Roots of Family Formation: Income or Values

Roots of Family Formation: Income or Values

A Paper by Gilbert L. Crouse, Sr. Ph.D., Senior Economist, US Department of Health and Human Services, presented for the 10th Rhodes Forum

Policy makers concerned with formulating effective pro-family and pro-natalist policy need a solid evidence-based understanding of the sources of the decline in fertility and family formation. If, as the data compiled in this study indicate, the primary determinants of marital status and fecundity are not economic conditions, then other more salient factors must be identified and properly analyzed in order for policies to be implemented that will create an environment conducive to and supportive of the formation of married-couple families where children are welcomed and nurtured to become productive citizens. Given that the macro-level data examined in this analysis do not support the hypothesis that traditional family formation has its roots in economic conditions, the alternative would appear to be world view and values.

  

World Public Forum president Vladimir Yakunin opened the 10th Anniversary “Dialogue of Civilizations by warning that we face “. . . a crisis of the moral and intellectual foundations of human existence.” I shall attempt to apply his challenging words to my particular topic: Roots of family formation.

Flying across the English Channel into Belgium en route to the Rhodes Forum triggered a flood of mental images of events of WWII from 70 years earlier when the scene of the peaceful countryside below was vastly different. I imagined the smoke and dust rising in the air as bombs rained down from the sky as armies were locked in mortal combat. Scientific and technological advances had provided the developed nations of the world in the 20th century the weapons to slaughter millions of fellow humans, combatants and non-combatants alike. But though they had discovered the secrets of nature that enabled them to manufacture high explosives, their learning did not reveal to them their human fallibility.

Looking back in disbelief today we tend to question how they could have acted so irrationally. We wonder how so many highly educated persons could have been deceived by a mad man’s evil dreams of world domination. A few moments of honest reflection, however, reveal that by comparison today the peoples of the world’s advanced nations are utilizing their scientific and technological advances not to wage war against some foreign enemy, but to slaughter millions upon millions of their very own offspring every year. And to what end we ask?

Whether for sex selection or to avoid the burden of raising a child, people of the advanced nations are employing trained medical personnel and high-tech equipment, not to assist the sick, but to terminate the lives of those most vulnerable, helpless infants in the mother’s womb.

Intellectual dishonesty among the educated elites regarding this appalling slaughter is staggering. Scholars of the highest rank in the most prestigious centers of learning use false arguments to rationalize this sacrificial flood of human blood which is occurring on a scale never before seen in history. They excuse—no, they endorse and encourage—this inhumane, uncivilized practice which is as barbaric today as any of ancient times and dwarfs the horrific massacre pursued in the 20th century by the Third Reich.

Educators in this post-modern era teach that propositions can have whatever meaning one chooses. We have let these false teachers, these propagandists for moral relativism and radical individualism, create a moral abyss for the next generation where nothing is true or false, nothing is right or wrong. This is one aspect of the “crisis of the moral and intellectual foundations of human existence,” Mr. Yakunin cited. So much for the conceit that by putting aside traditional morality, we have progressed to a higher stage of enlightenment.

But you say, as an economist you surely must understand that the plague of abortion is in response to economic necessity. Indeed, we all are quite familiar with this new orthodoxy that bad behavior is the consequence of poverty pushed by those who champion expansion of the welfare state. But does this doctrine of economic determinism stand up to the facts?

Using the data for European countries compiled by Eurostat, I compared the percentage of pregnancies aborted during the period 2006 to 2010 with two measures of each country’s economic conditions: (1) their gross domestic product per inhabitant and (2) the rate of severe material deprivation. Controlling for whether a country was in Central Europe, Southern Europe, or Western Europe, I found there was no statistically significant association between the percent

of pregnancies aborted with either of these two measures of economic conditions. While it is the case that the three regions have different average rates of aborted pregnancies, within each region the association with economic conditions is not significant.

Using this same model, I tested the association of the above measures of economic conditions with (1) marital status, (2) total fertility, and (3) the percentage of non-marital birth. The results were the same: again there is no correlation when you control for regional differences.

The hypothesis that income and material well-being are the predominant factors influencing family formation are not supported by these macro-level data during the 2006-2010 period which we should note was one of great economic difficulty in most European nations.

These findings are, of course, only preliminary and I would want to see further evidence including micro data from household surveys to confirm the finding before arguing that pro-family policies be formulated solely in light of them. That said, the data suggest that we carefully consider the proposition that traditional family formation decisions may reflect values as much as or more than economic conditions, that–when it comes to family formation decisions–individuals’ worldview more often than not trumps circumstances.

Values can and must be taught . . . first and foremost in the family. But we have seen numerous examples of public initiatives that have produced dramatic changes in both values and behaviors. Let me mention several positive examples from U.S. experience which I have observed first hand.

●       The Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD) campaign has admirably succeeded in stigmatizing driving while under the influence of alcohol to the point that hardly anyone dares to make braggadocio claims about drinking and driving such as were common among youths in my day.

●       The campaign against women drinking when pregnant has been quite successful in convincing American women to forgo the consumption of alcohol while pregnant to safeguard against birth defects and fetal alcohol syndrome.

●       Abstinence education has contributed to putting the degree of teen sexual activity on a downward trend and a huge reduction in teen and preteen pregnancy rates, birth rates, and abortion rates.

In each of these cases, long-held and deeply entrenched patterns of behavior have been significantly altered.

These examples along with others give reason to hope that with strong effective leadership, there will be a renewed embrace by the younger generation of those enduring moral principles of scripture and natural law. The manifest failures of today’s false secular ideologies provide a golden opportunity for renaissance if we have the wisdom, courage, and will to seize it.

The necessity for change becomes clear when we contemplate the potential ramifications of the answer to the question, “What happens to great nations when their people give up on marriage and child bearing?” Viewed at the present moment, the advanced nations with their extensive infrastructure and wealth appear very permanent, but then so did ancient Egypt, Persia, Greece, and Rome.

To see the potential for social upheaval and renewed wars, one only needs to consider the social and political tensions that are likely to morph into conflict when there are not sufficient mates for a substantial portion of the young male populations some of the largest nations of the world such as India and China; that is to say, what might happen when there are insufficient mates for countries’ young adult male population because millions upon millions of infant females were killed before they could be born? Or how strong the pressure for programs of euthanizing the elderly and disabled—those whose “quality of life” it is argued does not warrant further care—when there are simply no longer sufficient laborers provide care for the older dependent generation. Or what happens when there simply are not enough workers to maintain all that has been built in the past? The ruins of past great civilizations provide mute testimony to the fact that even stunning levels of achievement can turn out to be much more fragile than they appeared when put in place.

If the advanced nations of the west continue on their present trajectory, future generations will someday look back on the ruined remains of today’s brilliant technological achievements and marvel at how it happened that the people who created with such genius lacked the wisdom to give consideration to the future and the need to preserve what they had built. Doubtless they will struggle to understand how seemingly small were the forces that swept away the greatness of western civilization, how nothing more dramatic than self-indulgence totally focused on present satisfactions was all that was required to bring about collapse: “. . . a crisis of the moral and intellectual foundations of human existence.”