Fertility is the real culture war

What the pandemic baby bust reveals about our fears

A mean stork.
(Image credit: Illustrated | iStock)

You learn a lot about a historical moment when you think about what it fears. In the early Cold War, the risk of nuclear annihilation dominated popular culture. As the mid-century fascination with technology waned, scenarios of environmental catastrophe and overpopulation became more prominent. When the 20th century approached its end, we dreamt machines were going to take over.

A world without children has become our doom du jour. Fertility rates in the U.S. and most other countries have been declining for years. Recent data show a pandemic baby bust despite isolating conditions that might have been expected to promote reproduction. That's good news for authors of dystopian fiction and culture warriors, two groups that are at their best when imagining the worst. It's bad news for public policy, which offers limited tools for reversing the trend.

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Samuel Goldman

Samuel Goldman is a national correspondent at TheWeek.com. He is also an associate professor of political science at George Washington University, where he is executive director of the John L. Loeb, Jr. Institute for Religious Freedom and director of the Politics & Values Program. He received his Ph.D. from Harvard and was a postdoctoral fellow in Religion, Ethics, & Politics at Princeton University. His books include God's Country: Christian Zionism in America (University of Pennsylvania Press, 2018) and After Nationalism (University of Pennsylvania Press, 2021). In addition to academic research, Goldman's writing has appeared in The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, and many other publications.