Nicholas Eberstadt reports from The American Enterprise Institute on the continuing trend away from traditional marriage and two-parent families, and even family itself. We all know about the rise of single-parent households, but now we learn:
In Belgium … the likelihood of a first marriage for a woman of reproductive age is now down to 40%, and the likelihood of divorce is over 50%. This means that in Belgium the odds of getting married and staying married are under one in five. A number of other European countries have similar or even lower odds.
Europe has also seen a surge in “child-free” adults—voluntary childlessness. The proportion of childless 40-something women is one in five for Sweden and Switzerland, and one in four for Italy. In Berlin and in the German city-state of Hamburg, it’s nearly one in three, and rising swiftly. Europe’s most rapidly growing family type is the one-person household: the home not only child-free, but partner- and relative-free as well. In Western Europe, nearly one home in three (32%) is already a one-person unit, while in autonomy-prizing Denmark the number exceeds 45%.
I am reminded of this post by David about an old lady who hadn’t heard from her children in 46 years. She was alone in her dotage. That is truly sad, but at least David was around. Someone’s child was there. But what if no one has any children? Will anyone be there to even turn the lights off? Europe seems to be dying, and rather than try to fix the issue they’re just making the death a bit easier. It surely can be no coincidence that the lands with the highest rates of childlessness are also embracing assisted suicide. If there’s nothing to live for, and no future you’re fighting for, why bother with all the pain and trouble?
Back to Nicholas, he recognizes a problem with the Europe’s lack of families, but misses the larger point:
Yet in infancy and childhood and then again much later, in feebleness or senescence, people need more from others. Whatever else we may be, we are all manifestly inconvenient at the start and end of life. Thus the recasting of the family puts it on a collision course with the inescapable inconvenience of the human condition itself—portending outcomes and risks we have scarcely begun to consider.
On the contrary, I would say that Europe has considered it and found a solution more to their liking. They want freedom, but of a particular kind. They want freedom from the messy obligations to other individuals. They’re fine with taxes and tightly regulated economies, because freedom from government isn’t a European desire. The government, however imperfect, it appropriately distant and dispassionate in its actions. It leaves the ordinary European alone on a day-to-day basis to read their books, go for bike rides in the park, and sip a beer (either alone or with a friend for the day, as the mood strikes). There is no obligation deeper than to pay taxes, and the dole is available when that is too burdensome, and then assisted suicide is available when even breathing has become inconvenient. Truly, Western Europe is the most free society that has ever been created – no obligations of any sort, not even to live.
Back in the 19th century the masses of Europe who left their homes for America were greeted by a welcoming bronze gaze overlooking Manhattan’s harbor. Well Europeans to this day are still abandoning Europe in droves, but to a land far harder to come back from than America. Do they imagine who is there to greet them? The ancient Greeks believed that Hades had to abduct Persephone in order to have a queen in the underworld, but today’s seem to believe in a more welcoming embrace.
Not like the brazen giant of Greek fame,
With conquering limbs astride from land to land;
Here at our sea-washed, sunset gates shall stand
A mighty woman with a torch, whose flame
Is the imprisoned lightning, and her name
Mother of Exiles. From her beacon-hand
Glows world-wide welcome; her mild eyes command
The air-bridged harbor that twin cities frame.
“Keep, ancient lands, your storied pomp!” cries she
With silent lips. “Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!
Freedom, she promises. Freedom from life’s burdens. Just put that burden down.