Peter Schweizer: Why liberals prefer raising dogs over children
In the first of three excerpts from his book, Makers and Takers, author Peter Schweizer examines why liberal communities favour health spas and sushi bars, but view children as a burden.
Today’s liberalism is completely wrapped up with the notion of self. The legacy of the 1960s “if it feels good do it” ethos is alive and well. Modern liberals often embrace these teachings and incorporate them in the way they live their lives and maintain their relationships.
For dramatic proof, go to the streets of a liberal enclave like San Francisco, Seattle or Vermont. There will be plenty of expensive boutiques, antique dealers, health spas, sushi bars and upscale coffee shops. But you won’t see very many children. The reason is not that right-wingers have dumped buckets of birth control pills into the San Francisco municipal water supply. The simple fact is that many on the liberal left today just don’t want to have children. A 2004 U.S. survey showed that a typical sample of 100 unrelated adults who called themselves liberal will have 147 children. That contrasts with the typical conservative, who is likely to have 208 children per 100 unrelated adults. That’s 41% more.
Why is this important? Because raising children is a difficult and selfless act that is also an important civic duty. The survival of our society — not to mention our Social Security system! — rests on individuals bringing up a new generation.
The liberal Northeastern states — Vermont, Maine, Massachusetts, and New York — have the lowest fertility rates in the country. They also have the lowest percentage of population under the age of five. In progressive San Francisco, there are more dogs than children. Joel Kotkin points out that Seattle (my hometown) has roughly the same population as it did in the 1960s, but barely half as many children. Indeed, there are nearly 45% more dogs than children. Dogs, of course, offer companionship without the burdens and responsibilities of children.
Some might conclude that this is a result of the high cost of living in desirable cities such as Boston, New York and San Francisco. But in these childless meccas, we also see some of the highest per capita expenditures on luxury goods, spas and personal therapies. It’s not a lack of money; it’s a lack of interest. The General Social Survey found that 69% of those who called themselves “very conservative” said it was important to them to have children. Only 38% of corresponding liberals agreed. An online survey (admittedly not scientific) taken by the left-wing Web site dailykos.com asked readers if they had children and how many. The most popular answers: “No children,” “Not going to have any,” and “Don’t want any.”
Meanwhile, the highest fertility rate in the country is found in the most conservative state, Utah, followed by Arizona, Alaska and Texas, otherwise known as “red states,” according to the latest National Center for Health Statistics survey. States with the lowest fertility rates are Maine, Massachusetts and Rhode Island, all “blue states.” Over half of the women of childbearing age — 15 to 44 — are childless in liberal bastions such as the District of Columbia, Vermont and Massachusetts.
Many on the left proudly proclaim themselves to be “child-free.” (They angrily reject the term child-less because it implies that they are missing out on something.) Partly, this is a result of liberal pessimism about the future. Concerned about overpopulation, dwindling environmental resources, global warming, etc., some liberals don’t want to have children because they see them as an environmental hazard. Billionaire Ted Turner reflected this attitude when he thoughtfully announced his regret at having five children. “If I was doing it over again, I wouldn’t have had that many, but I can’t shoot them now and they’re here.” No doubt, this sort of sentiment makes for charming conversation around the Turner dinner table.
Far more common is the modern liberal notion that children are a burden, something that will get in the way of one’s self-fulfillment. As any parent knows, raising children is hard work. It requires emotional commitment, selfless acts, large quantities of time and scads of money. Many liberals just don’t want the inconvenience. When asked by the World Values Survey whether parents should sacrifice their own well-being for those of their children, those on the left were nearly twice as likely to say “no” (28% to 15%) when compared to conservatives.
A look at some popular Web sites offers plenty of evidence that this is a major strand in modern liberal thinking: “The trouble is, many of us bright, liberal people know that procreation is a quaint, antiquated concept.” And another: “I read somewhere a while back that it costs about $1-million to raise a child from birth to 21 years assuming they attend college. So buy a house in [San Francisco] or have a kid? I’m not actually looking for an answer but kids are expensive.” And another: “I’ll have the babies if you pay for them.”
Another offers: “I have not been asked very often why I’m childless. If I am, I just say the truth. That I am too selfish, that I want to spend my time and money on things other than children, that I am doing my part to counteract all of the overbreeders. The thought of attending a child’s athletic event, and sitting through the whole thing, is almost enough in itself.” Peter Pan could not have put it better.
This birth gap presents a quandary for politically active liberals. Not wanting to be inconvenienced with raising their own children, they still want to see their ideas perpetuated. Professor Darren Sherkat of Southern Illinois University worries that because conservatives “who have lots of children” are not being matched by those on the political left who “may well not have kids,” these demographic trends will push the country in a more conservative direction. (Data indicates that 80% of children end up adopting the political attitudes of their parents.) To counterbalance this trend, he argues for increasing immigration and expanding the black population. He also hopes that childless liberals will “be able to reproduce themselves in strangers,” by taking on jobs as teachers, writers and other people of influence. The idea is to let conservatives raise their children, while liberals influence them through the schools and universities.
Another lefty concurs: “I’d say that the author of a popular book has far more aggregate influence than do one set of parents. So if the book is very popular and captures the imaginations of kids, presto, you’ve done a lot to insure that the ideas that are important to you live long after you pass on … If it’s the ideas that matter then I suppose that there are ways that folks like you can propagate the ideas without having your own kids be your lab rats.”
• Copyright © 2008 by Peter Schweizer. From the book Makers and Takers by Peter Schweizer, published by Doubleday, a division of Random House, Inc. Reprinted with permission.