Economy & Business

Childless Millennials and Socialism’s ‘Togetherness’

Bernie Sanders supporters at a campaign rally in Stockton, Calif., May 10, 2016. (Max Whittaker/Reuters)
Government is a poor substitute for family.

If you believe certain pockets of our sometimes-breathless press, socialism is having a bit of a moment in America. The surprise election of Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez — a chic and photogenic former bartender and Democratic Socialist who advocates for a federal employment guarantee and single-payer Medicare for all — has inspired multiple discussions about the rising role of socialism in the Democratic party.

This is not a new question, of course: How could we forget the resilient popularity of Senator Bernie Sanders, who is admittedly less chic but avowedly just as socialist? Regardless, the debate rages on: Why is socialism so hot right now? Is the socialist movement the new Tea Party? Can socialism sell in the Midwest? Thirty years from now, will America look more like Denmark?

This last question became a bit awkward for some on the left this week, given a New York Times report from Copenhagen focusing on the socialist-leaning state’s new immigration policy: “Starting at the age of 1, ‘ghetto children’” — that’s apparently the official term used by the Danish government — “must be separated from their families for at least 25 hours a week, not including nap time, for mandatory instruction in ‘Danish values,’ including the traditions of Christmas and Easter, and Danish language. Noncompliance could result in a stoppage of welfare payments.”

Big governments, in other words, tend to do big-government things, and they might not always be good, and you might not always like it. This should not come as a surprise, but there it is. Speaking of awkward, and also speaking of socialism, let’s not even bring up Venezuela, which is a terrible, tragic mess.

Most discussions surrounding the potential rise of socialism focus on Millennials — you know, that bright-eyed generation forever scarred by the fact that they will never be a part of the magnificent Generation X. I kid, I kid: I barely made the cut into Generation X myself. I even got carded at the grocery store on the Fourth of July, and I’m super excited about it, which is pretty much all the evidence you need that I am indeed officially old! Anyway, let’s move on.

Millennials are known for favoring socialism more than any other age group in the United States: In one widely reported 2016 YouGov survey, 43 percent of respondents in the 18–29 age group viewed socialism in a positive light. (In the 30–44 age group, with the oldest Millennials clocking in at age 37, 27 percent saw socialism favorably.) But beyond their views on collectivist government schemes, Millennials also tend to share some interesting ideas about marriage, child-rearing and family life, as two new surveys — one from Pew Research, and the other from the Morning Consult for the New York Times — reveal. These might have more to do with socialism than one might think.

Pew’s report, released in March, showed a stunning decline in marriage rates among the younger generation: “About six-in-ten Millennials (57%) have never been married,” making them “more than three times as likely to have never married” as their grandparents. Around two-thirds of unmarried Millennials eventually want to get married, they tell pollsters, but “29% say they are not financially prepared” and 26 percent say “they are too young and not ready to settle down.” That latter 26 percent, in other words, are still regularly getting carded at the grocery store, oblivious to the churning and pitiless wheel of time. Ahem.

The real irony, of course, is that socialism can actually work, as long as it’s not in statist form.

Fertility rates in the United States, meanwhile, have reached a record low, as addressed in the New York Times/Morning Consult poll. “There’s a lot of concern about why today’s young adults aren’t having as many children,” wrote Claire Cain Miller in the poll’s accompanying report. “So we asked them.” The answers are revealing.

About half of the respondents had children, with a significant percentage declaring they’d have fewer children than their own parents — and for many, reportedly, this was due to financial concerns. Among the non-parents, 24 percent of respondents declared they did not want children; an additional 34 percent said they weren’t sure. When asked why they didn’t want children or weren’t sure, 36 percent percent said they wanted “more leisure time”; 30 percent said they simply had no desire for children. Twenty-four percent said they weren’t sure they’d be a “good parent”; meanwhile, 18 percent said their career was a “higher priority.”

Together with the marriage statistics reported by Pew, these answers paint an image of an increasingly atomized and individualist generational subset — at least in terms of their personal lives. It’s worth wondering whether these trends also happen to heighten the appeal of a completely different kind of “togetherness” — albeit a forced togetherness — found in the form of socialism.

The real irony, of course, is that socialism can actually work, as long as it’s not in statist form. I’m talking, of course, about the family — the original socialist organization, also known for dramatically fighting poverty when it remains intact. Families might seem fairly off-trend, at least if you believe the latest round of statistics. Perhaps Millennials can bring them back. As they might find out, the government can be a poor substitute indeed.

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