The Liberal Baby Bust

Phillip Longman, USA Today, March 13, 2006

What’s the difference between Seattle and Salt Lake City? There are many differences, of course, but here’s one you might not know. In Seattle, there are nearly 45% more dogs than children. In Salt Lake City, there are nearly 19% more kids than dogs.

This curious fact might at first seem trivial, but it reflects a much broader and little-noticed demographic trend that has deep implications for the future of global culture and politics. It’s not that people in a progressive city such as Seattle are so much fonder of dogs than are people in a conservative city such as Salt Lake City. It’s that progressives are so much less likely to have children.

It’s a pattern found throughout the world, and it augers a far more conservative future—one in which patriarchy and other traditional values make a comeback, if only by default. Childlessness and small families are increasingly the norm today among progressive secularists. As a consequence, an increasing share of all children born into the world are descended from a share of the population whose conservative values have led them to raise large families.

Today, fertility correlates strongly with a wide range of political, cultural and religious attitudes. In the USA, for example, 47% of people who attend church weekly say their ideal family size is three or more children. By contrast, 27% of those who seldom attend church want that many kids.

In Utah, where more than two-thirds of residents are members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 92 children are born each year for every 1,000 women, the highest fertility rate in the nation. By contrast Vermont—the first to embrace gay unions—has the nation’s lowest rate, producing 51 children per 1,000 women.

Similarly, in Europe today, the people least likely to have children are those most likely to hold progressive views of the world. For instance, do you distrust the army and other institutions and are you prone to demonstrate against them? Then, according to polling data assembled by demographers Ron Lesthaeghe and Johan Surkyn, you are less likely to be married and have kids or ever to get married and have kids. Do you find soft drugs, homosexuality and euthanasia acceptable? Do you seldom, if ever, attend church? Europeans who answer affirmatively to such questions are far more likely to live alone or be in childless, cohabiting unions than are those who answer negatively.

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