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The Post-Welfare State Family

The original cradle-to-grave institution.

May 6, 2013, Vol. 18, No. 32 • By MARY EBERSTADT
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Might divorce rates go down—as they did, suggestively enough, following the crash of 2008? Similarly, if there is a world after the welfare state, might there be earlier marriage and more of it, as the (unsubsidized) single life becomes less tenable? Or consider the less tangible ways in which a world without a viable cradle-to-grave safety net could reinvigorate family ties. Might the unreliability of the state lead people to look nearer for emotional and social sustenance—meaning less family breakup, maybe even a rise in the birth rate as insurance against the loneliness and uncertainty of old age?

It’s all armchair speculation, for sure. But the “boomerang generation,” to take one small but interesting example of how hard times have a way of sending people home, may yet turn out to be a harbinger of a wholly unexpected future reality. In what would look in retrospect like a cosmic joke no one saw coming, the ongoing travails of the unsustainable state might yet refurbish the family nest somewhere down the road.

Mary Eberstadt is a senior fellow at the Ethics and Public Policy Center and author of the just-released How the West Really Lost God: A New Theory of Secularizatiom (Templeton Press).

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