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.
So said Ross Douthat as he bemoans the fact that our lazy, self-centered citizens are having fewer children.
I wonder what "late-modern exhaustion" is, and I wonder how Douthat measures it. In the first place, how does he know we're in a "late-modern" period. Don't you have to know how everything turns out before you start saying what is "early" and what is "late"?
Secondly, it's a sign of "exhaustion" that we're not having more babies? Please. Maybe it's just the opposite. Maybe peoples' energy and dynamism, previously sapped by having children, is now being directed into other areas. The United States is not "exhausted." Quite the contrary, we are one of the most vibrant and vital countries in the world.
This entity called "late-modern exhaustion" arose in the west? It did, did it. When and where, and what are the marks by which we might know it?
Would we know it by its two 12 trillion dollar economies--Europe and the US? Would we know this awful decadence by its tired and defunct art and culture which somehow, still, manages to enliven people around the world, and is more sought and embraced than ever?
People are not stupid. People had lots of children in past eras for a variety of reasons, the most compelling of which was economic advantage. Two hundred years ago, when most of our citizens lived on farms, people needed the help. More children meant more farm hands.
With affluence, people tend to have fewer children. This is not because they are doing something so esoteric as favoring "stagnation" over "embracing the future", or some such rot, but rather because, first of all, there is no longer an economic advantage to having children.
Children cost a lot of money and a lot of time. People have other options today, and they are taking them. It doesn't mean they're exhausted, or stagnating, or shriveling up. It means they are free to pursue their own lives in the way they want.
Not to worry, Ross. People are still having children. The birth rates have gone down, but not out. The United States birth rate is slightly more than the replacement rate, and even poor old exhausted Europe has seen an uptick in recent years.
They have children, these days, for no really good reason. There's no money in it any more, but people keep having them anyway. Maybe it's because, operating from a position of freedom and responsibility and love, they actually want them.