The Kids Are All Right

A notion that’s become somewhat common among the left in recent years is that American conservatives are demographically doomed. Very often, this is discussed in terms of race and age—an allusion to the declining share of the non-Hispanic white American population and the accompanying erosion of its political sway, as well as the fact that conservatives tend to be older.

On its face, this seems like a tidy theory. But under the surface, I think it’s a great deal more complicated than the (sometimes wishful) theorizing of liberal pundits allows.

First, as I wrote a couple of weeks ago, the American concept of race, whiteness in particular, is a moving target. I think there’s a solid chance it will look quite a bit different in a couple of decades. But a more interesting foil, I think, to the liberals-own-tomorrow theory manifests itself in fertility rates.

People are having fewer children the rich world over, causing consternation among governments of countries whose economic futures depend on population growth. The political implications of this alone are fascinating, but the general trend obscures another interesting story: the intranational ideological disparity in fertility.

Liberals, it appears, are having fewer children than their conservative counterparts. Combing through General Social Survey (GSS) results from the last 10 years provides a clear view of this phenomenon. Among heterosexual men between the ages of 35 and 50, those who identify as “extremely liberal” had on average 1.79 children, whereas those describing themselves as “extremely conservative” had 2.43. For women, the difference was even starker: “extremely liberal” women had 1.69 on average to “extremely conservative” women’s 2.63.

Conservative have more kids

Many factors contribute to this disparity—most of which concern liberal women’s increased preferences for family planning. Anecdotally, liberals are later to marry, more likely to pursue advanced degrees, less religious, and, among women, more likely to pursue careers—the confluence of which makes for fewer babies. This trend seems to have gotten stronger over the past few decades.

Widening Child Gap
Note: Data for this graph are inclusive of all respondents 18 and older, meaning there’s probably some bias toward conservatives having more children, as they tend to be older. It’s also possible that causality flows both ways: having families might make people more conservative.

All this is significant because there’s at least some evidence that, most of the time, children end up inheriting their parents’ political views. This makes sense whether you view political ideology as a product of nature—differences in brain structure that give some a proclivity for novelty and others an aversion to risk—or nurture. Either way, if liberals are bearing and raising fewer children, it could mean fewer liberal adults down the line.

There are a few signs this might already be happening. One study found that after decades of decline, high school students’ support for traditional gender roles in the family has been rising steadily since 1994. Goldman Sachs pegs the ascendant Generation Z as especially fiscally conservative. Finally, a survey by the Hispanic Heritage Foundation of 50,000 14 – 18-year-olds found—shockingly, in my view—that the majority identified as Republicans and would support Donald Trump in the 2016 election. (An important caveat to this survey was that nearly a third of those polled would have declined to vote, had they been able.)

The policy preferences of an increasingly conservative nation are one thing—and obviously ideology colors one’s assessment of how good or bad that would be. But what really worries me is the thought of an even more politically segmented society; one in which an increasingly liberal minority of elites maintains control of the nation’s cultural power centers and an increasingly conservative majority grows frustrated with its obsolescence in the new economy, which, intentionally or not, places a premium on educational attainment, city-living, and delayed entry into family life.

Whether it comes to pass or not, we shall see.

9 thoughts on “The Kids Are All Right

  1. Eddie,
    Look at the trees and not the forest. As you know, you can manipulate and present data to tell a given story. And, on the face of it, your counter-narrative appears to convey the notion of something incontrovertible: home-schooled conservatives of arranged marriages who refuse to take the pill bring anywhere from 3 to 8 kids into this untidy world, while Millennial hipsters prefer to cuddle the cute pug they’ve just rescued from the dog pound. However, your fallacy of composition belies one fact: the key demographic trend should not focus on the “average number of children per household” but on overall population trends, and that’s where you have to put your frothy musings back in the lamp. By now you should have already read that Multicultural Majority America will come here to stay when you and I are in our wheelchairs: 2042. Aside from that, I think you should have taken a better look at GSS-NORC’s methodology/design and sampling, particularly towards Hispanics. Generally, their Hispanic sample sizes over the period you cover is insufficient for a national sample; and, for the analytical effort you aimed at — sub-segmentation analysis — their sample is sufficiently unstable to do any meaningful analysis by ideology.
    So, I would urge to ask to NORC to boost their multicultural majority samples so that their political polling falls into line with best practices. Insofar as the high school survey is concerned, I would not look at the numbers until there is sufficient transparency about how exactly the Hispanic Heritage Foundation and conducted its survey, since they cite 6 different designs with 6 different vendors (i.e., partners). How they sampled Hispanics is hardly clear and it is incumbent on you to shed light on this.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I liked that throw-away line: having kids might make you more conservative. it’s pretty well known and obvious that having kids drastically changes your perspective and priorities, this hypothesis bears exploration! Something to do with time preference, perhaps?

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hey Lauren, this comment just popped into my head! I was wondering, how did you come across my site? I’d like to attract more people who think of this kind of stuff 🙂 Hope you get this notification!


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