March 2, 2024

Editor’s note: In this Future View, students discuss forming a family. Next week we’ll ask, “Many people seem offended by the kind of wealth that someone like

Elon Musk

has at his disposal. Are they right to be? Is the existence of a huge disparity in wealth a problem for American culture?” Students should click here to submit opinions of fewer than 250 words before April 26. The best responses will be published that night.

The individualist utopia we were promised in the sexual revolution has proved a farce. Men and women alike are worse off after such cultural victories as no-fault divorce and legalization of abortion—but women seem to be paying a higher price.

A 2009 study found that despite supposed gains in women’s rights and equality, women were drastically less happy than their counterparts 30 years earlier. And while women in the 1970s reported greater happiness than men, the opposite is the case now. A government survey found that antidepressant use had risen 65% from 1999 to 2014, and that women were almost twice as likely as men to be taking these medications.

Women also often suffer more from the propaganda that claims having children is a threat to female equality. Women, who deal with a shorter window of time than men in which they can have children, may live to regret putting off childbearing. In fact, a university study found that a full quarter of women who chose to remain childless end up regretting their decision.

I grew up in a large family where children were viewed as a blessing rather than a curse. There is nothing inherently subjugating or sexist about parenthood and marriage. The modern view that a child is a burden leaves men and women alike in the dark regarding the true happiness that can be found in the tough but fulfilling work of family life.

—Sarah Weaver, Hillsdale College, political philosophy

Our National Security Depends on Families

It’s easy to think of reasons that Americans should marry and stay married: Marriage is better for the economy and better for human happiness. That it’s becoming less common is clearly a problem for the country and American well-being. Nor is it comforting to learn that young Americans are less interested in sex. A decline in casual relationships might be good, but it’s more likely that Americans are too overworked, isolated and digitized to navigate human relationships.

But there is another, often overlooked reason for concern: national security. American demographics have historically offered an advantage. For the past 30 years, America has enjoyed a higher birthrate than China and much of Europe. This means less spending on supporting an aging population. But if America suffers the same malady as other nations do, aggregate population size begins to matter more. China’s population is four times America’s and will remain so if America undergoes the same demographic decline. Americans cannot remain four times as productive forever. China’s greater manpower is perhaps its biggest advantage in a brewing great-power conflict, but Americans can weaken that advantage by having more children.

Will national security convince anyone to get married? Probably not, and natalist policies do not have a strong record of success. I’ll marry, if I can, because I want to, not because I think it’s my duty to help outcompete China. But it’s nonetheless true that a lower birthrate will have a real national-security impact. We will need a culture change—and probably more immigration—to stay competitive, and the individual examples of those young Americans who do seek committed relationships are key to creating this shift.

—Jonathan Meilaender, Georgetown University, European studies

Do What Fits You

Low marriage rates or not, finding a spouse is still held up in American society as something necessary to personal fulfillment. But a good match isn’t easy to find. When you’re looking too hard for something that isn’t there, you often try to find it in the wrong places and force relationships that aren’t actually good for you. It’s important for people to recognize what a fulfilling life means for them individually, rather than following society’s templates.

This applies to marriage and sexual relationships. Romance isn’t everything. People can learn a lot about themselves by being alone and interacting with people they love, rather than people they are in love with.

I don’t know if I’ll form a family. When people (my mom especially) ask if I want to get married or have kids, I say no. Do I mean it? I’m not sure. But I don’t want to be constantly looking ahead to that. My future should be about me. I think I deserve to be a little selfish in that regard: It’s my life, not anyone else’s, and I shouldn’t hinge its value on the presence of a spouse.

—Ariel Thornton, University of California, Irvine, biological sciences

A Culture of Narcissism

Proponents of modern social mores will tell you American society doesn’t have an attention problem. Our shattering institutions, isolated communities, abandoned working class and declining birthrate? They say that none of this matters.

But it does matter. The development of personal connection, relationship and intimacy has been abandoned in a search for quick pleasures and easy fixes. Over many decades, our society has taken on a culture of narcissism that prioritizes comfort over sacrifice. In a society where loving oneself matters more than loving anyone else, where else than in conceitedness can purpose be found?

Part of the answer is also economic. A 2021 survey suggested that, in every class, 45% to 50% of those with young families report that they will be having fewer children than they would like. This means that taking further steps is difficult even for those who have started a relationship. How could one not expect many to not even take the first one when the road ahead appears long and unforgiving?

We need our leaders to start pushing for policies that make forming a family easier. For our part, my generation ought to start imagining a family-oriented future because without such a focus, our future is bleak.

—Juan P. Villasmil, American University, international studies

Marry and Move to the Country

A simple two-step plan to save the American family: Toss your phone and move to the country.

Pornography consumption kills sex drive. Where the sex drive remains, any woman’s Tinder DMs will show that few men know how to express romantic feelings respectfully. Many popular accounts on Instagram and TikTok acquire followers who only want to gawk at the users rather than learn anything substantive about them. Technology depersonalizes. Our inclination to objectify should surprise no one, since a pocket-sized cellphone mediates our interactions.

The urban migration of the managerial class only exacerbates this problem. To achieve high-status jobs, these people make peppering their résumés with degrees a priority over starting a family. No wonder people report feeling lonely immediately after college. These disaffected city dwellers live like pariahs in the places they call home.

It’s natural to appreciate innovation and strive for increased status. In a world where technological development accelerates productivity, attaining the new and improved may seem the only constant. That, however, only proves the necessity of valuing the fundamentals. We would do well to imitate rural America’s insistence on these fundamentals. We can create glistening gadgets and illustrious job titles for ourselves, but none of these can compare to creating another human being. Our lives are fullest when we make more of it. That simple truth will never change.

—Elijah Boles, Yale University, philosophy

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