Sunday, October 9, 2011

Do Your Economic Duty: Get Married, Stay Married, and Have Kids!

A new report "co-sponsored by six international institutions and the National Marriage Project at the University of Virginia" indicates that the “long-term fortunes of the modern economy rise and fall with the family” (HT: Tom Gilson per The Washington Times). A PDF of the study can be downloaded here. The report, entitled "The Sustainable Demographic Dividend, What Do Marriage and Fertility Have to Do with the Economy?", give four conclusions from the analysis:
  1. Children raised in intact, married families are more likely to acquire the human and social capital they need to become well-adjusted, productive workers.
  2. Men who get and stay married work harder, work smarter, and earn more money than their unmarried peers.
  3. Nations wishing to enjoy robust long-term economic growth and viable welfare states must maintain sustainable fertility rates of at least two children per woman.
  4. Key sectors of the modern economy—from household products to insurance to groceries—are more likely to profit when men and women marry and have children.
The report analyzes various population statistics in major world countries across various continents in tandem with marriage, cohabitation, and divorce statistics, religious and social marriage values statistics and trends, and demographic spending statistics. While such a study is not deductively conclusive (and indeed cannot be!) the analysis appears very compelling; and indeed the burden of proof is placed on those who'd disagree. The statistical information is cast broad enough and the results are stark enough that the logical correlations follow naturally.

Among the more salient statistics are:
  • The average woman in a developed country bears just 1.66 children whereas 2.1 children per woman is required for a sustaining a population (note that the U.S. hovers at 2.0 children per woman). Accordingly, the number of children age 0–14 is 60.6 million less in the developed world today than it was in 1965.2 Primarily because of their dearth of children, developed countries face shrinking workforces even as they must meet the challenge of supporting rapidly growing elderly populations.
  • This means that though the world population is increasing, and is still projected to be 7 to 10 billion over the next 90 years, this is a different type of growth where the increase is from people over 60 instead of increased children. This means birth rates could start falling by the turn of the century.
  • In the 53 countries investigated, those that attend religious services less than once a month average 1.69 children and those that attend once a month or more average 2.21 children.
This last point is particularly interesting. The report gives 10 policies that are appropriate in an aging society. The tenth and last "appropriate policy" is "Respect the role of religion as a pronatal force."

In recognition of the contribution that religion makes to family life and fertility, governments should not persecute people of faith for holding or expressing views that are informed by religious tradition, including ones that buck progressive or nationalist sensibilities. Alas, such persecution is now common in some countries around the world, from Canada to China to France. Faith brings hope, and ultimately it is hope that replenishes the human race. (pg. 23)
The significance of this with respect to, say, Richard Dawkins and fellow neo-atheists should be evident. It seems "survival of the fittest" as a philosophical guiding principle is self-defeating.


Alongside the conclusions are 4 line of action that should undertaken to promote the family structure.
  1. Companies should use their cultural influence to get behind positive, family-friendly advertisements and public education campaigns.
  2. Countries should increase access to affordable health care and lifelong learning to strengthen the economic foundations of family life.
  3. Public policy should support marriage and responsible parenthood by, for instance, extending generous tax credits to parents with children in the home.
  4. Corporate and public policy should honor the work-family ideals of all women by giving families the flexibility to pursue their own preferences for juggling work and family.
If anything seems questionable about these recommendations one should note the context: this is about economic factors and geared towards businesses. However, one has to question the nature of suggested action. When is a study going to be done on the effectiveness of corporate policy and government law at changing value-systems? This doesn't mean it would have no effectiveness at change, but such has to already rest on a value-system shift. Indeed, one may argue that change could be affected in such ways -the report references such action during the Renaissance - but I'd argue that it becomes merely another step in the chaos, a fad with no lasting power. The economic motivator serves itself, not the family, and to do both is to be in unstable tension.


  1. What I find odd about this report, is that there seems to be an underlying assumption that people's values need to be changed. Then families will result. But what's been clear to me over the last dozen or so years is that many, many people want to have families. The values are already there. But no one's suggested a way to get from that point to actual marriages.

  2. Jenny,
    Thank you for your thoughtful comment. And sorry for not responding sooner! I'd be interested to know your thoughts and experiences as to why "many, many people want to have families."

    My own experience consists mostly of my work in corporate America. Without exception, in the 6 offices I've worked in it is the exception that anyone have more than 2 kids. I've encountered a couple who have 4. Some may have 3, but the vast majority have between 2 and none with a considerable density of people who plan on having none even if married. Additionally, many other factors indicate to me that my experience is not the exception.

    Also, I keep encountering the same dissonance within the corporation: that of the corporation claiming they hold family values and balanced work life but placing such pressure on "career growth" that it necessarily excludes such a balance. I do happen to have some bitter experiences in all this but I can't seem to escape the thought that my experience is the norm for a major sector of this country.

    What I see as anything of a major shift towards family values is more along the line of a fad created by Hollywood as of late. People seem to be a bit caught up in having kids (and adopting) because the "stars" are doing it. But it doesn't seem to have the makings of something that will last.

    I'd be interested in your thoughts on this.

  3. I just don't think a change in perspective will help. There are so many Christian singles (like myself) who were raised in pro-marriage, pro-family, and even pro-large-family homes, yet are unlikely to ever marry or have families at all. Couples who had large families aren't having near as many grandchildren.

    Also, there's been an increasing preference for child "quality" over quantity going on at least since the 1890s. People who have a few kids now have the time to teach them, love them, and pay attention to them. They can also ensure that those kids grow up healthy enough and educated well enough to see another generation through. That's far cry from previous generations who never say most of their kids grow up or having their own families.

  4. Another comment on something earlier: "Men who get and stay married work harder, work smarter, and earn more money than their unmarried peers."

    I'm not familiar with more recent research, but I remember discussing this issue in one of my graduate-level Labor Economics courses. There's a lot of speculation that the causality goes in the opposite direction: that is, men who work harder, etc. are more likely to get married. In other words, we might see little or no economic benefit from having all the single men get married.

  5. Thanks for getting back, Jenny. In some ways, I agree that a change in perspective won't help. I'm aware that generally speaking we live in a society that inadvertently makes it more and more difficult to have kids. From what I can see, the matrix of reasons for why this is so is complex but probably not worth exploring on this occasion. I've also seen time and again where grandparents or great-grandparents who are say 1 of 8 have children and grandchildren who are 1 of 2 or 3 at the most. Though, I'd have to note that more times than not it was evidently due to a value-shift in that generation - a shift away from tradition or morals or "the church". (Kind of along these lines, I’ll share a very interesting New York Times article – the spread of the church in Africa is resulting in more population control.)

    I'm not sure about "an increasing preference for child 'quality'". Increasing, yes. But that it is a significant impact seems tenuous. The family structure in this country keeps degenerating further such that child quality is only superficial. Not that it isn't on the rise, especially (and importantly), among Christians; but where it is true I think would indicate a swing back in value-system. (It would be important to clarify that it need not be the exact same value system, only one with a certain broad set of principles.) Along these lines it would be interesting to see how many kids on average parents have who opt for “quality”. I’d be skeptical if the average is less than 2, which is what impacts the issue in the report: many countries have adopted certain values that result in (though granted the causation is inferred) the society tending towards elimination. Those that maintain (or turn to) positive values may not have the large families, but I don’t think they suffer (in broad terms) from de-population.

    No doubt in the end the issues are complex. And it’s certainly no reason for judgment on individual situations. And no doubt many find themselves with the basic problem that it takes two for marriage and sometimes one just can’t find a decent partner from the dwindling pool. But that may precisely prove the point because what’s being dealt with are large patterns of shifts in values that inevitably affect many who don’t have shifted values.

    I completely agree with questioning the claim about married men working harder etc. I don't really know anything about the issue specifically, but it has "false inference" written all over it and is a classic case of statistical misuse. It is definitely quite clear that there are a number of other speculative inferences in the study.

  6. This sort of things is talked about in every church- denomination and single group. Many pastors use old outdated research from the 1940's to present their case for marriage that men live longer and healthier lives if they marry. I disagree. The men used in these case studies were mostly inmates from horrible backgrounds in these old studies. They need to do new studies with more normal people- not inmates!

    There are some men like myself who have no interest in marriage or romance at all. I have nothing against marriage because it is ordained of God, but it is not for everyone. The Apostle Paul never married. People make inane comments about him being "special" or specially gifted. He was human like we are and he even talked about how he warred against his flesh. Some people- including myself believe we have the gift of singleness. It's not that we don't want relationships because we do. I value relationships and friendships but I’m not interested in marriage/ romantic / sexual relationships. People tend to think that people like me are socially inept or weird or whatever ignorant category people want to put us in. Everyone has their own purpose in life and not everyone is here to pop out babies!
    Christians tend to forget that we will be living with Christ forever. We will be living like the angels of God who neither marry nor procreate nor have sex. Is that such a horrible thought for "church" people to think that they can't have any sex in heaven or if they stay single on earth? It must be because I know so many young couples that can't wait to get married so they can legitimately "do it" that they think they’re going to die if they can't. I’ve had people ask me- when are you going to get married? Is there something wrong with you? No- I’m not gay or weird or socially inept. Just because all you want is to have sex doesn’t mean I think or feel that way. I enjoy close friends and intimate chats but sexual romantic relationships aren’t my cup of tea. The Lord can use people like me in ways that a married person would not be able to do. All people, according to the Bible, should stay celibate until marriage and any single person who isn’t married should be celibate until they chose to marry. I know that seems to be out of vogue or not PC anymore but that is what the Bible tells us. Do single people a favor and stop putting pressure on them for being single. Perhaps It’s God will and their choice? Just because they are single doesn’t automatically mean they are interested in a “free love” immoral life style, or they are weird, gay or social inept, etc. God has a purpose and plan for each of us to fulfill whether we are married or single. All the pressure you put on singles to marry is unhealthy and causes too much stress and aggravation that is unnecessary and unchristian. Don’t you think you have enough things to worry about in your own life instead of worrying about why your single neighbor is still single? Jesus would say, “What is it to you?” (John 21:22) This was Christ nice way of saying it isn’t any of your business- stop being a busy body.
    As far as married men working harder than single men- possibly since they better work those longer hours to pay for Johnny’s expensive tennis shoes. Don’t forget about the high cost of healthcare today. Most likely the married guy will work overtime because he needs the extra money for bills. Single guys may still have to work the overtime to keep his job. Most companies say if you don’t work the overtime we’ll find someone else who will- and believe me they have no qualms about firing you- your just a commodity to them. But seriously singles have to work just as hard because if they don’t they can get fired or downsized just as easy as a married person can.

  7. To Anonymous,

    Thank you for your thoughts. Let me throw a few things out there:

    1) First, I'll note that the one of the main points of my post was just to bring awareness to what I thought was an interesting study, not to directly condemn anyone for their individual life actions or, in the case of Christians, their life calling. There are certainly many things in the study that I either disagree with, find tenuous, or find simply pointless. I give the four conclusions just as an introduction to the study, not because I think all of them are right.

    2) I would strongly disagree with any pastor/single's group/church who would use these sorts of statistics to get Christians to get married and have kids. I also have no experience with that happening so thank you for bringing it to my attention.

    3) At the same time, there is a certain tension going on that must be balanced: On one side, there is certainly a biblical stance that humanity was made to live on and continue given its God-given purpose. To not have that is to risk disorder, chaos, and destruction. (It would take me a post or two to flesh that out though.) On the other hand, God does indeed call people to celibacy (Matthew 19:11-12) and Paul thought that those without marriage commitments had strong potential for use by God, that is otherwise hindered by "cares of this world" (1 Cor. 7). Sometimes, even though I'm married with two kids, I get that.

    4) So, at the societal level, there can creep in certain unhealthy and particularly dangerous ideals that can send the society as a whole on a downward, chaotic, and destructive path because people are too busy making their careers (as an example) that they don't have time for kids and the society suffers greatly. This is where I think the statistics trends presented by the study are important and useful.

    5) But that sort of discourse has to be kept at the level that it operates. So, it is a grave error to impose that on an individual person as if that is grounds to pass judgment on someone. It's up to the individual to seek God's will for his/her own life path.

    God help the church when it uses statistics to those ends.

    Hope this helps clarify where I'm coming from.

  8. Thanks for your comments. I wasn't saying that I think everyone should be single- just certain people including myself. And yes I understand the social/moral implications of what would happen if too many people stayed single and never had children. I'm not advocating that at all.

    You may not have experienced the strong push of ministers/ single groups pushing singles to get married and the shaming some do, but I have. I've had people ask me are you gay or is there something wrong with you? That is not any fun. It really hurt to be treated like a second class citizen for being single. I have also heard pastors on t.v. put down singles- it just isn't right. It is really disheartening to have relatives think your weird because you choose to stay single.

    I have a very low sex drive and I really don't have sexual attractions. i did some research and found out there are others out there who have similar feelings or lack of feelings/desire you might say. They call themselves asexual. Some aren't attracted to anyone sexually others are but have not desire for sex.

    Obviously marriage is more than just about sex, but tell me how many women would marry a man who isn't sexually attracted to them and never want to have sex with them? Not very many I expect. It would be like a brother and sister living together: that isn't a marriage.

    Sorry- maybe i came across and bit to strong. perhaps i was just looking for a safe place to vent my frustrations. I just wish "Christian" people would start acting like Christians and live their own lives instead of trying to tell everyone else how to run theirs. I don't mean we shouldn't rebuke people of sin. I just think church people have a tendency to have their own little narrow vein of thinking and if you veer off from it they go on the attack mode. I say as long as a person is living a godly lifestyle and not sinning you should leave the person alone and take care of your own problems: that's why i mentioned John 21:22. There are way too many busy bodies in church.

  9. Well, for my part, I find such treatment a very sad thing. Thank you for being willing to share your thoughts.

    I can understand how it can be very difficult though I wouldn't understand personally. Culturally speaking, we live in such a sex-crazed society that there are not many people who have a category for no-sex-before-marriage and faithful-to-one-wife Christian ideals, LET ALONE someone who just simply isn't interested. That is impossible to some and they'd have to resort to recommending sex-drive drugs or something like that. This is along your point of the category of asexual. Sex has become so central to our focus that it defines who we are - something many other cultures of the world throughout history would find strange.

    The church oftentimes absorbs, in varying degrees, the cultural seasoning that it's surrounding with and so also look on such things with suspicion. Along other lines, many I know take Gen. 1:28 as an absolute mandate and Psalm 127:3-5 as absolutes. Well, they certainly were in a Jewish culture, but in Christ we have all things because Christ is sufficient (Rom. 8:32, Gal. 3:27-29, Eph. 4:1-16).

    I'd say I was praying for you but that wouldn't fair. Rather, praying for church people who need to mature. Glad you found a safe place to vent your frustrations.

  10. Hi Carl- thanks for your kind words. I had forgotten what Psalm 127 said. I went back to refresh my memory. I'm sure children can be a blessing to some people. I used to teach in the public school for about 8 years. It was a horrible experience.

    I also taught in a private Christian school once and Vacation Bible school as well. I don't know how people stand it. The kids from Christian families were much more respectful, but still hard to deal with. People don't discipline their kids and it's really hard to teach them anything when all they want to do is play.

    I was the happiest person on the planet when I resigned my teaching job. I had the nastiest rudest and most disrespectful group ever. I had a group of 7th grade girls sit in my room and talk about having sex with their boy friends while throwing crayons at each other among other nasty sexual things that they talked about! I was called every ugly name you can imagine by nasty kids every day I was there. All I could do was send then to the office and write a disicpline slip- what a joke!

    I had a boy and a girl get into a fist fight in my class because she called him a fag and then there were kids stabbing each other in the school parking lot. This was in a small town in North Carolina- not a big city.

    I'm sure you can discipline your own kids- to some extent, but working with other peoples kids would make a saint cuss. The stress was unbearable. My parents were educators until they retired. I told my mom I didn't know how you taught school all day and looked after me and my brother at night. But of course that was in the 1970's and early eighties. We went to Christian school where spanking was allowed. There is a big difference in a swat on the behind to correct bad behavior and abuse.

    Now a days you can't discipline your own kids without some liberal twit ready to report you to Social services. So you cant' convince me that having kids is a blessing considering what i've had to put up with.

    It really ticks me off to see kids running in church and disrespecting the Lord's house, but the parents don't say a word. Like it's their home and play ground. If you say anything to the kids or the parent they get mad and don't come back to church.

    I told my mom that I wasn't going to teach Vacation Bible school anymore after the way the last group acted last year- they could get someone else to do it. I don't mind working with the kids when they are respectful and mind me but they don't and I got tired of it. Anyway- that's been my experience.


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