Ross Douthat wants more American babies

Ladies, I don’t know if you’ve heard this yet, but we’re not pregnant enough.  know. Bananas… It’s the kind of thing that only a true, enlightened and thoughtful white man can say to us, with a straight face. And that man, is Ross Douthat:

In the eternally recurring debates about whether some rival great power will knock the United States off its global perch, there has always been one excellent reason to bet on a second American century: We have more babies than the competition… But that’s no longer a sure thing. American fertility plunged with the stock market in 2008, and it hasn’t recovered.

Oh? Is this some sort of joke, my dude? You gonna go all Handmaid’s Tale on a girl?

I mean, I have concerns too. With our population shifting demographically by the total number of non-white births, the electorate–and civilization itself!–is shifting. Declining marriage rates, single mothers just mucking up the whole system with their unruly children, women having careers and delaying marriage and child rearing and running off and having those abortions–these are just the kind of things that lead us to this kind of decay. I totally, totally get that. And! And! to boot, we didn’t re-elect or elect other white men to national offices to represent a family planning policy that would codify these beliefs. Oof, what were we thinking???

I may be alone on this one, but in the context of  a shifting electorate as evidenced by the exit polls of the 2012 election, I can’t help but note that while the US birth rate has dropped to its lowest rate in eight decades, this is hardly a cause for an alarmist in sheep’s clothing column that the entirety of American civilization is headed to decline because women aren’t knocked up enough. Not when there are so many other spectacular examples that we could really, really spend some time discussing and solving (read: prison industrial complex as an example among a multitude of examples.) 

Amanda Marcotte goes in pretty hard on Douthat, a worthy read, but I’d like to point you this particular point:

Conservative men have always had an obsession with starting ‘em young and keeping ‘em knocked up, which protects a way of life these men have grown accustomed to: lotsa babymaking makes it difficult for women to compete with men economically, increasing female dependency on men while at the same time sticking it to liberals who worry about boring things like providing education and a clean environment to the children we do have.

Douthat offers:

Government’s power over fertility rates is limited, but not nonexistent. America has no real family policy to speak of at the moment, and the evidence from countries like Sweden and France suggests that reducing the ever-rising cost of having kids can help fertility rates rebound. Whether this means a more family-friendly tax code, a push for more flexible work hours, or an effort to reduce the cost of college, there’s clearly room for creative policy to make some difference.

Ross Douthat seems to be talking out of both sides of his mouth. The social democracies of Europe, the scourge of the conservative movement, now touted as an option to address our decline of American (read: white) baby births? That’s really interesting.

It’s also an oblique argument that he’s selling (and signaling) to the conservative white male base. It’s the most reasonable sounding thing in the world to say we should have more babies, when you consider arguments from the Paul Ryans and the Todd Akins of the world that say rape is a sound way to create new life, and when other conservative legislators want to argue that the legal definition of life should be determined by the pain sentience of fetuses. When you look at the conservative family policy we could have put in play on the national level, but didn’t, Douthat’s views sound so reasonable in comparison, right?

SYREETA MCFADDEN is a Brooklyn based writer, photographer and adjunct professor of English. Her writing has appeared in the New York Times, The Guardian, BuzzFeed, The Huffington Post, Religion Dispatches and Storyscape Journal. She is the managing editor of the online literary magazine, Union Station, and a co-curator of Poets in Unexpected Places. You can follow her on Twitter @reetamac.

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  • Randy Lahey

    You do realize that the maintenance of the kind of welfare/entitlement state you support absolutely requires a rapidly-growing population, right? That it’s otherwise completely unsustainable?

  • Franzia Kafka

    Damn. I totally could have got knocked up just the other day. But I had already taken my pill. Better luck next time, eh. Twenty-eight years and not even one pregnancy.

  • Dani Pettas

    Great post.

    I really liked Amanda Marcotte’s piece.

    I think that “decadence” was Douthat’s Aikin moment.

    She called him out on that: “Douthat is clearly irritated at his countrymen and especially his countrywomen for their persnickety desire to enjoy life rather than see it as a dutiful trudge to the grave.”

  • Stella

    As I said in a comment yesterday, I am really puzzled that feminists would be so apoplectic about an article which highlights for folks that our population rate is dropping lower than those of countries like France, which have sane policies that make mothers’ lives livable.

    No other developed country in this world denies moms paid maternity leave or has such a lack of affordable, quality childcare. I’m sorry, but considering the fact that 80% of American women will have a child at some point in their lives, this IS an issue worth solving, especially since lower-income women get the worst of it, since their employers are less likely to provide benefits like mat leave and paid sick days to care for an ill child.

    This is so not about rape, Margaret Atwood or forced childbearing. Its about creating policies in our country that give women the choice to have children — without making them give up their ability to earn a decent living to do so.And the experience of many European countries shows that, when the social and economic costs of motherhood are reduced, the birthrate goes up. Even in the presence of a national health service that provides free contraception and abortion services.

    As a feminist mother and advocate of birth rights, I am always disappointed when advocates of reproductive rights have a tendency to confine “choice” to the choice to NOT have children. The choice to have children, and how and when to have them, is equally as important.