Weekly Digest: The State of Men
Falling fertility in the Nordics, the pushback on polyamory, and the return of the MRS degree in this week's roundup
Welcome to my weekly digest for February 2, 2024, with the best articles from around the web and a roundup of my recent writings and appearances.
Some recent books I’ve been reading: The Morning Star by Karl Ove Knausgaard. October Child by Linda Boström Knausgaard.
Life in the Negative World
It was a big week for me as my book Life in the Negative World: Confronting Challenges in an Anti-Christian Culture was released on Tuesday.
I’m already getting good feedback on it. Rod Dreher said, “I will be surprised if a more important book for the life of the church in America is published in 2024.” Clifford Humphrey said, “Predicting it will easily be the most important book of the year.” The Acton Institute published a review. And I’m already getting reviews on Amazon, including this one.
I’m also super busy doing interviews and recording podcasts. I discussed the book on the Lutheran podcast Issues, Etc. As I get further links I will share them.
If you haven’t ordered the book yet, please do pick up a copy. And be sure to tell all of your friends about it, and leave a rating or review on Amazon or wherever you bought the book.
The State of Men
This week I have a piece over at the Institute for Family Studies looking at a report on the state of young American men by a feminist NGO called Equimundo.
The troubles plaguing American men and boys have become so obvious that acknowledging them, and the problems they pose for society, is now a bi-partisan mainstream consensus. Even on the left, which has traditionally been more attuned to women’s issues, men’s troubles are capturing attention. We see this, for example, on the center-left in the work of Richard Reeves and his American Institute for Boys and Men.
We also see it in further left groups, such as a 2023 report, State of American Men, by the feminist organization Equimundo, a US NGO with roots in Brazil whose mission is “to engage men and boys as allies in gender equality.” Equimundo’s funders include the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, and Archewell, the charity of the Duke and Duchess of Sussex.
Click over to read the whole thing.
Nordic Fertility Declines
The Nordic model of gender equality and major public subsidies for child rearing has been touted as a formula for raising birth rates. Finnish demographer Anna Rotkirch explains, however, that birth rates are falling in the Nordics anyway, in a very interesting interview in the Financial Times.
Twenty years ago, Finland appeared to have it all. The birth rate was rising and the proportion of women in the labour force was high. Policymakers from around the world, including the UK and east Asia, came to learn about the Nordic model behind it: world class maternity care; generous parental leave; a right to pre-school childcare.
But maybe they got it wrong. Despite all the support offered to parents, Finland’s fertility rate has fallen nearly a third since 2010. It is now below the UK’s, where the social safety net is more limited, and only slightly above Italy’s, where traditional gender roles persevere.
Across the world, fertility is declining in very different societies — conservative and liberal, big and small state, growing economies and stagnating ones. Even India — known for its growing population — now has fewer births per woman than the theoretical replacement rate of 2.1. In Europe in 2023, the rate fell in “Hungary, Germany, Iceland, Ireland, all the ones who were really high or were paraded as examples . . . It seems that Finland might be a forerunner, unfortunately.”
“The strange thing with fertility is nobody really knows what’s going on. The policy responses are untried because it’s a new situation. It’s not primarily driven by economics or family policies. It’s something cultural, psychological, biological, cognitive.”…Her findings suggest that children do not fit into many millennials’ life plans. Once it was a sacrifice not to have children; now starting a family means sacrificing independence. “In most societies, having children was a cornerstone of adulthood. Now it’s something you have if you already have everything else. It becomes the capstone.”
Until recently, fertility decline was driven by families having fewer children than their parents and grandparents. Now the key dynamic is childlessness. In Finland, three-quarters of the recent decline in fertility is attributable to people who have no children. “You see similar trends everywhere.”
In the family barometer surveys, among Finns born in the late 1970s and 1980s, fewer than one in twenty said at the age of 25 that they didn’t want to have children. Among those born in the late 1980s and early 1990s, that proportion rose to nearly one in four.
Nearly 40 per cent of Finnish men with low education are now childless at the age of 45 (and probably for life): a “huge” proportion. Most have no partners. Men are as likely as women to say they want children, but are more likely to be childless.
Rotkirch is wary of an emphasis on fertility treatments. Women’s fertility drops in their late thirties and forties: society has to adapt. “If you do everything that typical ministers of finance tell you to do, you are 45 — you have a house and a doctorate and it’s too late. The idealised life course is really at odds with female reproductive biology.”
There’s so much good stuff in there. You should try to read it all, although the FT has a pretty hard paywall.
Darel Paul also has a piece over at Compact talking about the failure of feminist natalism. It’s a great complement to the FT piece because it focuses on Sweden.
As one 2015 study claimed, it is precisely in “extraordinarily equal” Sweden, where “family-friendly public policies are especially effective,” that we supposedly see how “the spread of more egalitarian values on the national level and more progressive and family-supportive policies … will have a positive effect on fertility and family stability.”
The most recent fertility figures from Sweden call this narrative into question. Swedish births for 2023 will settle at their lowest level in two decades, while the country’s annual fertility rate, the number of births per 1,000 women aged 15 to 49, will likely set an all-time record low. While such absolute levels are shocking, so, too, are the rates of decline. Since 2021, the number of births in Sweden is down more than 12 percent, and the fertility rate has fallen almost 14 percent. The country’s 2023 total fertility rate, a projection of lifetime fertility of all women alive in a particular year, will surely sink below 1.5 children per woman—not only a new record low, surpassing the previous record set in 2022, but also a level once thought impossible in social-democratic, family-friendly Sweden.
I don’t want to turn this newsletter into the Polyamory Review, but there were a couple of interesting pieces this week pushing back on the glorification of polyamory.
Tyler Austin Harper in the Atlantic calls polyamory the ruling class’s latest fad.
[Molly Roden Winter’s book] More—and the present interest in polyamory more broadly—is the result of a long-gestating obsession with authenticity and individual self-fulfillment. That obsession is evident today in Instagram affirmations, Goop, and the (often toxic) sex positivity of an app-dominated dating scene, but its roots go back decades….
Despite the book’s slick marketing—which takes great care to cast the author as a “happily married mother”—Molly’s polyamorous journey toward self-actualization does not seem to bring her much happiness. It seems to make her miserable, while taking her attention away from the real issues: a husband who behaves like an asshole, an unbalanced division of household labor, an unorthodox childhood, a desire to please everyone no matter the personal cost. Her attempt at finding a “deeper truth” through sexual enlightenment not only provides little truth or enlightenment; it keeps her from seeing her problems clearly.
In his 1978 best seller, The Culture of Narcissism, Christopher Lasch argued that American narcissism should not be understood as simple self-obsession. Narcissism is a survival strategy: If we are fixated on finding fulfillment and endless self-reinvention, it is because our own inner lives feel like the only thing most of us have control over. The therapeutic cult of personal growth is a response to external problems that feel insoluble, a future that feels shorn of causes for hope. In an earlier book, Lasch wrote about open marriage as the logical end point of a narcissistic, survivalist culture…One doesn’t need to look far to find wellness nonsense in the current raft of polyamory coverage: It’s positively thick with it.
My problem with all of this is not a moral one. Although I am happily, monogamously married, how two (or three, or four) other consenting adults want to live their lives is not simply no one’s business. It doesn’t strike me as a matter of right or wrong at all. My issue with the new open-marriage discourse is not ethical but political, and my criticism is aimed not at polyamorists in general or Molly Roden Winter’s book in particular, but at anyone eager to valorize the latest lifestyle fad that is little more than yet another way for the ruling class to have their cake and eat it too.
And Kay Hymowitz wrote at the Institute for Family Studies:
Though few in the polyamory lobby admit it, this means successful non monogamy requires a particular kind of high functioning person. They must be exceptionally high in conscientiousness and executive functioning, and exceptionally low in impulsivity. They have to be self-aware to an extent unknown to many-or maybe most- earthlings. When Molly Winter and her husband made up a list of rules they planned to follow—don’t date an ex or anyone in the neighborhood, or someone you work with, and no falling in love—they were anticipating, with mixed success as it turned out, the situations that might prompt emotions they would find hard to manage. It goes without saying that the skillful polyamorist also has to be gifted at time management. Last spring, The New York Times interviewed a 37-year-old who “currently has a nesting partner, a long-term partner, two long-distance partners, and a kink-based relationship with another person.” Geoffrey Miller, a married, non-monogamous professor of evolutionary psychology at the University of New Mexico, wasn’t joking when he said that polyamory benefits from modern inventions like contraception, STI testing, cities with a wide selection of educated partners—and Google calendar.
A strong credit score helps, too. Winter and her husband have purchased and renovated a Park Slope brownstone that, by definition, makes her a wealthy woman. She doesn’t appear to think twice about paying for babysitters, Ubers, hotels, seductive foreplay dinners, therapists, and medical care (her athletic sex life has led to a series of urinary tract infections). Polyamory is also fairly widespread among tech workers in the affluent Silicon Valley and other places where the rationalist community hangs out, including the Bahamian luxury condo where crypto-scammer Sam Bankman-Fried set up shop with his infamous polycule.
What these incidents suggest is that as educated and conscientious as many polyamorists may be, they cannot solve the problem of self-delusion. People don’t just lie to their partners; they lie to themselves. They often aren’t sure what they really want today, not to mention what they’ll want next month. “If each person exerts enough autonomy to know, communicate, and stand by their relationship expectations,” as the professor posits, turns out to be a very big ask.
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Best of the Web
NYT: She Gave Birth Two Weeks Ago. Now She’s in a Beauty Pageant - A profile of one of the biggest “tradwife” influencers on social media
Mere Orthodoxy: Evangelicals Need a Constructive Vision
Lyman Stone posted an interesting observation on X that if you leave the church, it turns out you actually do leave the church. It’s worth asking what anyone would lose if they actually left your church.
Samuel Sey: Don’t Forget About Nigerian Christians - In the last 15 years, 50,000 Nigerian Christians have been killed and 18,000 churches destroyed. This is what real persecution looks like.
New Content and Media Mentions
New this week:
A Mainstream Consensus on the State of Men - My piece at IFS
Four Themes for the Church in the Negative World - In a world where they are a minority, evangelicals need to rethink their own communities
Preach for America - Rethinking the pastoral recruitment process in an era of talent shortages
X user Indian Bronson posted this montage of women in Texas A&M’s school of education showing off their engagement rings at graduation. It’s a good example of the “trad” content posted being posted on Tik Tok (the original source of the video) these days. In this case, it’s the return of the MRS degree.