Americans' Family Feud


In this bizarrely politicized environment, even the preservation of the most basic institution of society – the family – is morphing into a divisive partisan issue. Increasingly, the two parties are divided not only along lines of economic and social philosophy, but over the primacy of traditional familialism.

Increasingly, large portions of the progressive community are indifferent or hostile to the idea of the nuclear family, while many on the right argue that it's key to a Republican revival. Observers such as the Weekly Standard's Jonathan Last see familialism as key to the demographically challenged GOP. “Start a family, vote Republican,” he suggests. Long-term, Republicans can look forward to the rise of what New York Times columnist David Brooks cleverly calls “red diaper babies.”

In the long term, the logic seems impeccable. Salt Lake City is creating a new generation of what may tend to be more conservative voters; when San Francisco's largely single and childless populace passes, their legacy ends with them – game over. Indeed virtually all areas of the country with the fastest projected growth in households are located in red states. Houston, Atlanta and Dallas are expected to add more households than true-blue New York City, Los Angeles or Chicago. New York, California and Illinois are losing children as a share of population, while deep-red Texas, Utah, Idaho, as well as Nevada, have increased their tyke population.

Others on the right take a more racially oriented tack. Linking lower fertility rates, particularly among Caucasians, Pat Buchanan warns of “the end of white America.” Steven Sailer, a staunchly anti-immigrant conservative theoretician, links Republican fortunes to “white fertility rates,” pointing out where whites choose to have children, particularly those who are married. George W. Bush, Sailer points out, won all 19 states with the highest rates of white fertility, as well as the 25 states where white women have been married the longest, on average.

This politicization threatens the building of a broad consensus on how to promote the family. The related issue of America's sagging birth rate – the lowest since the 1920s, by some measurements – should not be seen as a matter of political expediency but as an existential issue concerning the health of society and the long-term prosperity of the United States. No matter what happens with immigration, minorities are going to be a growing portion of our population and will soon represent the majority of children. Unless conservatives seek to secede and form their own Republic, they need to favor familialism among all ethnic groups.

Yet for now, partisan concerns remain primary, and are compelling, if for narrow, political reasons. In the past two national elections, the differences in voting patterns between married couples and those who are not has become obvious. Democratic pollsters like Stan Greenberg now hail single women as “the largest progressive voting bloc in the country,” Ruy Texeira, a leading political scientist, calls singletons critical to the “emerging Democratic majority.”

The mainstream “progressive” view on families can be seen in the “Life of Julia” slideshow produced last year by the Obama campaign and designed to appeal to single, unmarried women. In this rather pathetic portrayal, the fictional Julia is helped by federal programs from early in life. When she finally “decides to have a child,” it's on her own, a sort of an immaculate conception since no man seems to be involved. Then, her offspring is sent off to federally funded early childhood education programs and never heard of again.

Out of fashion

Familialism is deeply unpopular with many in two key Democratic constituencies – greens and feminists. Many feminists have long derided the traditional family and see child-raising as something that tends to reinforce sexual stereotypes by reducing the career prospects of women.

For their part, greens often disdain familialism since they see extra humans as a threat to the environment. The notion that depopulation, and too-rapid aging, at least in higher-income countries, could well become a greater issue than growth seems not to have sunk in, yet. Instead, people like Lisa Hymas, with the environmentalist website Grist, suggest that the “childfree” are something of a persecuted group that are in need of more societal understanding. Environmentalists also tend to be in favor of slow economic growth, which, in turn, tends to further depress birth rates.

These worldviews represent a break from the progressive politics of the entire era stretching from Teddy Roosevelt to Bill Clinton. In the past, the basic emphasis has been to make families stronger by backing such institutions as public schools and parks, as well as creating the basis for broad-based economic growth. Support for single-family homes that most families require was part of this.

But today, many “progressives” disdain the suburbs, which were built largely with the help of New Deal and successor programs. Now, most planners, according to the American Planning Association survey, believe accommodating families is simply not worth the cost of the services, notably schools, that they engender.

Rather than looking at housing that fits families, many progressives now want to promote an urbanism that has little place for families. Some real estate sites, such as Estately, rank cities not by being child-friendly, but those most accommodating to the “childfree” – reminds me of gluten-free – a term which for some reason is deemed preferable to childless. Virtually all cities so ranked, such as ultralow-fertility San Francisco, Portland, Seattle, New York and Madison, Wis., are all places that increasingly are Republican-free as well.

Most still want kids

Since most people, including millennials, likely will choose to have children – and settle in suburbs – embracing familialism does offer an opportunity for conservatives and Republicans. Most millennials, note generational chroniclers Morley Winograd and Mike Hais, place high priority on being good parents and having a strong marriage.

The potential political benefit, however, is being squandered by profamily activists who tend to focus on a Manichean worldview that sees anything other than traditional arrangements as inimical to core religious values about what is defined as a “natural family.” Rather than try to accommodate modernity, many family activists contend, as one leader told me, that we need to “march back to the '50s.”

Unfortunately for more hard-line social conservatives, history may go in waves, with each shift engendering a reaction, but it does not generally go backward. To remain relevant, and not to, so to speak, throw the baby out with the bathwater, some agenda items need to be laid aside. This is particularly true on issues such as gay marriage, where millennial opinion is shifting toward ever-greater acceptance, with roughly two in three in favor. By forcing allegiance to increasingly unpopular views, social conservatives are in danger of losing touch with the next generation.

At the same time, many conservatives are so wedded to the market economy as to ignore the negative pressures on family formation imposed by our relentlessly competitive society. Some thought has to be given to mechanisms – such as free or subsidized child care and extended parental leave – that might make it easier for young families to survive, particularly in tough economic times. Conservatives, if they value family, should look at ways to support them, even if, sometimes, it's done through government.

In the end, the issue of family is too important to leave to the mercilessness of narrow partisan political forces. The country – and its future generations – needs both parties to focus not just on pro-family rhetoric, but on how we can make it easier for young people both to create, and nurture, the next generation.

Joel Kotkin is executive editor of and Distinguished Presidential Fellow in Urban Futures at Chapman University, and a member of the editorial board of the Orange County Register. He is author of The City: A Global History and The Next Hundred Million: America in 2050. His most recent study, The Rise of Postfamilialism, has been widely discussed and distributed internationally. He lives in Los Angeles, CA.

This piece originally appeared at The Orange County Register.

Baby photo by Bigstock.

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Anti-Family and Anti-Child

The Democrat Party is anti-child. Leftists always seek to destroy the family because strong families tend to be self-sufficient and independent. They look to each other in times of need and not to the government.
To stay in power, the Democrats must have a populace that is weak, dependent, and ignorant. The policies they institute are designed to ensure just such a populace. They speak of compassion, but act in self-interest.
We have seen our education system deteriorate for decades, more and more spending producing worse and worse results, yet Democrats refuse to allow inner-city children to escape educational institutions which are not just inferior but downright dangerous.
We've seen the unwed motherhood rate explode from 4% to 40% since government schools started teaching "sex ed" - education in how to have sex, and divorcing intimacy from morality.
We see children exploited for political gain as so called caring parents attempt to change the gender of kindergartners, and want to force their perverted view of the world onto the most innocent.
And of course, we see the wholesale devaluation of babies yet to be born, with some even going so far as to declare that living infants have not yet achieved "personhood."

The Democrats are waging a War on Children.

"Familialism is deeply

"Familialism is deeply unpopular with many in two key Democratic constituencies – greens and feminists." And gays?

Luke Lea

the stupidity of greens

Depressed economic growth depresses the amount of capital available for environmental improvement projects. You can't fix stupid though and the vast majority of environmental activist are not scientist they are the ignorant easily led by alarmist propaganda.

You cannot have solvent social security and other old age programs if there are no young people to abuse for the privilege of supporting those who refused to be responsible and save for their retirement years.

More social programs, like extended time off with benefits, will do nothing but speed up the collapse date for the failed welfare state model of governance.

Mr. Kotkin: There is only

Mr. Kotkin:

There is only one natural family if your concern is producing a civilized new generation - father, mother and children.

You need a mother and father to create and raise the children. Same sex "marriage" does not create children and children from broken or single homes are far more likely to engage in anti-social activities.

The promotion of intact nuclear families is hardly a lost cause. The Victorian era English did just that with great success and conservatives (if not the progressive/socialist left) should follow that lead.

And the consequences are in our faces on TV too

In this day and age of reality TV shows (eg Jeremy Kyle) people should be losing all patience with the great experiment in open ended welfarism.

False premise.

The push for gay marriage is both a symptom and a cause of the dissolution of the family. The devaluation of traditional marriage and heterosexual relationships (which produce children) is a cultural influence that discourages family and elevates self-centered personal gratification.

Embracing same-sex marriage as a means of promoting family is like embracing drug abuse as a means of promoting education.

It doesn't matter if 95% of people support it, 95% would still be wrong. What you should be able to see is a strong overlap between "singletons", feminists, greens and support for same sex marriage. All of those things go together, and they all devalue and reject family.

In particular, gays do not want same sex marriage because they believe in marriage and family. They want it as a government seal of forced approval, a doorway to government benefits, and a legal bludgeon with which to persecute anyone who doesn't agree with them. Certain gay activists have even stated publicly that the purpose of pushing for same sex marriage is to destroy marriage in general.

The divorce epidemic that started in the 1960s was the first step, and same sex marriage is simply a further step, on the road of decline for marriage, childbirth, population and finally the economy and the existential continuance of the nation.

Sometimes the truth is not popular. But society makes choices, and those choices have consequences.

Agree, this has never been about stopping at "getting rights"

One conservative writer (I wish I could remember his name so I could credit him) put the "gay rights" movement's attitude like this.

"Conservative Christians have nothing to fear from gay rights, and boy, do they deserve what they've got coming to them".

Hasn't a bakery somewhere already been closed down for refusing to supply a wedding cake with two guys on the top?

The style of families

It will be interesting to see how families look in the coming decades. Gay and lesbian families will, no doubt, be on the rise as society comes to terms with it. But I don't often hear talk about something which seems to be hiding in plain sight, mixed ethnic and mixed religious families. Increasingly, I see younger people, Millennials mostly partnering up with people of a background different from their own. Sometimes the differences are large--an Asian Buddhist marrying a White Protestant, or a Latina Catholic marrying an Indian Hindu. Now, you can argue that such unions may not work over time, but I wouldn't be so sure. Indeed, I have met more than a few young couples who are searching for an accepting "community" of like minded folks within the cities and towns in which they live, and where they do not find them, they create them. Their families of origin may accept their marriages, but often they want to have friends and other young couples of like mind and similar experiences. A significant number of these folks will have children in the foreseeable future. That makes a return to some idealized past where everyone was of the same background--or at least stayed there, highly unlikely. It also raises the question as to what will the culture of the USA resemble. Families may be quite the mix of cultures, religions and ethnicities and maybe, that is the health that will make us stronger.

Mixed religious marriages

It makes my skin crawl. If you marry someone from another religion, it implies you love your spouse more than you love your God, whatever He is to you. Any healthy religion is God first and spouses come under that.

APA supports Family Friendly Planning

Joel Kotkin mistakeningly argues that planners do not support families in their planning activities by misquoting from a piece I wrote arguing exactly the opposite of what Kotkin claims.

Interested readers should read the APA PAS memo on Planners' Role in Creating Family Friendly Communities to see the results of the 2008 national survey It shows overwhelming support.

Further research, published in the Journal of Urban Affairs, has shown that family participation and site planning are the keys to action, and resistance can be overcome with education