David Goldman argues that cultural death causes and is revealed by a collapse in reproduction. His thesis, focusing on Islamic societies, is that some religions cannot survive the transition from traditional society to modernity. The hallmark of their failure is that their fertility rate collapses as soon as their women acquire an education. In 1979, before the Iranian revolution, the fertility rate was 7 children per female. That rate abruptly dropped to 1.6 children per female, just above the disastrous European rate, and an unprecedented "snapping shut of the national womb." This giant vote of no confidence in the future of the culture induces a frightening social dynamic:
[A] society that suddenly stops having children suffers from cultural despair. The same cultural despair that curtains off the future for families afflicts policymakers. Cultural pessimism is a great motivation for strategic adventures. A nation that fears that it may have no future may be willing to risk everything on the roll of a dice. Iran has one last big generation of military age men, the ones who were born in the early 1980s before the great weapons. Nothing but the use of force would stop Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons, with dreadful consequences. With Iran on the verge of building a nuclear bomb, we have hit crunch-time. Will the foreign policy establishment connect the dots in time?This is a sore subject for me, as you can imagine. I wonder if we've managed the transition well in our own country to a culture in which no one need be fertile unless he or she chooses. How are the incentives for childbearing different now? When the choice whether to reproduce or not becomes unconstrained, what makes fathers willing to support their children and their children's mothers? What makes mothers willing to raise the children? You'd think it would be obvious, but the demographics tell us it's anything but. When people acquire choices for the first time, there can be a scary period in which we find out what new motives will operate, and what we have to offer each other to make it all keep working.
Gloria Steinem famously remarked that she had no children because she didn't mate in captivity. If educating women causes a large fraction of them to adopt this view, what's wrong with the world they've become educated about? Why should it be necessary to withhold education in order to get them to buy into continuing the race? We've lost most of our traditional culture and religion. What is there to replace them with, as a motive for looking to the future in a spirit of sacrifice?