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Linda & Richard Eyre: Basic assumptions now under fire

Published: Monday, Aug. 25 2014 5:00 a.m. MDT

Updated: Wednesday, Aug. 27 2014 1:05 p.m. MDT

The Eyres share an excerpt from their new book, "The Turning."

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Editor's note: The following is an excerpt from "The Turning: Why the State of the Family Matters, and What the World Can Do About It," by Linda and Richard Eyre. The book will be released at the end of August.

A generation ago, no one would have questioned the premise that the family is the basic unit of society. Today, it is questioned from many sides. In his ominously titled landmark work "The Rise of Post Familialism: Humanity’s Future," demographer Joel Kotkin says, “Today, in the high-income world and even in some developing countries, there is a shift to a new social model. Increasingly, family no longer serves as the central, organizing feature of society ... (and) as Austrian demographer Wolfgang Lutz has pointed out, the shift to an increasingly childless society creates ‘self-reinforcing mechanisms’ that make childlessness, singleness or one-child families increasingly prominent.”

Kotkin points out the ramifications of this shift, some of them political: “A society that is increasingly single and childless is likely to be more concerned with serving current needs than addressing the future-oriented requirements of children. Since older people vote more than younger ones, and children have no say at all, political power could shift toward non-childbearing people.”

David Brooks, of The New York Times, adds, “In a 2011 survey, a majority of Taiwanese women under 50 said they did not want children. Fertility rates in Brazil have dropped from 4.3 babies per woman 35 years ago to 1.9 babies today. These are all stunningly fast cultural and demographic shifts. The world is moving in the same basic direction, from societies oriented around the two-parent family to cafeteria societies with many options.”

Ryan Streeter (“Marriage Rates and the Libertarian-Libertine Assault on the American Dream,” Jan. 2, 2012), a policy analyst, puts it this way: “Family — getting married, and then having kids — used to be woven together with other threads of the American Dream. Not so anymore.”

It is this societal shift that should motivate right-thinking people everywhere to fight even harder to re-enshrine marriage and to promote the “natural family” way of life. Even for those who do not equate marriage with morality, there are adequate economic and emotional reasons to fight hard against continuing family decline.

Perhaps the most obvious of these is the simple fact that societies with declining birthrates that fail to adequately replace one generation with another inevitably face a skewed “dependency ratio” where ever fewer active workers support more and more retirees. The result is an inverted pyramid of aging people supported by a dwindling number of younger people.

Governments that once worried
 about population control are now
 panicked by their less-than-replacement birthrates, and countries ranging from Russia to France to Singapore now offer cash premiums for babies, even bonuses that jump substantially upward for the third and fourth child.

In the United States, while people over 65 represented 9 percent of the total population in 1960, it is 16 percent today and will reach 25 percent in 2030, corresponding with a steep decline in the number of younger workers. And people over 65 receive seven times more in federal spending than children under 18 (Linda A. Jacobsen, Mary Kent, Marlene Lee and Mark Mather, “Population Bulletin: America’s Aging Population,” Population Reference Bureau, February 2011: 5. 
Eduardo Porter, “Maybe We’re Not Robbing the Cradle,” The New York Times, April 10, 2005).

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