As Roth Douthat notes in the New York Times, “American fertility plunged with the stock market in 2008, and it hasn’t recovered:”
More broadly, a more secure economic foundation beneath working-class Americans would presumably help promote childbearing as well. Stable families are crucial to prosperity and mobility, but the reverse is also true, and policies that made it easier to climb the economic ladder would make it easier to raise a family as well.
Beneath these policy debates, though, lie cultural forces that no legislator can really hope to change. The retreat from child rearing is, at some level, a symptom of late-modern exhaustion — a decadence that first arose in the West but now haunts rich societies around the globe. It’s a spirit that privileges the present over the future, chooses stagnation over innovation, prefers what already exists over what might be. It embraces the comforts and pleasures of modernity, while shrugging off the basic sacrifices that built our civilization in the first place.
Such decadence need not be permanent, but neither can it be undone by political willpower alone. It can only be reversed by the slow accumulation of individual choices, which is how all social and cultural recoveries are ultimately made.
With David Brooks having embraced first centrism and ultimately Obamaism, Douthat is, effectively, the Gray Lady’s token iconoclastic conservative. And I’m not at all sure how will his latest column will be received by the paper’s readers, at least based this San Francisco Chronicle article. Back in 2008, the Chronicle sagely noted that in that famously prim and reserved city, “There is nothing more bacchanalian than a kid’s birthday party.” They’re ever so environmentally incorrect, don’t you know? And in that city, as in other alcoves of “progressive” thinking America, Blue State families are eschewing all that bacchanalian excess by eschewing children. Which is another reminder of Mark Steyn’s warning from around that same period: “What’s the point of creating a secular utopia if it’s only for one generation?”