Parker column: Why millennials may be conservatives at heart
WASHINGTON — Several current trends among millennials do not bode well for Democrats. Indeed, they suggest a greater affinity for (many) Republican policies, notwithstanding a, perhaps, contiguous dislike for the GOP’s leadership.
Dare I say it: These trends may suggest a gradual migration toward traditional values and conservatism.
Hear me out.
My reading of various recent studies, stories and reports about young Americans (18-34) reveals a decline in the following: motherhood, marriage (down from 59% in 1972 to 28% in 2018), sex, birthrates, faith, happiness (especially among young men), and longevity.
In the good-news column, abortion rates are also in decline — and friendship is up. In the “surprising” column, a new GLAAD study shows that non-LGBTQ millennials’ comfort with the LGBTQ community has dipped, while that of their parents’ generation remains steady.
At the same time, student and credit-card debt is staggering; affordable housing and jobs are out of reach for many; wages are low; and the future is dim in light of the growing gerontocracy and the entitlements (Medicare and Social Security) they expect, deserve and, for which, I hasten to add, they have paid.
So, what about this suggests that millennials would be inclined toward conservatism? To understand, one must look at the reasons for those trends.
Let’s start with sex. Not surprisingly, research shows that people are happier when they have sex at least once a week. But married people have sex more often than unmarried people. From this, one could deduce that marriage is good. There’s a reason traditional values are, well, traditional. They’ve stood the test of time and have demonstrated that what is best for people and society, while not always your first choice, is, like rutabaga, good for you.
W. Bradford Cox and Lyman Stone of the Institute for Family Studies speculate in The Atlantic that the decline in sex may be partly attributable to the #MeToo movement, which has thankfully eliminated some of the unwanted sex that was occurring in previous decades. I suspect too that some men are hesitant to engage in new sexual relationships for fear that their advances could be misinterpreted as harassment.
The decline of motherhood can be attributed to many factors. For one, women are waiting longer to have children as they pursue careers. Legalized abortion and increased access to birth control also play a role.
Millennials might also be finding it difficult to meet a partner. Traditionally, many such meetings took place in church, temple or other religious institutions. As religious attendance has dwindled, so have some opportunities to meet a potential spouse with similar values, notwithstanding online dating services and other avenues that didn’t exist before. Also, studies reflect that people who regularly attend religious services at least once a month report being happier than those who do not.
Other challenges millennials face include economic and educational obstacles that have worsened during the past generation, as outlined by Stone in a separate piece in The Atlantic titled “The Boomers Ruined Everything.” Despite today’s low unemployment rate, some good jobs are harder to find, in part because of the regulatory and licensing zeal of the past few decades. Many careers that used to require a high school diploma now require a college degree. As burdensome regulations increase the cost of business, jobs decline. In housing, strict zoning restrictions often mean less attainable homes for young people.
Regarding social attitudes, GLAAD found that straight millennials’ comfort with the LGBTQ population has declined for the second consecutive year. As for reasons, GLAAD conducted focus groups and found two common themes: the “newness” of gender politics and discriminatory rhetoric coming from political leaders.
Considering all of the above, and by necessity leaving out a lot, one may infer that millennials as a political subset may be more conservative than they know. Based on these and other studies, it would appear that their lives would be better — i.e. happier — if they attended places of worship, got married, engaged in more sex within a committed relationship and had children.
Toward these ends, they need government that: reduces tax and regulatory burdens that impede growth and employment; seeks to lower educational costs and emphasizes non-college job training; makes housing more affordable; encourages creative financing for higher education and homebuying; promotes better school choice for the disadvantaged; makes marriage financially appealing; and prioritizes family unity.
That sure sounds like a conservative agenda to me.
Kathleen Parker’s email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.
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