The Strange Death of the Family


Over a decade ago, I led a team of Singapore-based researchers to investigate why families were declining. Back then, we were experiencing a historic shift away from population growth and familial ties, towards individualism. Since then, the post-familial age has entered full swing.

This situation would have been unthinkable in the 1960s, when ‘overpopulation’ was seen as inevitable. In his 1968 book, The Population Bomb, Paul Ehrlich predicted that the number of people on Earth would rocket to unsustainable levels, resulting in global famine.

Yet the disaster Ehrlich predicted has not materialised. In fact, the trend is now reversing. Last year’s global population growth was the smallest since 1950. Far from humans breeding themselves out of existence, today almost half of the world’s people live in countries with fertility rates well below replacement level. This week, the US Census announced the lowest birthrate in American history. Rather than relentlessly continuing to rise, as per Ehrlich’s prophecies, the UN predicts that the world’s population will peak between 2053 and in 2086. By 2100, the rate of growth will have virtually stalled. We are entering demographic territory not seen since the plague-cursed Medieval period.

The decline of families is a global problem. In the US, the number of households with under-18s living in them has declined from 56 per cent in 1970 to 40 per cent in 2020. And over a quarter of all US households were one-person households in 2020, up from just eight per cent in 1940. Similarly in the UK, both birth and marriage rates for women under 30 have hit an all-time low. The story is the same in most Western countries, as well as Japan, China and much of south-east Asia.

Demographic stagnation is arguably a natural result of weakening family ties. These have held human society together and encouraged fecundity from the earliest times. Dismantling them, as we have, has had dire consequences. As Richard Reeves, senior fellow at the Brookings Institution, notes: ‘You don’t upend a 12,000-year-old social order without experiencing cultural side effects.’

In the West, it should come as no surprise that younger generations are shunning marriage and children. We are living in an age of gender confusion and of faltering relationships between men and women. Today, over 28 per cent of all women in Generation Z, notes Gallup, identify as LGBT. While the bulk of those describe themselves as bisexual rather than as strictly lesbian, this reflects a growing trend of rejecting traditional heterosexual relationships as unfashionable, if not outright ‘oppressive’.

These young people are products of a decades-long culture war. Where the young were once pressured to marry and procreate, singleness is now widely celebrated. Environmentalists, for their part, have worked overtime to convince young people that the Earth cannot cope with any more people. College campuses are having a particularly radicalising impact on some young women. Of course, green ideology runs rampant here, but there is also a boom in such things as ‘queer studies’. Plenty of the content taught within these programmes has an agenda to replace the ‘nuclear family’ with some form of collectivised childrearing. For example, prominent feminist Sophie Lewis advocates ‘full surrogacy’ as a replacement for the traditional family.

Read the rest of this piece at Spiked.

Joel Kotkin is the author of The Coming of Neo-Feudalism: A Warning to the Global Middle Class. He is the Roger Hobbs Presidential Fellow in Urban Futures at Chapman University and and directs the Center for Demographics and Policy there. Learn more at and follow him on Twitter @joelkotkin.