VISION & VALUES CONCISE: Q&A with Maggie Gallagher

Editor’s Note: The “V&V Q&A” is an e-publication from The Center for Vision & Values at Grove City College.  Each issue will present an interview with an intriguing thinker or opinion-maker that we hope will prove illuminating to readers everywhere. In this latest edition, the executive director of The Center for Vision & Values, Dr. Paul Kengor, interviews Maggie Gallagher, president of the Institute for Marriage and Public Policy www.MarriageDebate.com. This is the second in a series of Q&As with participants in the forthcoming April 12-13 conference, “The De-Christianization of Europe: From Nicaea to Nietzsche,” to be held on the campus of Grove City College.

V&V: Maggie, you have taken up the cause of marriage as your life’s work. Tell us about your organization and your work. We do research and public education on ways that law and public policy can strengthen marriage as a social institution. Our operational definition of success is this: more children, rather than fewer, raised by their own married mom and dad in a decent marriage.  Mostly what I do is get praised as really smart (or condemned as very bigoted) for saying things that everyone knew 50 years ago: sex makes babies, society needs babies, babies need a father as well as a mother.  Genius!

Maggie Gallagher:

V&V: I once read an article in which you talked about the irony of returning to your alma mater, Yale University, and reminding these intelligent young women of the obvious: that sexual intercourse leads to babies. When I was a young woman I was taught by intellectual authorities that we had “separated sex from reproduction.” I have since attended numerous high-level intellectual conferences where really smart people say this over and over again. Meanwhile, the girls keep getting pregnant. There’s this huge intellectual disconnect where we assert something is true that is palpably, visibly untrue, especially to young women…. The reality is that sex between men and women is the act that creates new life.  This has both practical and profound moral, emotional, psychological, and spiritual implications.

Gallagher:

V&V: Give us some insight into the so-called “birth dearth” in Western Europe right now? What are the birth rates continent-wide? Right now the European Union average is below 1.5 children per woman. It takes 2.1 to replace the population under modern conditions. Population demographers call anything less than 1.5 children “very low fertility.” As you move towards one child per woman—Germany, Italy, Portugal, Greece, Spain, and large swathes of Eastern Europe—you are talking about cutting your population in half in every generation…. Of course you won’t notice this for a very long time because it takes decades for the older generation to die off. But it’s not hard to see that for a culture at large this is not a sustainable family model; that is, it won’t sustain any culture that adopts it.

V&V: What are the reasons for this? Abortion? Birth control?
Yes and no and I don’t know. Even in Europe people say they want mostly two-child families. Why don’t they have them? Television, restaurants, vacation travel, career ambition, movies, parties, bigger houses, less housework, less angst about husbands who don’t pitch in. Having children seems to be a very hard thing for people these days. It’s not just Europe, by the way. It’s almost every developed society. Think about that: all the societies that in other ways are best for human flourishing—stable, rule of law, democratic, affluent, free nations—suddenly find themselves in a position where they don’t remember how to do what every dinky tribe used to know how to do: get young men and women together to make and raise the next generation.

Gallagher:

Gallagher:

V&V: Even traditionally Catholic nations in Europe, like Ireland and Italy, are not having babies and are widely using birth control, in total defiance of their Church.Italy is in a sustained plunge in terms of birth rates, one of the lowest in Europe. Ireland’s birth rates only recently plunged below replacement (1.9) but their out of wedlock childbearing rate soared in the last 20 years (1980 to 2000) from 5 percent to 30 percent. As they grow wealthy, they are adopting the Western pattern of non-family life.

Gallagher:

V&V: So, in short, while church attendance has dropped in Western Europe, there also has been an increase in divorce rates, abortion, birth control, and a decrease in child birth and family size. Is there a correlation here? Well, certainly. How the causality works is a tease for social science to dissect, and it probably works in both directions: as people adopt family and sex codes in tension with religion they tend to leave it; and as people leave religions, they often lose the discipline and motivation to direct and channel sexual behavior in ways that benefit the next generation. They marry less, have more sex outside of marriage, cohabit more, divorce more, and have fewer children—and more of them out of wedlock.

Gallagher:

V&V: Do you see a similar trend in America? Could it happen here? Every developed country is experiencing a family crisis, which has two sides: the first is “family fragmentation” difficulties in getting parents to get married, stay married and raise their children together. The second side of the problem is a collapse in birthrates to levels insufficient to sustain the population. The U.S. has and is experiencing the first half in spades: 37 percent of our children are now born outside of marriage and close to half of all marriages end in divorce. We are, however, just about the only developed nation with birthrates at or near replacement level.

Gallagher:

We have a very serious problem here in America but it’s not quite the same problem as in Europe. I suspect this has something to do with our higher rates of religiosity, patriotism and the pro-family tax code we have.

V&V: Maggie Gallagher, thanks for talking to us. We look forward to hearing you at the conference. Thank you.

Gallagher: