Author: Amir Butler
Publishing date: 04.11.2002 10:20
As the percentage of the population over 60 increases proportionate to the percentage of the population of working age, it will raise serious questions of how the state will fund the pensions of these elderly with a diminishing taxation base. According to Peter Peterson, chairman of the Council on Foreign Relations, America's pension and health-benefit spending will cost 17 percent of the GDP in 2030, as opposed to 10.5 percent in 1995. That's good compared to countries like Italy, where a rapidly aging population and declining birth rate will see the GDP share to pensions rise from 19.7 percent to 33.3 percent in 2030.
There are, of course, many factors that have contributed to this change. The shift in society from an agrarian-based economy to the industrial age to the new economy had an effect. The spread of socialism, with its promise of a pension for all, removed the need for large families as an 'insurance policy' for old age and retirement.
If one examines trends over the last century, it becomes clear that something changed in the sixties.
Allan Carlson, president of the Howard Center for Family, Religion and Society writes:
All the indicators of family well-being abruptly turned in these places [Western nations] during the short 1962-1965 period. Fertility resumed its fall, tumbling well below zero-growth levels; a massive retreat from marriage commenced; and Western societies seemed to lose all sense of inherited family order.
The sixties were a period of cultural revolution for much of the West, however one factor seems to stand out as a primary contributor to declining birth rates in the West: gender feminism.
In radical feminist theory, the very concept of "gender" is seen as being simply a social construct formed by patriarchal societies to control and oppress women.
It was this patriarchal dominance, feminists argued, that forced the woman into the role of the mother and wife. As Betty Friedan wrote:
When woman was denied access to satisfaction of those needs in society as a person in her own right, she made home and the family into a vehicle for her power and control, status and self-realisation [which] then became her Frankenstein monster.
This Frankenstein monster is commonly called marriage, and it was a monster that feminist ideologues such as Germaine Greer and Gloria Steinem set out to destroy. By doing so, the feminists hope to free women from the shackles of patriarchic domination.
So intrinsic was the destruction of the idea of marriage to feminist thought, that the much-lauded 1971 Declaration of Feminism stated categorically that, "the end of the institution of marriage is a necessary condition for the liberation of women".
Robin Morgan, who was later to become the editor of the flagship feminist magazine Ms. Magazine, wrote in Sisterhood is Powerful in 1970, that:
We can't destroy the inequities between men and women until we destroy marriage.
Many feminists went so far as to liken marriage to a form of enslavement. Sheila Cronin, the leader of the feminist organization NOW, said:
Since marriage constitutes slavery for women, it is clear that the women's movement must concentrate on attacking this institution. Freedom for women cannot be won without the abolition of marriage.
Others likened marriage to prostitution. Sonia Johnson, writing in Taking Our Eyes Off the Guys, wrote:
Women have been seasoned as slaves and prostitutes...But no matter how we're seasoned -- as prostitute or as wife, which is the same thing -- we're seasoned in the patriarchal family almost exclusively to serve sexual functions.
Andrea Dworkin, author of Pornography: Men possessing Women, claimed that marriage was nothing more than a refined form of rape:
Marriage as an institution developed from rape as a practice. Rape, originally defined as abduction, became marriage by capture. Marriage meant the taking was to extend in time, to be not only use of but possession of, or ownership.
Writing in WOMEN: A Journal of Liberation, in Fall, 1969, Linda Gordon elucidated clearly the object of the feminist struggle and the reasons:
The nuclear family must be destroyed, and people must find better ways of living together. ... Whatever its ultimate meaning, the break-up of families now is an objectively revolutionary process. ... "Families have supported oppression by separating people into small, isolated units, unable to join together to fight for common interests. ...
Families make possible the super-exploitation of women by training them to look upon their work outside the home as peripheral to their 'true' role. ... No woman should have to deny herself any opportunities because of her special responsibilities to her children. ... Families will be finally destroyed only when a revolutionary social and economic organization permits people's needs for love and security to be met in ways that do not impose divisions of labor, or any external roles, at all.
As Gordon notes, one means by which the women could free herself from the 'oppression' of the family, was to enter the workplace on a full-time basis. The en masse movement of women into the workplace could not occur, however, without significant social and structural change, which the feminists worked to bring about. Men would have to assume some responsibilities for the domestic tasks. "Affirmative action" programs would need to be established to facilitate the escape to the workforce.
The feminists were successful in bringing about significant public policy change in the 70s, 80s, and 90s. In many Western societies, the idea of no-fault divorce gained currency, and pensions for sole-parents became available. Tax concessions to families are gradually being eroded.
Whilst, the feminists were never able to completely destroy the institution of marriage in the West, their ideas did and continue to have a profound influence of the psyche of many people. The view of marriage and family as a restrictive institution, if not a prison, has led many women to put off marriage and delay having children.
The Brady Bunch became Sex and the City, and Alley McBeal.
Those people that do decide to have children are increasingly seeing marriage as being an irrelevant prerequisite. According to the US Census Data the percentage of women having their first child outside of wedlock in 1932 was 8.2%, with 53.6% of pre-marital conceptions ending in marriage. In 1994, it has jumped to 40.3% of women giving birth outside of wedlock, with only 23.7% pre-marital conceptions resulting in marriage.
The effect of the feminist struggle has been the undermining of the nuclear family. For the first time in American history, the census of 2000 reported that nuclear families accounted for less than one in four American families, whereas childless, single Americans accounted for some 26 percent of the population.
The reversal of this trend will be difficult. Financial incentives alone have proven, in Europe, to not be effective in encouraging parents to have children.
Just as the statistics alert us to the problem, they may also alert us to the solution. It is interesting and important to note that the conservative, deeply religious state of Utah has a much higher birth rate (2.76 per woman in 2000) than the ultra-liberal state of Vermont (1.57 per woman). In other words, women in Utah produce 73% more children per woman than Vermont. Similar trends can be observed in studies comparing birth rates amongst Orthodox Jews versus secular Jews.
On a global scale, the disparity is no more vivid than when comparing birth rates in Muslim countries versus non-Muslim countries. As Pat Buchanan noted in Death of the West, it is as difficult to find a Western society where populations are not shrinking, as it is to find a Muslim society where populations are not exploding.
What is taking place today in the West is not unique in history, but has been a characteristic of empires before it. Will Durant, the noted historian, wrote about the fall of the Roman Empire:
Biological factors were most fundamental. A serious decline of population appears in the West after Hadrian.
The reasons, he adds, were:
the holocausts of war and revolution, and perhaps the operation of contraception, abortion and infanticide had a dysgenic as well as a numerical effect: the ablest men married latest, bred least and died soonest. The dole weakened the poor, luxury weakened the rich, and a long peace deprived all classes in the peninsula of the martial qualities and arts...Moral and aesthetic standards were lowered by the magnetism of the mass; and sex ran riot in freedom while political liberty decayed.
He could just as easily have been taking about today.