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Christian Union
February 10, 2014

Conference at Princeton Focuses on Marriage, Family, and Sexual Integrity


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The long-term impact of falling fertility rates can wreak havoc upon a country's economic stability.

Rather than experiencing doomsday scenarios of overpopulation, many countries, instead, are confronting economic stagnation because of declining populations of younger workers and, subsequently, consumers.

That was one of the messages offered by Jonathan Last, a senior writer at The Weekly Standard, during the sixth-annual Sexuality, Integrity, and the University conference in November at Princeton University.

Approximately 260 students, alumni, and faculty from 35 colleges across the United States attended the weekend conference, which focused on issues related to marriage, family, and sexual integrity. Attendees included 50 students from Columbia, Dartmouth, Harvard, Princeton, and Yale universities.

The Love and Fidelity Network, which provides training to collegiate chastity organizations, hosted the conference. Christian Union served as a co-sponsor. The Love and Fidelity Network was founded by Cassandra Hough, Princeton '07. Hough, the organization's senior adviser, launched the Anscombe Society at Princeton in 2005.

Among the speakers, scholar and philosopher Matthew O'Brien, Princeton '03, explained how the issues surrounding the redefinition of marriage are critical to university culture. Likewise, Jennifer Marshall, director of domestic policy studies at The Heritage Foundation, addressed students about their role in shaping the future of the national marriage debate.

The lineup included columnist Mona Charen, Columbia '79, who encouraged students to return dignity to a culture marred by betrayal. In addition, economist Catherine Pakaluk, Penn '98, Harvard Ph.D. '10, probed the role of contraceptives in shaping American culture, and scholar and social scientist Dr. Jason Carroll explored the costs and benefits of delayed marriage.

As for Last, the author of What to Expect When No One's Expecting, warned that residents of Western societies are having too few babies, a fate as sobering as the threats of overcrowding.

Statistics from around the globe show population growth has been slowing for two generations and suggest the world's population will begin shrinking within the next 50 years. Fewer young people means a smaller pool of wage-earners to produce resources and support the entitlement programs securing the elderly, he said.

Minus the wave of immigration the United States has experienced over the last three decades, the nation also would be on the verge of shrinking – just like counterparts in Europe and Asia. If population trends in the United States continue to taper, the nation could resemble the present demographics of Florida by 2035.

"You wind up having all sorts of really problematic macroeconomic stuff going on when you have a very old population," Last told students.

Along those lines, world-class economies depend upon people ages 20 to 40 to drive technological innovation and commercial expansion. Young adults tend to be more risk tolerant and aggressive with business prospects than their greying counterparts.

Some 97 percent of the world's population lives in countries where fertility rates are heading south, Last said.

A host of factors are contributing to declining fertility rates. Most of the elements are central to the culture of modernity, including increased urbanization, greater access to birth control, the emergence and prevalence of cohabitation, delayed marriage, higher divorce rates, and skyrocketing college indebtedness. Also in play are lower infant mortality rates, as well as flat middle-class wages and the lingering recession in the United States.

Of particular relevance, Last told students to be aware that higher college attainment usually translates into lower fertility rates. While many young adults embrace the so-called "success sequence," the biological window for reproduction remains fairly fixed.

Last pointed to input from some researchers who blame self-absorption for declining fertility rates. They noted a trend among young adults to be more self-centered and less connected to their families and larger societal duties.

Along related lines, Carroll, a professor at Brigham Young University, urged students to consider the benefits of establishing a family as they make critical decisions impacting their young-adult years. He warned students against buying into the cultural mantras urging them to sow their wild oats while in their 20s. "You're not getting anything out of your system," he said. Rather than focusing upon themselves, Carroll told students to concentrate on the needs of others.

Also during Carroll's session exploring issues with delayed marriage, he told students the average age for first-time marriages is reaching historical highs, even pushing past 30 in some urban areas.

While older marriages generally fare better than their younger counterparts, couples who wed in their 30s and beyond often struggle with issues tied to rigidity and handling transitions.

Overall, the benefits of marriage often exceed the disadvantages, though many singles associate marriage with losses, such as deprivations of freedom, Carroll said. Nonetheless, marriage usually translates into better economic, health, and mental stability.