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This post has been updated since originally published
“In our rush to modernize, did we throw the baby out with the bathwater?” asks the little-seen 2007 documentary Demographic Winter: the Decline of the Human Family.
The documentary theorizes that declining fertility (among whites) in the West will lead the entire world into a spiral of economic, social and moral collapse. It deploys science to ensure the viewer that its dire warning is not to be dismissed: pie charts, graphs, statistics, professors. There are 21 experts interviewed in the film, all of whom have impressive résumés, and some of whom seem so disturbed by the message they are forced to impart that they can barely look directly at the camera. Interestingly, 76% of the experts were male, and 81% (or more, I erred on the side of caution when I wasn’t sure) were white.
I just watched the documentary today, after long anticipation, and I want to break down what I saw, as the thinking behind this film is strongly influencing a certain strain of political and social thought these days. Even someone as prominent as Mitt Romney, in his concession speech, discussed the Demographic Disaster. It’s popping up on right-leaning media sources and blogs. It’s used to justify a whole slew of discriminatory practices and laws. And it’s dressed in the clothing of SCIENCE.
The basic argument sketched by the experts and the narrator is as follows:
If we experience a population decline, then progressive causes rooted in the 70s belief of an impending “population bomb” are invalid, possibly harmful, and need to be reversed. We are experiencing a population decline. Therefore, progressive causes must be reversed.
The harmful “progressive causes” implicated are listed only as women’s rights, gay rights, and environmentalism. Of course, we can spot a case of false premise in these neat argument… are these three causes really invalid in the event of a population decline? Of course not. Are these three causes the sole result of concerns of over-population? No. Are these three causes homogeneous enough with each other and internally within themselves to be dismissed with a single simple argument? Nope.
Here are five causes of fertility decline, according to the film:
1. Women Working
3. Sexual Revolution
4. Divorce Revolution (their term)
5. Inaccurate Assumptions about the “population bomb”
And here are the three possible solutions they suggest:
1. Providing economic incentives to have more children
2. The “Swedish Model”: a strong welfare state
3. Patriarchy (their word, not mine)
Their analysis of these:
1. Tried in Russia and failed.
2. Tried in Sweden and failed.
3. THE ONLY SOLUTION THAT WORKS. Evidence and examples of countries succeeding under Patriarchy are not provided, probably because the obvious correctness of this solution precludes the usual formality of scientific inquiry. Comparative studies of societies outside of the West with patriarchal and non-patriarchal structures are not mentioned once.
We are taught that children grow up stupid and criminal unless raised by both biological parents who cannot divorce, who married young, who are heterosexual, who are white (this is not stated explicitly, but is implied), who were abstinent until marriage, who do not use birth control, who are strongly religious, and preferably with a stay-at-home wife. “Married biological parents is the Gold Standard,” says one expert.
On the flip side, sex before marriage, having children out of wedlock, gays having rights, women in careers, divorce, non-religiousness, birth control, single-parent households, belief in Darwin’s theories, and late marriage are all listed as indicators of an unhealthy society where families are weakening and which may soon become extinct. One expert even suggests that non-religious people will go extinct first, as religious families have disproportionately more children.
This is of course all said very carefully. Nothing directly anti-woman, anti-gay, anti-freedom of religion, or anti-POC is stated out loud. But I am interested in looking further into the backgrounds of the experts and funders in order to figure out who is behind this theory.
Below is a list of the experts and the funders. If readers here want look up their credentials and affiliations and post information in the comments, please do! In a later post I want to write more about who was chosen to appear in this documentary. They are not listed here for purposes of harassment, however. No hate mail!
Harry S. Dent, Harvard MBA
Norval Glenn PhD, Professor of Sociology, University of Texas at Austin
Nicholas Eberstadt PhD Harvard, American Enterprise Institute
Alan Viard PhD Harvard Economics, American Enterprise Institute
Lola Velarde PhD, President of European Network Institute for Family Policies
Viktor Medkov PhD, Professor of Sociology, Lomonossov Moscow State University, Russia
David Popenoe PhD, Professor of Sociology Rutgers University
Steve Nock PhD, Professor of Sociology & Director of Marriage Matters Project, University of Virginia
Bradford Wilcox PhD, Assistant Professor of Sociology, University of Virginia
Kay Hymowitz, Manhattan Institute fellow
Linda Waite PhD, Professor of Urban Sociology, University of Chicago
Gary Becker PhD, Nobel Prize in Economics 1992, University of Chicago
Maria Sophia Aguirre PhD, Associate Professor of Business, Catholic University of America
Alban d’Entremont PhD, Professor of Economics, University of Navarra, Spain
Mark Regnerus PhD, Assistant Professor of Sociology, University of Texas at Austin
Robert Michael PhD, Professor of Public Policy, University of Chicago
Dr. Jianguo Liu, Director of Sustainability, Michigan State University
Patrick Fagan, Psychologist, Family Research Council
Phil Longman, New America Foundation Fellow
Alan Tapper PhD, Senior Lecturer in Philosophy, Edith Cowan University, Australia
Inese Slesere, Latvia Member of Parliament
Family First Foundation
Audience Alliance Motion Picture Foundation
More on this topic in the future! Discuss! Respect the human dignity of everyone when doing so!
In this series:
Part 1 on my initial reactions to the documentary Demographic Winter
Part 2 digs deeper into the meaning of the film
Part 3 looks at who is in and behind the film
Part 4 examines partisan media coverage of DW