[Paleopsych] Brooks: The New Red-Diaper Babies

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Tue Jan 18 15:39:48 UTC 2005

The New Red-Diaper Babies
Opinion column by David Brooks, The New York Times, 4.12.7

There is a little-known movement sweeping across the United
States. The movement is "natalism."

All across the industrialized world, birthrates are falling
- in Western Europe, in Canada and in many regions of the
United States. People are marrying later and having fewer
kids. But spread around this country, and concentrated in
certain areas, the natalists defy these trends.

They are having three, four or more kids. Their personal
identity is defined by parenthood. They are more
spiritually, emotionally and physically invested in their
homes than in any other sphere of life, having concluded
that parenthood is the most enriching and elevating thing
they can do. Very often they have sacrificed pleasures like
sophisticated movies, restaurant dining and foreign travel,
let alone competitive careers and disposable income, for
the sake of their parental calling.

In a world that often makes it hard to raise large
families, many are willing to move to find places that are
congenial to natalist values. The fastest-growing regions
of the country tend to have the highest concentrations of
children. Young families move away from what they perceive
as disorder, vulgarity and danger and move to places like
Douglas County in Colorado (which is the fastest-growing
county in the country and has one of the highest
concentrations of kids). Some people see these exurbs as
sprawling, materialistic wastelands, but many natalists see
them as clean, orderly and affordable places where they can
nurture children.

If you wanted a one-sentence explanation for the explosive
growth of far-flung suburbs, it would be that when people
get money, one of the first things they do is use it to try
to protect their children from bad influences.

So there are significant fertility inequalities across
regions. People on the Great Plains and in the Southwest
are much more fertile than people in New England or on the
Pacific coast.

You can see surprising political correlations. As Steve
Sailer pointed out in The American Conservative, George
Bush carried the 19 states with the highest white fertility
rates, and 25 of the top 26. John Kerry won the 16 states
with the lowest rates.

In The New Republic Online, Joel Kotkin and William Frey
observe, "Democrats swept the largely childless cities -
true blue locales like San Francisco, Portland, Seattle,
Boston and Manhattan have the lowest percentages of
children in the nation - but generally had poor showings in
those places where families are settling down, notably the
Sun Belt cities, exurbs and outer suburbs of older
metropolitan areas."

Politicians will try to pander to this group. They should
know this is a spiritual movement, not a political one. The
people who are having big families are explicitly rejecting
materialistic incentives and hyperindividualism. It costs a
middle-class family upward of $200,000 to raise a child.
These people are saying money and ambition will not be
their gods.

Natalists resist the declining fertility trends not because
of income, education or other socioeconomic
characteristics. It's attitudes. People with larger
families tend to attend religious services more often, and
tend to have more traditional gender roles.

I draw attention to natalists because they're an important
feature of our national life. Because of them, the U.S.
stands out in all sorts of demographic and cultural
categories. But I do it also because when we talk about the
divide on values in this country, caricatured in the red
and blue maps, it's important that we understand the true
motive forces behind it.

Natalists are associated with red America, but they're not
launching a jihad. The differences between them and people
on the other side of the cultural or political divide are
differences of degree, not kind. Like most Americans, but
perhaps more anxiously, they try to shepherd their kids
through supermarket checkouts lined with screaming Cosmo or
Maxim cover lines. Like most Americans, but maybe more so,
they suspect that we won't solve our social problems or see
improvements in our schools as long as many kids are
growing up in barely functioning families.

Like most Americans, and maybe more so because they tend to
marry earlier, they find themselves confronting the
consequences of divorce. Like most Americans, they wonder
how we can be tolerant of diverse lifestyles while still
preserving the family institutions that are under threat.

What they cherish, like most Americans, is the
self-sacrificial love shown by parents. People who have
enough kids for a basketball team are too busy to fight a
culture war.

E-mail: dabrooks at nytimes.com


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