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Bridging the family gap

BOOKS | Why aren’t we having the children we say we want?

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Bridging the family gap
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ONE OF THE saddest measures of the state of the family in America is the gap between the number of children people would like to have and the number of children they end up having. A Gallup survey last fall showed Americans see 2.7 as the ideal average number of children. But in the end they’re only having 1.7.

Timothy Carney, a fellow at the American Enterprise Institute, believes this gap is driven by a “family-unfriendly culture that makes parenting harder than it should be.” The result of this culture is fewer marriages, more childless adults, and smaller families.

In Family Unfriendly (Harper 2024), Carney explores a range of negative influences from “maximum-effort helicopter parenting” and the “Travel Team Trap,” to cities and neighborhoods that aren’t walkable. He shows how smartphones and social media have changed family formation. He also describes two cultural trends—a “religion of workism” and “an individualistic, self-determined, autonomy-centered religion of independence”—that are incompatible with family making.

Even as he surveys the cultural influences that he says are hostile to raising kids, he also takes readers to “family-friendly oases.” Parents, children, and communities flourish within cultures that lighten the burdens and increase the joys of parenthood. Carney’s community is one such oasis: Throughout the book he threads his experience of being shaped by the Catholic community around him, his wife, and their six children. There, shared ideas like a belief that “love, sex, marriage, and family formation are inseparable” mix with the earthiness of fish fries and free-ranging children.

While Carney explores potentially helpful economic and policy changes, he makes clear that “no economic reality will restore our desire to build families or the belief that it’s doable.” He points readers to a better way “that involves mothers-in-law, pot-lucks, sidewalks, neighborhoods, pickup basketball, and low-stakes tee-ball.” At the individual level, he encourages “reinvigorating the sentiments of neighborliness and duty to others, and family over career.” He also calls churches, schools, employers, nonprofits, and other local institutions to take the lead in making America more family friendly.

What emerges is the significance of faith. Religiosity, says Carney, is the chief predictor of birthrates worldwide. “The causality goes both ways: being religious makes adults more likely to have kids and likely to have more kids; having kids, in turn, makes adults more serious about religion.”

Family Unfriendly gives direction and inspiration to grow a more family-friendly culture. That culture, especially where it’s grounded in faith in the Creator, can help young adults see children with new and hopeful eyes. They may then be more likely to experience their ideal family size—or even grow families beyond what they expected or imagined.

Steve Watters

Steve Watters is the director of communications for Truth78 and he blogs at


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