Fayette Durlin and Peter Jenkin
Fayette Durlin and Peter Jenkin write from Brownsville, Minnesota.
We usually think that weekly and biweekly magazines are largely concerned with issues of the moment, ephemera cast up by the daily tides of political contention, and that for more thoughtful articles about deeper issues we must turn to the monthlies and quarterlies where writers have time and space to propound their ideas. Jonathan Last, however, a writer for The Weekly Standard, has written in four and half pages in the 12/10 issue a brilliant piece of considerable profundity that should be pondered by every thoughtful conservative.
The article, "A Nation of Singles" is about demographic trends revealed by the election, but if you think it goes over the ground again of the growth of our Hispanic population, the topic that engaged everyone's attention, you'll be surprised. Mr. Last does deal with that, but in a discriminating way. What everyone focused on was the jump in the Hispanic population from 2000 to 2010 - 43 percent. Our total population grew during that decade by 27.3 million, and 15 million were Hispanic. When that trend is extrapolated, of course, you get some whopping numbers, so that by 2050 Hispanics would make up 29 percent of the population. But as the author points out, such projections "come from assumptions based on the 2000 census," and since then trends have changed. We don't have all the figures yet, but we know the number of immigrants has declined. What's more striking are the numbers of Mexican immigrants (Mexico has traditionally contributed nearly 2/3 of our Hispanic immigrants): in recent years there "has been a net flow of zero immigrants from Mexico." Is this just a result of the recession, suggesting that once our economy recovers the immigration rate will again accelerate, or is it a result of something else?
Here Mr. Last steps back to consider other aspects of demography, like some of the factors that determine immigrant flows. He points out that receiving countries have low fertility rates while sending countries have high rates. The news is that Mexico's fertility rate is in a steep decline, approaching if not already at replacement level. The author's conclusion: "The boom days of Hispanic immigration may already be a thing of the past." Furthermore, the birth rate of immigrants has been dropping steadily.
Mr. Last then turns his attention to what he sees as a much more consequential trend: the rise of single voters. Over half of the voting age population is single. Not only did singletons vote decisively for Obama (+16 for single men and +36 for single women), their share of the vote increased by 6 percent. What does this portend? After briefly discussing some of the influences on the marriage rate (urbanization, no-fault divorce, legitimization of cohabitation, and so on) he centers his attention to the deeper issues: the "waning of religion in American life," and the "mastery of contraception: that decoupled sex from baby making."
He then discusses the singleton phenomenon in an international context, where our situation looks relatively benign compared to the most advanced Asian and European countries, where "people are running away from marriage, children, and family life at an amazing rate." Are we destined to go that route? And is it feasible? After all, there are limiting factors, such as the ensuing absence of young workers to support increasing numbers of retirees.
For the moment, he poses the question of what Republicans should do instead of pandering to singletons, a proven skill of Democrats. He wants Republicans to work to reverse the trend to promote marriage. As he points out, marriage is good for everyone, as all research has shown. He goes further:
Marriage is what makes the entire Western project - liberalism, the dignity of the human person, the free market, and the limited democratic state - possible . . . [marriage] is an arrangement which ought to be celebrated, nurtured, and defended because its health is integral to the success of our grand national experiment.
Noble words, but then the question arises of how? We think that here President Obama is going to play a role. It's clear that he has no intention of cutting spending, far from it, and it follows that the recession as we have experienced it so far, is soon going to get a lot worse - and last a long time. At the root of the flight from marriage is affluence; hard times will reverse that trend. Remember you read it here first! *