Will conservatives win the battle of the cradle?
Democrats are increasingly turning away from having families
Every society selects for something. From the late 19th century there was concern in some circles that modern economies, with their extended welfare state and education system, were ‘dysgenic’; that is, they selected for lower IQ and other negative traits like alcoholism. This was mostly the sort of thing that worried conservatives, although there was a considerable eugenics movement on the Left, too.
Intelligence is under a great deal of genetic control; the variation within a population attributed to non-environmental factors is somewhere between 50 and 80 percent, and increases as we get older (which makes sense, since as we age we are less under the influence of peers and parents, and become our true selves, for better or worse).
Eugenicists feared that the poor having higher fertility, which from about the 1880s was true in Britain, would in due course have a negative impact on society, because they were more likely to carry those negative traits. Eugenics has been considered morally unacceptable for decades, a response to the horrific craze for forced sterilisation (the real backstory behind the Scopes monkey trial), and the facts anyway remain unclear; overall the evidence seems to suggest that western population are getting smarter, the so-called Flynn Effect, although there is some vague suggestion of a negative Flynn Effect of declining IQ in Britain, France and Iceland. You only need to read a British newspaper or turn on the television to see that. But the evidence seems pretty murky; we’re not sure if it’s happening and if so whether it’s down to genetics, and it would seem unlikely to have had an impact so quickly. And while it is true that more educated women have fewer children, a great fear of eugenicists, more educated men today have a fertility advantage.
A much more likely trend is that we are not selecting for idiocy, but for conservatism (yes, I know, the joke will write itself for some people).
The United States has seen gigantic social change in the past 20 years, but the most significant has been the huge decline in marriage and child-bearing. US fertility rates reached their lowest in 2020, a trend that is related to higher rates of education and a drop in religious observance, but also the relative decline of male earning power compared to female. Most of these factors are related in some way to emancipation, and the expansion of available options and choice.