women who had been left behind formed families at record paces, moved to the suburbs, and created a now (retrospectively) idealized life style which included ever increasing availability of material goods and an ever decreasing risk of the natural ills that man had always been subject to. Because there was less need to have many children in order to support one's old age (Social Security had an important part in this, as did the movement off the farms) and the expectation was that all the children would survive and thrive, the parents were able to make a much greater investment, emotionally and financially, in their fewer children. Children with few siblings were much more likely to remain the center of their parents universe for extended periods of time. Further, the nartural inclination of all parents who love their children to protect them from the vicissitudes of life lead to parents raising children who had very little first hand experience of deprivation or disappointment. The extended time and the increased intensity of the child's position as center of the universe led to many baby boomers developing narcissistic pathology.
In addition, the development of the pill in the 1960s furthered the transformation of a baby from an inevitable outcome of the most human of desires to a choice (with all the devaluing that is implied by that statement.)
As well, and as Glenn Reynolds implied, people with enhanced narcissism are particularly sensitive to the expectations of the greater culture. They unconsciously need the society to condone and celebrate their behavior. A culture that celebrates narcissism (and our celebrity infatuated culture is nothing less than a culture that celebrates narcissism) is a culture that consistently devalues children; the use of children by celebrities and the magazines and TV shows that celebrate and chronicle their progress through life, continues the transformation of a child from a new life with all of its own possibilities, to an object who serves to enhance the narcissism and self-esteem of the parent.
When children are raised to believe there is nothing and no one more important than them, they will have a significantly harder time paying the economic and social costs of having and raising a child. This may make it especially likely that young men would eschew marriage and children, since they have abundant choices for sexual gratification and little societal reward for marriage; since the success of feminism men and traditional male attributes have been consistently devalued. Maybe women still want to have babies but the men are no longer cooperating.
The New York Times article on demographics made the point that, apparently, most women in Europe still want to have children:
TO BEGIN TO UNDERSTAND the global meaning of the low-birthrate phenomenon requires first examining Europe’s “baby bust.” Maybe the most striking way to set up the issue is via a statistic that emerged from a 2006 Eurobarometer survey by the European Commission. Women were asked how many children they would like to have; the average result was 2.36 — well above the replacement level and far above the rate anywhere in Europe. If women are having significantly fewer children than they want, there must be other forces at work.
Coincidentally, there was a news item on the weekend that might shed some light on the discussion of demographics. Apparently, European fashion designers do not yet feel that the feminization of the West has gone quite far enough:
PARIS - The French menswear collections ended on Sunday in a sea of sequins, silk and all things pink, challenging the adage that boys will be boys.
Fine fabrics like silk, gazar and crepe de Chine crept into the male wardrobe for spring-summer 2009 as Paris designers increasingly blurred gender boundaries.
"The most striking thing is the amount of crossover from women's collections that seems to be happening," Michael Roberts, fashion director of Vanity Fair magazine, told The Associated Press.
"A little bit of that goes a long way as far as I'm concerned. I just find it a little bit annoying that I'm supposed to be here for a week watching men's shows, and I keep having to pinch myself to remind myself that I'm not in the women's pret-a-porter," he added.
Case in point: the Dior Homme show, where models paraded in gold-sequined pants with bright jewel appliques, or a metallic bomber jacket in this season's ubiquitous fuchsia pink.
Reading this story, it occurred to me to wonder if there are any women out there who would actually like to be involved with a man who dresses like a girl. Maybe there are, but I would bet that most women would be reluctant to actually have a baby with such a man.