The Natural Family in Peril

This past summer, I attended my 50th high school class reunion, in my hometown, Des Moines, Iowa. A near-classmate of mine at Theodore Roosevelt High School was Bill Bryson, who went on to become a bestselling author of volumes such as A Walk in the Woods and A Short History of Nearly Everything. Among these books is also The Life and Times of the Thunderbolt Kid, a memoir of growing up in Des Moines during the 1950s and early 1960s. His early chapters delightfully relate my own experience, as well.

One of these he entitles, “Welcome to Kid World.” Bryson writes: “The most striking difference between then and now was how many kids there were then. America had thirty-two million children aged twelve or under in the mid-1950s, and four million new babies were plopping onto the changing mats every year. So, there were kids everywhere, all the time, in densities now unimaginable. . . “[1]

We—he and I and our classmates—were the children of the famed Baby Boom, a remarkable and unexpected episode in family formation that occurred during the two decades after World War II. Not far in the background were our mothers, then happily self-labeled as homemakers. Bryson recalls a contemporaneous article in Harper’s by one Nancy B. Mavity, condemning the two-income family where both husband and wife worked outside the house to support a more ambitious lifestyle. “I’d be ashamed to let my wife work,” one man told Mavity, and her tone showed that she expected most of her readers to agree.

In this regard, Bill Bryson’s mom was unusual, but in a telling way. She worked full-time as a journalist for the local morning paper. However, she did not cover politics, or business, or sports. Rather, she was home furnishings editor, who—in her son’s words—offered “calm assurance” to homemakers on “whether the time had come for paisley in the bedroom, [or] whether they should have square sofa cushions or round.” As the exception then, she actually proved the rule.[2]

The Family-Friendly Fifties

Who were these curious historical figures—the full-time homemakers of the “Happy Days” of the 1950s? At one level, they were the product of choices made en masse by women during and after World War II. At another, deeper, and not well understood level, they were a new manifestation of a solution to a deep social problem caused by that massive, unprecedented event historians label the industrial revolution.

Regarding that first level, a fine resource is the book Homeward Bound: American Families in the Cold War Era, authored by University of Minnesota historian Elaine Tyler May. She notes that almost every observer and journalist of the early 1940s expected in the near future radical changes in gender roles and home life, a consequence of the massive disruptions brought on by American involvement in a new global war. Recall the now iconic Rosie The Riveter illustration. And yet, to everyone’s surprise, “the roles of breadwinner [husband] and homemaker [wife] were not abandoned; they were embraced.”

Professor May writes as a self-described feminist. Nonetheless, she admits that this broad turn by young women toward domesticity was not forced on them by patriarchy; rather it came from the demand of the women themselves. A few specifics that she provides: “One old-line feminist complained that her sociologist-husband could no longer find a senior female student wanting to prepare for graduate school: ‘nice girls, smart girls, girls able to do fairly complex statistical work and think clearly. All going to be married right after graduation’ and all wanting at least ‘four children.'”

Home economics programs proliferated. The “Home Ec” Major became the leading choice for female undergraduates. The Women’s Colleges of the East Coast—Vassar, Smith, and so on—recently proud of producing “independent” women, now claimed success because “a high proportion of our graduates marry successfully.”

The 300 couples who participated in the Kelly Longitudinal Study, a remarkable 20-year-long annual survey of attitudes toward marriage, family, and sexuality by men and woman reaching adulthood in the 1940s, overwhelmingly expressed a “fervent commitment to marriage.” Asked if they had sacrificed anything by marrying and raising children, the vast majority of women replied “nothing.” Asked if they had regrets over becoming homemakers, the great majority again said no: “[T]hey gained rather than lost in the bargain.” The KLS men also overwhelmingly reported being happy, delighted in having given up what one called “[t]he boredom and futility of bachelorhood.”

As Professor May ably summarizes, “[t]he young women of the day would not be dissuaded. They were homeward bound.”[3]

These homemakers of the 1950s also were a new iteration of an old solution to a great socioeconomic problem. It arose as the family-centered economy—the economy that had defined human life for thousands of years—gave way to the industrial order, in 1945 not yet even 150 years old.

Prior to 1800, the vast majority of people everywhere lived within a family-centered economy, notable for its high degree of self-sufficiency. Whether on a peasant or family farm, in an artisan’s shop in a town, in a nomad’s tent, or in a fisherman’s cottage by the sea, people lived and worked in the same place. Even in villages and towns, they grew their vegetables (gardens were everywhere), raised and processed their own meat (particularly chicken and pork), wove their own cloth and sewed their own garments, and commonly built their own shelters, or homes. They educated their own children and cared for their own elderly. A division of labor existed—there were coopers, and wheelwrights, and finish carpenters—but most households held to a high degree of self-sufficiency, exemplified in young America by the sturdy yeomen farmers of Jeffersonian lore. Within such homes, there was a natural complementarity: Man, woman, and older children all worked toward the success of the small family enterprise, conditioned by their relative strengths, skills, and maturity. This was the natural family in its pristine form.

The industrial revolution tore through this world. Its benefits were clear: more standardized goods at a cheaper price; a rising average level of consumption. Relative to the family, though, these gains came at a price.

First, the industrial process—which relied on centralized factories using machines driven by power sources such as water or steam—severed the bond between home and work, a profound revolution in human affairs. Economic historian Karl Polanyi calls it “the great transformation.”[4] For those entering the industrial order, they would now work in one place, and sleep in another.

Second, the industrial process meant that the home surrendered an ever-growing number of functions. This began with the spinning of yarn and the weaving of cloth. It eventually spread to every family function: the growth and preparation of food, the making of furniture and shelter, the education of children (through “common” or state schools resting on  the industrial model, which spread alongside the new economy); and even care of the elderly (the rise of the nursing home). By 1930, writing in an official government report, one prominent social scientist simply concluded that “the factory has displaced the family.” American homes were “ . . . merely ‘parking places’ for parents and children who spend their active hours elsewhere.” And he thought this to be an inevitable and good thing.[5] 

Third, the incentives of industrial capitalism drove firms to find labor wherever they could, and—in a competitive environment—at the cheapest possible price. Factories would hire men, women, or children, given the respective tasks involved, and had no compelling reason to worry about the consequences for family life. With work hours in the early decades of industrialization normally running 10 or 12 hours a day, six days a week, family life was profoundly affected: father in one factory; mother in another; the older children in still others. Completely left out of the equation was the fate of infants and younger children. Who should or could care for them? Leaders of the industrial sector were mostly indifferent.

The workers themselves, though, were not; nor were religious reformers who witnessed the devastating effects of the new economy on home life, as marriage and fertility rates both tumbled and as the number of abandoned or unsupervised children swelled. One strategy eventually adopted was to find a way to limit the incursion of industrialism into the home. The method chosen was clear: The industrial sector could have one, but only one, family member; and this would normally be the father. As a labor movement pamphlet from Philadelphia in 1835 declared:

Oppose [the employment of women] with all your might and with all your strength for it will prove our ruin. We must strive to obtain sufficient remuneration for our labor to keep the wives and daughters and sisters of our people at home. . . . That cormorant capital will have every man, woman and child to toil; but let us exert our families to oppose its designs.[6]

On a much more positive note, although confronting the very same social problem, Sarah Hale—editor of the hugely influential magazine Godey’s Ladies Book—argued that if the work of women could be left uncorrupted by the acquisitive market mindset, and rest instead on love, then American culture “might retain its contact with . . . virtue and goodness.” Hale also summoned what she called the Eden Laws in support of distinct callings for men and women: God’s creation of human marriage; His command “to be fruitful and multiply”; and His creation of sexual complementarity where, in her words, “Man is the worker and provider, the protector and the law giver, woman is the preserver, the teacher, and the exemplar.”

Such ideas underlay the regime of the family wage. In it, fathers served as breadwinners and should receive in turn wages adequate to support themselves, their wives, and their children. Women served as homemakers, devoting themselves full-time to the care of homes and children.[7] In this way, both the gifts of industrialism and family life could be enjoyed.

This system required that citizens accept fairly sharp limits on equality, specifically in the economic realm. In the 19th century, most Americans—it appears—readily did so. As early as 1831, the famed French visitor Alexis de Tocqueville (subsequent author of the classic work Democracy in America) reported with astonishment how Americans, unlike Europeans, took “constant care . . . to trace two clearly distinct lines of action for the two sexes.” Young women, taught beforehand what to expect, “voluntarily and freely” entered into matrimony, fully aware that they would now live “within the narrow circle of domestic interests and duties.” This led Tocqueville to conclude that the most important cause of the “Americans’ singular prosperity and growing strength” was “the superiority of their women.”[8]

To be sure, there were some dissenters: notably, the women who gathered at Seneca Falls in 1848, demanding the free admission of their sex into the professions and a broader economic emancipation. Fifty years later, in her 1898 book Women and Economics, Charlotte Perkins Gilman attacked what she called the “over-development of the sex distinction.” Those homes with full-time homemakers and mothers were actually primitive entities, she said, a “clumsy tangle of rudimentary industries” that violated the modern laws of economics. She added, “A family unity which is only bound together with a tablecloth is of questionable value.”[9]

Her alternative was clear: Complete the full industrialization of homes. Eliminate what she called the “clumsy amateur” known as the homemaker. Turn cooking, child care, elder care, and cleaning into businesses, services to be purchased like all others. Gilman described—again in 1898—a future with day-care centers and fast food restaurants; regarding the latter, she outlined a process where people would drive their horses and buggies up to a window and receive their hot food in a bag. Let each young woman, like each man, find her place in a specialized job or profession. Under Gilman’s regime, the home would no longer be “a workshop or a museum.” Rather it would become, she said, “the place of peace and rest, of love and privacy” among economic equals.[10]

What happened during the 1940s was a retreat from the world desired by Charlotte Perkins Gilman, and a return to the world sought by Sarah Hale, albeit in a more secular form. The results were real. Between 1932 and 1946, the marriage rate rose by 40%. The average age of first marriage fell to 22.5 for men, and 20 for women, near record low numbers. Fertility soared, climbing by 70 percent between 1940 and 1957.  This rise in child bearing was especially concentrated among the better educated: The average completed family size of women who had attended college more than doubled. Even the divorce rate stabilized. Small home economies rebounded as well. An honest accounting of unpaid work performed in the home by American wives showed that its average value in the 1960s was nearly equal to the family’s money income, when young children were present.[11] The family wage also returned in modified form. The one-income, breadwinner-homemaker family again became the norm, the expected way of life, and enjoyed popular support. As late as 1970, nearly 80% of young married women believed that it was better for wives to be homemakers and husbands breadwinners, as the labor market became sorted into “men’s jobs and women’s jobs.”

Public policy had rallied around this system. For example, Congress created the Homemaker’s Pension under Social Security. It also reformed taxes to favor households with a full-time homemaker and mother, a technique called “income splitting.”

On another personal note, my own mother—to her dying day at age 85—was happy and proud that she had been a mother and homemaker of this sort.

The Unraveling

Yet this family system did not last. It began to unravel in the late-1960s and effectively collapsed in most places during the next decade. Many factors contributed to this; but the dominant one, in my opinion, was the powerful pull of the equality principle. As Tocqueville wrote back in the 1830s: “Democratic nations are at all times fond of equality, but there are certain epochs at which the passion they entertain for it swells to the height of fury.” At such times, the quest for equality becomes—in his words—“ardent, insatiable, incessant, invincible.” Nothing can stand in its way. Most clearly focused in the new feminism launched by Betty Friedan, the cry for economic equality quickly swept away in most places the cultural attitudes, laws, and regulations that had sustained the family system of the postwar era. The homemaker, recently celebrated, was culturally abandoned. Home economics programs in most places withered. The family wage was repudiated, as an affront to the equality principle. Most young women marched into the workforce. Among those who did marry, the two-income family tended to become the new normal.

In retrospect, a heavy price was paid. One fascinating account published in 2003 comes from Elizabeth Warren—yes, the very woman who currently serves as the very progressive Democratic Senator from Massachusetts. Entitled The Two-Income Trap: Why Middle Class Fathers & Mothers Are Going Broke and co-authored with her daughter Amelia Warren Tyagi, the book includes such statements as:

  • The “willingness [of American families] to send 20 million mothers into the workforce had unintended fallout.”
  • “Married couples with children are [now] almost twice as likely to file for bankruptcy as their childless counterparts.”
  • “When mothers joined the workforce, the family gave up something of considerable (although unrecognized) economic value: an extra skilled and dedicated adult, available to pitch in to help save the family during times of emergency.”
  • “[B]oth sides of the political spectrum discounted the financial value of the stay-at-home mother.”
  • “By the 1990’s, . . . a working wife was 40 percent more likely to divorce than her stay-at-home counterpart.”
  • And: “By forgoing child bearing, a woman decreases her chances of going bankrupt by 66 percent.”[12]

Once again, the fate of children in the egalitarian industrial order came to the fore. The easiest solution was once again: “Don’t have them.” This was and remains the most glaring of the cultural contradictions of industrial capitalism. As economist Ulrich Beck explains in his book Risk Society: Towards a New Modernity, the modern labor market insists on mobility with scant regard for personal situations. The opposite is true for marriage and the rearing of children. He continues: “Thought through to its ultimate consequence, the market model of modernity implies a society without families and children. Everyone must be independent, free for the demands of the market in order to guarantee his/her economic existence.”[13]   

More personally, this story reveals an arena for debates over culture and public policy that continues to fascinate me. These disputes over how to shelter natural family life and children from the negative effects of industrialization remain critical to any national future. These quarrels are also, dare I say, ones in which I feel comfortable, where I understand and appreciate the arguments on all sides, and enjoy engaging in debates where the ground rules and many shared assumptions are clear.

Being more specific, I share in Senator Warren’s analysis of the woes brought on by the two-income trap. I also share her opinion that we cannot simply return to the family model of the 1950s. Such a system, clearly resting on forms of inequality, can work only if supported by the overwhelming majority of women and men. That support does not now exist. We also agree on the importance of strong marriages and fruitful families to the national future. Children are our most important treasure. A system that intentionally or otherwise punishes those who rear children must be reformed.

How then should we respond? This is the question that pulled me into the study of family policy 45 years ago. It began with my doctoral dissertation, which critically examined how the Democratic Socialists of Sweden constructed a family policy in the 1930s.[14] In order to raise both the marriage and birth rates in that land, the Social Democratic Party created a child-centered welfare state, where the aspiration was that all the costs and many of the direct tasks of raising children would be picked up by the government. At the same time, in Catholic nations such as France and Belgium, industrial leaders and politicians created fairly elaborate systems of child allowances: pay supplements for fathers calculated by the number of their children.

In our time and place, the misfit of the child-centered family in the industrial order has returned again. Elizabeth Warren’s list of policy responses resembles those adopted in Sweden 80 years ago: publicly funded day care and pre-schools for all; an expanded universal, comprehensive disability insurance program that covers pregnancies; an end to what she calls predatory lending in housing; publicly financed paid parental leave; universal, single-payer health insurance for all families with children; and so on.

I have favored different forms of public policy as a substitute for the old family-wage regime, models involving much less direct intrusion by the state into the family. First, I would adjust federal and state tax codes to allow families rearing children to keep substantially more of their earned income; and second, I urge alteration of Social Security old-age pensions to reward parents who bear larger families.

Starting in the mid 1980s, I began to write essays and books urging the creation of a new Child Tax Credit, initially at the $1,000 level. This would supplement the existing personal tax exemption for children, allowing taxpayers with offspring to write off $1,000 of federal tax owed, per dependent child. In 1988, President Ronald Reagan appointed me to a special National Commission on Children. Two-thirds of its members were Democrats, including such notables as Senator Jay Rockefeller of West Virginia (who became Commission Chairman), then-Governor Bill Clinton of Arkansas, and child advocate Marian Wright Edelman, along with the leaders of the National Education Association and the American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employers—the two largest public sector unions in the country.

I made it my mission to see that a new, universal, refundable tax credit of $1,000 per child became the Commission’s principle recommendation. And so it happened, on a unanimous, bipartisan vote, as reported in the Commission’s 1991 “Final Report.”[15] Five years later, in 1996, a bipartisan tax reform bill created the child tax credit, albeit initially at $500 and excluding both “refundability” for low-income taxpayers and availability to higher-income families, as well. In 2001 a new tax bill raised that number to $1,000 per child. Most recently, in late 2017, the new Republican tax plan doubled that figure to $2,000, introduced a partial scheme of refundability, and extended availability to all but the very richest of households. That pleased me very much.

I have also been arguing, for decades, that old age pensions under Social Security should be adjusted, to give a higher stipend to those retired parents who raised children. The greater the number of your offspring, the higher your Social Security check. Here, though, I can claim no success—at least, not yet.

Will the new $2,000 child tax credit bring a renaissance in American family life? Will marriage rates and birth rates—now at historic lows—soar? Alas, while this measure is a meaningful response to the problems facing families in an industrialized order, it is not sufficient to bring on a revolution. Moreover, the family issue has since moved into other and much more disorienting arenas: namely, the politics of sex and gender. These have complicated the family debate. It is to these matters that I now turn, attempting to sort the situation out in an understandable way.

New Battlegrounds

A useful way to see shifts in intellectual fashion regarding the family, I have found, is to compare successive editions of family sociology textbooks and related volumes: the same publisher; the same author; the same subject matters. However, curious changes often emerge. For example, Gerald Leslie’s 1967 volume The Family in Social Context describes the middle class, breadwinner/ homemaker, child-focused family as an ideal being achieved by “an increasing proportion of the population,” including ethnic minorities. His 1976 edition, though, tosses out these values, stressing instead a family system resting on the priority of sexual equality (particularly in economic matters), free sexual experimentation, and easy access to divorce.[16] Here we see a curious form of evidence for the social change I just described.

This means of measuring change is also true, I found, when comparing two “official” histories of the sexual revolution in 20th-century America, coming from the same source—Playboy. The 1973 version, entitled Rape of the A*P*E* (A.P.E. being the American Puritan Ethic), describes in brutally frank language how a group of men, described as “dirty minded beyond belief,” set out “to defile the world’s most antiseptic culture and corrupt the world’s most respectable citizenry.” Subtitled The Obscening of America, the book continues: “Wherever there was a Strawberry Church Social, they would search and destroy. They would storm every bastion of decency; besmirch and defile the enemy on the beaches, in the homes and in the streets. They would recruit allies among the corrupt and despoil the innocent. . . . [T]hey would give smut respectability by dressing it in the dignified cloak of science. They would shock and shock again.”

And the result?

“Everything got devalued. Not just the dollar, but everything in American life. Virginity. Love. God. Motherhood. Mom’s Apple Pie. General Motors has less value now, and so does the Bill of Rights. . . . The quality of men available to lead was devalued. Our technology was devalued, our institutions and our customs were devalued. The worth of an individual was devalued. All of the pleasures were devalued.”[17]

Again, these judgments, without qualifications, come straight from The Playboy Press.

In 1999, though, Playboy brought out a new Playboy’s History of the Sexual Revolution. Absent now was the cynical honesty of the 1973 version. In its place was a celebration of the sexual revolution as the crowning achievement of human liberty. As editor Hugh Hefner himself wrote in the new “Foreword”: “I believe that sex is the primary motivating factor in the course of human history, and in the twentieth century it has emerged from the taboos and controversy that has surrounded it through the ages to claim its rightful place in society. This was the century of sex, when mankind confronted the fears that controlled and shaped sex as they had since the beginning of time—and triumphed.”[18]

Following this transition of unbridled sexuality from vice and destruction into liberation and a near-spiritual achievement came a new theory of gender. It drew on the idea of a fully liberated sexuality, yet had other, deeper sources as well.

  • First, liberalism itself: Latent within the liberal idea was the prospect of “individual self development.” As T.H. Green explained about a century ago, the “institutions of civil life” could and should “render it possible for a man to be freely determined by the idea of a possible satisfaction of himself.”[19] Put another way, to be truly free, each individual must shed the tangle of customs, duties, and institutions imposed by history, place, and birth, and find his or her own path. True liberty came through such self-actualization.
  • Second, Nietzschianism: The late 19th-century German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche ruthlessly skewered the Judeo-Christian ethic of love, duty, responsibility, and restraint. In its place, he elevated the uebermensch: the “superman” who created his (or her) own morality. The truly successful “superman” was one who then imposed this self-created morality on others.
  • And Third, Gnosticism: The Gnostic idea is thousands of years old, and has taken a variety of forms. Common to all, though, has been the elevation of the human mind or spirit and the demotion or denigration of the human body. For the Gnostic, the human body constrains, restricts; it holds the mind or spirit in bondage. For the Gnostic, there is no natural order, no natural law grounded in biology and other material forms. Self-discovery and enlightenment comes as an individual gains liberation from the chains of nature. Among all Gnostics, procreation—the birth of children—is at best irrelevant, and usually deplored.

These ideas have come together under the banner of gender theory. At its core, it offers a radically different concept of human telos, or purpose and destiny, relative to sexuality and family.

The historic Judeo-Christian understanding is that each person is born male or female, yet as such is incomplete. Each man and woman, at an appropriate age and in appropriate ways, then seeks to become complete by finding a mate of the opposite sex. Bonded through marriage, they become “one flesh”: a completed being now ready and able to procreate, to bring new human life into the world. Every religious, cultural, economic, and political institution exists, in important ways, to encourage and support that quest and end.

Under gender theory—or, more specifically under LGBTQ theory—each person is born sexually ambiguous. While the person’s body will have distinctive plumbing, that is no indication of true gender; for gender is free of bodily restraints. The individual’s quest, beginning as a child, is to find which gender from an ever-growing list (Facebook recently said 56[20]) they are. One reliable way of doing this is to try them all. If, after finding your gender, your physical biology is wrong, corrective surgery can follow. The procreation of children is, at best, tangential to this process. For LGBTQ advocates, every religious, cultural, economic, and political institution should encourage and support this quest.

Today, our “culture war”—once defined by the abortion issue—increasingly focuses on these differences over sexuality and gender. The family policy matters of most interest to me—measures to protect the procreative, natural family within an industrialized milieu—now have, I must admit, a somewhat antique quality about them. The storm and fury are elsewhere.

A most compelling question arises: Can these rival worldviews, these competing visions of human telos or purpose, co-exist in relative peace? 

To answer that, let’s examine the question over a very specific issue: What constitutes child abuse? For the LGBTQ activist, child abuse can be understood as any action taken by any person—including biological parents and religious leaders—which prevents a child from launching and conducting its quest for gender self-discovery. For the Judeo-Christian, meanwhile, corrective gender surgery on a child is perceived as an extreme act of child abuse. I perceive little middle ground here.

Might these radically different visions of human identity and purpose find a tolerable harmony in a renewed understanding of the United States as a vast federation of small communities, each allowed to govern itself on such matters? Might American law and public education gain the flexibility to allow gender-sensitive parents to raise their own children their way, while traditional Christian, Jewish, and Muslim parents raise their children their way? Might religious liberty, as guaranteed by the First Amendment to our Constitution, provide adequate protections for such rival understandings of human nature and human purpose? Might parental rights, battered in recent decades over issues such as a young person’s access to contraceptives, gain more legal respect?

In the short run, other than noting the considerable practical difficulties facing any of these accommodations, I can offer no firm answers. I can only say that, for the sake of order and peace, I hope so. Answers to such questions will help define what family policy making means in the immediate years ahead.

In the long run, though, I believe that this great and contentious divide will disappear, despite the actions judges, politicians, and cultural leaders now take. It will disappear from the sheer weight of reality.

To borrow a phrase from an old television commercial, “You Can’t Fool Mother Nature,” at least not for long. All idea systems that violate nature and nature’s laws eventually fail and disappear—sometimes after a spell of violence; sometimes quietly. An example of the former in the 20th century was the communist project in Russia to shape “New Soviet Man.” After intermittent efforts to destroy the natural family and after an orgy of bloodletting and intentional campaigns of starvation (with particular effect on infants), communism finally and simply fell apart. At the quiet end, idea systems that abandon the realities of human biology—such as found among the Gnostics of the second century or among those closer to our time—also disappeared.

Here, even Charles Darwin is helpful. Any attempt at a way of life grounded in indifference or hostility toward infant life is an “evolutionary dead-end.” No offspring, no future.

A recent restatement of this came from British political scientist Eric Kauffman’s 2010 book, Shall the Religious Inherit the Earth?A self-described secular liberal, Kauffman nonetheless argues that “[r]eligious fundamentalists are on course to take over the world through demography.” By “fundamentalist,” he means any religious group within which scriptural teachings on marriage and procreation do influence the behavior of adherents, including their economic choices. He surveys religious communities around the globe with above-replacement fertility, including Anabaptists such as the Hutterites and the Old Order Amish, Ultra-Orthodox Haredi Jews, Salafi Islamists, “Quiverfull” Protestants, Laestadian Lutherans in the Finnish Northwoods, and, yes, Mormons in the American West. Already, such groups are expanding their relative share of some national populations. If compounded over several more generations, the result becomes stunning. Kauffman concludes: “It will be a century or more before the world completes its demographic transition. There is still too much smoke in the air for us to pick out the peaks and valleys of the emerging social order. This much seems certain: without a new [secular liberal] ideology to inspire social cohesion, fundamentalism cannot be stopped. The religious shall inherit the earth.”[21]

This conclusion may offer hope to those who see the natural family and new life—children—as vital to the human future.

Allan C. Carlson is Editor of The Natural Family. This essay is adapted from the Keynote Address to The Wheatley Institution “Roundtable on the Family,” held at Brigham Young University, Provo, Utah, on February 20, 2018.

[1]     Bill Bryson, The Life and Times of the Thunderbolt Kid: A Memoir (New York: Broadway Books, 2006), 36. 

[2]     Ibid., 13-14. 

[3]     Elaine Tyler May, Homeward Bound: American Families in the Cold War Era (New York: Basic Books, 1988), 13-14, 18, 30-38, 59-64, 80-82.

[4]     Karl Polanyi, The Great Transformation (New York: Farrar & Rinehart, 1944).

[5]     William Ogburn, writing in Recent Social Trends in the United States: Report of the President’s Research Committee on Social Trends (New York: McGraw-Hill, 1933), xlii-xlvi, 671-78, 706.

[6]     Quoted in Ruth Milkman, “Organizing the Sexual Division of Labor: Historical Perspectives on ‘Women’s Work’ and the American Labor Movement,” Socialist Review 49(Jan./Feb. 1980), 198. 

[7]     Sarah J. Hale, Manners; or, Happy Homes and Good Society. All the Year Round (New York: Arno Press, 1972 [1868]), 19-23, 72-7, 261-62.

[8]     Alexis de Tocqueville, Democracy in America, Vol II, translated by Henry Reeve (New York: Vantage Books, 1990), 201-03, 211-14.

[9]     Charlotte Perkins Gilman, Women and Economics: A Study of the Economic Relation between Men and Women as a Factor of Social Evolution, ed. Carl N. Degler (New York: Harper & Row, 1966 (1898), 225-317.

[10]   Ibid.

[11]   Reuben Gronan, “Home Production—A Forgotten Industry,” The Review of Economics and Statistics 62 (1980): 408-16.

[12]   Elizabeth Warren and Amelia Warren Tyagi, The Two-Income Trap: Why Middle Class Mothers & Fathers Are Going Broke (New York: Basic Books, 2003), 6-7, 13, 67, 85, 180.

[13]   Ulrich Beck, Risk Society: Towards a New Modernity (New York: SAGE, 1992), 116. 

[14]   This was published as The Swedish Experiment in Family Politics (New Brunswick, NJ: Transaction, 1990).

[15]   Beyond Rhetoric: The Final Report of the National Commission on Children (Washington, D.C.: U.S. Government Printing Office, 1991).

[16]   Both editions were published by Oxford University Press.

[17]   Allan Sherman, The Rape of the A*P*E*, The Official History of the Sex Revolution, 1945-1973. The Obscening of America (Chicago: The Playboy Press, 1973), 73-79, 389.

[18]   James R. Peterson and Hugh M. Hefner, The Century of Sex: Playboy’s History of the Sexual Revolution. 1900-1999 (New York: Grove Press, 1999), ix. 

[19]   T.H. Green, Lectures on the Principles of Political Obligation (Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 1967), 32-33.

[20]   Will Oremus, “Here Are All the Different Genders You Can Be on Facebook,” Slate, February 13, 2014, available at

[21]   Eric Kauffman, Shall the Religious Inherit the Earth? Demography and Politics in the Twenty-First Century (London: Profile Books, 2010), 269.