In May 2012, Obama’s reelection campaign featured a website, “The Life of Julia” (now available on archive), that displayed intermittent stages of a faceless cartoon female American so dependent on federal largesse as to compel her vote against Mitt Romney.
Although parodied and mocked by Jay Cost, Yuval Levin, and James Taranto, the Democratic Party correctly intuited that young single women constitute a major voting constituency—larger than blacks or Hispanics combined, and thus the key to their future, as Judith Gray and Patrick Caldwell observed. While the 2014 midterm elections revealed the limitations of this approach, the question remains: why are there so many dependent women?
Socially, this query translates into, why do so many women remain single? Curiously, in a 2013 Gallup poll, 86 percent of singles between 18 and 34 years old said they want to marry. Admittedly, societal expectations and popular media discourage monogamous relations, the flaccid economy dampens male commitment, and academic grievance-mongering exacerbates intolerance of masculinity.
However, another reason exists, and it complements these trends. This a decrease in the human sex ratio—meaning number of suitable bachelors versus the number of bachelorettes—which shifts marriage incentives. The term “suitable” in this case means being emotionally mature, economically competent, and willing to provide for a family.
The National Marriage Project recognizes the statistical consequences from marriage delay in its report “Knot Yet,” including increased income and reduced divorce rate, but also a higher rate of illegitimate births among the poor. The ability to defer gratification may better dispose someone to accept the responsibilities of marriage and facilitate wider opportunities to encounter more prospective partners.
Both of these qualities provide advantages for lasting marriages over younger, less-established couples. The net effect, however, transforms marriage from a rite of passage towards maturity to an ultimate achievement after diligent preparation—and is more likely to prompt mate-sorting based on parallel professional aspirations.
What the Sex Ratio Means
More than three decades ago, Paul Secord and his late wife Marcia Guttentag coauthored a book on this topic titled “Too Many Women? The Sex Ratio Question.” They described how societal treatment of women depends on their ratio to men, based on historical inferences and contemporary demographical information, principally under conditions in which men substantially dominate society’s hierarchy.
First, societies with high sex ratios—more men than women—enforce traditional gender roles. Such arrangements relegate women to domestic duties while men compete for marriage opportunities. Consequently, women are limited in their options within the community, but typically receive assurance that their needs and those of their children will be satisfied to the extent possible.
Second, societies with low sex ratios, or many more women than men, alter men’s mating strategies away from aggressive acquisition for long-term commitment towards more casual sexual encounters. With men less motivated to offer access to the wealth they’ve accumulated in exchange for erotic favors, women—in order to gain access to resources for sustenance and comfort—must either rival each other for prospective husbands, or gain independent livelihood.
Guttentag and Secord proposed that the principal criterion for whether societies adopted hedonic or circumscribed attitudes in sexual relations lay with whether one gender dominated both structural power and sex ratios.
Historically, societies dominated by men and with more men than women constrained women’s autonomy and restricted their roles to be wives and mothers. Neglect (or worse) for prepubescent females meant relative scarcity of female adults, making them valuable to the men who could secure the resources to acquire a wife that let him sire legitimate children for inheritance.
Such traditionalist societies could maintain a stable population in rural environments with mostly subsistence agrarian economies. Political and economic control strictly enforced male dominance, while feminine advantage lay in selecting (usually through the household male elder) among competing resource providers for a husband.
This arrangement separates the power of social structure and sex ratio imbalances due to the harsh ancient environment and brief life expectancy with arranged marriages imposed for pubescent girls, provided with minimal formal education and few opportunities for unaccompanied social interactions. These circumstances hold in both monogamous and polygamous pre-modern cultures. Daniel Kruger further documents this phenomenon in his study on female scarcity in contrast to male scarcity.
Julias Aren’t Just a U.S. Thing
This low sex ratio phenomenon of more women than men is not restricted to the United States. Indeed, Europe and most developed nations with industrial- or information-based economies have a dearth of men (pink). Hence, the Planet of the Julias. Countries with more men (blue) are primarily concentrated in the Middle East (which is not typically noted for its humanitarian attitudes), and cultures that value sons over daughters while instituting population limits, such as China and India. The global map from Wikipedia illustrates the sex ratio distributions below.
Credential drift and changes in employment opportunities have also reduced the likelihood people will commit to marriage. Enabled by hormonal contraceptives, but also by antibiotics, the sexual revolution eviscerated men’s cultural presumption of shotgun weddings. Now, men avoid shame from siring illegitimate offspring by shifting the burden of pregnancy to women. As Nobel laureate George Akerlof with Janet Yellen and Michael Katz have noted, women who want marriage got a raw deal, as they can no longer secure a ring in exchange for sex.
When marital bliss—such as it might be—cannot be guaranteed, women will seek economic sustenance by other means. Some women compete for male partners who have the best apparent financial prospects. Accordingly, they obtain affection from high-status men by marketing features deemed physically attractive.
Other women pursue education and credentials with hopes of lucrative careers, and may thereby support feminist politics to remove sex-segregating barriers to fulfilling their goals. Of course these two categories often merge, as evidenced by female contributors to The Federalist. In fact, a study by New York University sociology professor Paula England shows contemporary female college graduates are far more likely to marry than their less-educated sisters.
The Julias Want Everyone Else to ‘Share’
A third group has socioeconomic backgrounds that keep them from encountering viable partners, but also lack ambition to attain a well-paying job. We might call them non-independent single adult (NISA) women. Bereft of social associations and technical skills, NISA women often become single mothers, either by circumstance when abandoned or by choice when the child’s father burdens the household.
During the 2012 Democratic National Convention, Bill Clinton spoke to their yearnings. Taking his cue from the “leave me alone” libertarian factions among conservatives, the former president declared, “We Democrats—we think this country works better with… business and government actually working together to promote growth and broadly share prosperity. You see, we believe that ‘we’re all in this together’ is a far better philosophy than ‘you’re on your own.’” (Emphasis added.)
Sharing. The Julias expect the rest of us to share. Progressives don’t consider this arrangement voluntary. Law professors June Carbone and Naomi Cahn suggest that greater political participation from women would foster more government intervention and reduce resistance from well-off men. The beneficiaries of a welfare state are recipients and administrators. Whoever remains gets to contribute.
The egalitarian impulse in humans has a long pre-history, as described in “The Origins of Envy” by Max Borders. Modern Homo sapiens left central Africa about 50 millennia ago, wandering as hunter-gatherer bands until the humble beginnings of agriculture in Mesopotamia enabled settlement about 15 millennia ago.
Humans could neither carry materials nor preserve sporadically killed prey while continually traveling. Such practical constraints promoted reciprocity for over two-thirds of our genetic heritage. Legal conventions invented to preserve assets superceded that convention, thereby introducing resource controls that allow wealth to gradually accumulate. Nonetheless, resentment can fester among those who intuit, fairly or not, that others deserve less.
What Is To Be Done?
In 1902, Vladimir Lenin published a pamphlet to advocate creating a political party as a vanguard to revolution. It was titled “Chto delat’?,” usually translated as “What is to be done?” That is the question for the NISAs of our time. Without coaxing the proverbial Julia away from Uncle Sugar Daddy, conservatives and libertarians cannot hope to persuade enough voters towards restoring our economic fortunes or the rule of law in this generation. Given the electorate’s inexorable despondency, our best options depend on finding answers to the Julia dilemma.
Two suggestions are offered. First, we should voluntarily assist these single mothers through charities and other private agencies. Second, because such women lack the knowledge to ground philosophical principles, we ought to convey stories about the adverse effects of intrusive government.
Some might object to the first for abetting promiscuity. The sex ratio explains why this criticism is overwrought. Without a career, women’s biological clocks prompt childbearing long before menopause begins. If without a husband, then so be it.
Also, the decline in religious observance has eroded moral enforcement of premarital chastity. Family disintegration keeps families and churches from passing on traditional mores to subsequent generations. Consequently, many adolescents receive no guidance—virtuous or practical—about how to interact with the opposite sex, and the distractions of popular culture do not encourage self-discipline and patience. One should not await such qualities when they have not been taught.
Single Mothers Need Help
So often, young women have no one to turn to when they discover they’re pregnant. Nine years ago, three women in Fredericksburg, Virginia opened a crisis pregnancy center to accommodate a handful of desperate women, calling it “Mary’s Shelter.” This operation has grown to five rental homes able to house single mothers and their infant children. This voluntary organization includes several videos to describe its activities including this one below.
After providing a safe and nurturing environment, Mary’s Shelter also motivates these women to gain independence through education and work. Apart from volunteers who aid the residents, the local community contributes money and supplies. Such endeavors, if replicated across the country, could enable far more women to escape traps of destitution and helplessness. Greg Scandlen describes some of these mutual-aid efforts in Policy Insights, and summarizes them in The Federalist.
Many of these single mothers cannot accomplish self-sufficiency alone. The Left stands poised to exploit this despondency. As George Bernard Shaw quipped, “A government with the policy to rob Peter to pay Paul can be assured of the support of Paul.” These fetters of dependency must be sundered—for their sakes and our own. These inspiring examples present privately initiated paths to that objective.
Stop Waving Policy Charts
The second need involves communicating about the wicked double-plus-ungood power-hungry government to low information voters. In The Federalist, D. C. McAllister advocated offering hope to Wal-Mart Moms, which perhaps bear a resemblance to the proverbial Julias.
That cheerful idea won’t be enough to persuade them, however. David Harsanyi recognizes that libertarian perspectives do not resonate with the public. Our messages must also convey a warning about the lurking tyranny that threatens virtually all of us. As Haymitch Abernathy and Finnick Odair reminded Katniss Everdeen in the second Hunger Games movie, “Catching Fire,” “Remember who the real enemy is.”
But what should we tell these voters? Well, not charts and statistics in lengthy policy papers. Arthur Brooks commented in his video “Don’t Eat Your Dog” that people think in narratives, anticipating how the story ought to turn out. Most NISAs presume that conservatives are mean-spirited ogres who plot their continued misery. The need a new target for their resentment, one that affects ordinary folk personally. Whining about executive orders that negate statutes and circumvent constitutional separation of powers will not sway such voters.
Instead, this requires stories in which government authorities are the villains. Kevin Williamson at National Review includes examples of heartbreaking stories regarding the beneficence of law enforcement. New York police invaded the Harlem apartment of Alberta Spruill in a no-knock raid with concussion grenades, causing the woman’s death by cardiac arrest. Seeking a drug dealer, police in Habersham, Georgia, tossed a flash grenade into a baby’s playpen, burning part of the toddler’s face off.
In the nation’s capital on October 3, 2013, federal agents shot and killed Miriam Carey, a 34-year-old dental hygienist and mother from Connecticut, for making a U-turn. Miraculously, despite being shot from behind, her one-year-old daughter escaped unharmed.
In 2011, an eleven-year-old girl in Virginia nursed a woodpecker back to health after it had been attacked by a cat. For this, the girl’s family was fined $535 by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service under the Federal Migratory Bird Act. Later, FWS cancelled the ticket and apologized to the family.
Aaron Schwartz, a computer programmer and entrepreneur, became a casualty of prosecutorial zeal. In 2010 and 2011, he downloaded academic journal articles from a JSTOR digital repository through the Massachusetts Institute of Technology computer network under his Harvard University research account. After he was arrested, MIT and JSTOR reached a settlement with him for surrendering the downloaded information. In 2012, federal prosecutors charged Schwartz with multiple felonies, exposing him to 50 years in prison and $1 million in fines. He committed suicide in his New York apartment the following January.
You Can’t Make This Stuff Up
Another example of prosecutorial obsession involved Tyrannosaurus rex fossils. Narrated in the 2014 documentary “Dinosaur 13,” the story involves Peter Larson and his team of paleontologists unearthing the largest and most complete T-Rex skeleton—named “Sue,” after discoverer Sue Henderickson—while digging in the South Dakota badlands. The federal government seized the bones and later sent Larson to prison for 18 months for failing to complete forms to its satisfaction.
Cinema provides a further glimpse of government abuse of power. Titled “Changeling,” a 2008 film depicts a parent’s most agonizing fear: kidnapping by a serial killer. In 1928, Christine Collins, a single mother living in Los Angeles, discovers her nine-year-old son, Walter, missing. The police produce another boy and declare all is well, proffering excuses for the switch, and commit Collins to a psychiatric ward for insisting on learning the truth. Eventually, Gordon Northcott was caught and eventually executed for kidnapping and murdering about 20 children in Riverside County.
These stories tell of overbearing authorities and unaccountable officials. Trepidation concentrates the mind, and motivates more than hope, because it looms without warning. Legitimate concern over malfeasance differs from the chicken-little-esque hysteria over a cause célèbre, such as “global warming,” designed to excuse the seizure of ever-more power to run our lives.
Advocates for less government must ask low-information voters, like Julia, whom the media continually remind of the state’s beneficence, one simple question that separates ordinary mind-your-own-business people who appreciate limited government and rule of law from the busybody centripetalists that micromanage our affairs: “Whom do you distrust less: your neighbor, or the state?” Stories about horrors corrupt bureaucrats have wrought ought to teach many Julias that saviors do not originate from taxpayer-funded office buildings. These functionaries more often liquidate genuine messiahs.
Women Are Coming to Rule the Roost
Social justice warriors will object, taking cues from John Rawls in “A Theory of Justice,” which advocates redistributing assets to correct for inherent inequality. Their concern resonates in a morally upright society that pledges fairness. The difficulty lies in the agents assigned to this task—unaccountable governments and their minions. Few can be entrusted with dominance, least of all those who actually want to boss others around.
Other proposals involve demographic or policy changes. We could raise the U.S. sex ratio by increasing residency quotas for high-skilled foreigners, principally from China and India, but this constitutes a severe political challenge absent a broad consensus on immigration reform. Subsidizing modest relocation expenses to entice young adults to move to other parts of the country could be another option.
Transferring systemic power in society to women seems gradually underway, with men being subject to puritanical censure. Martha Fineman advocates revising family law to favor women and abandon any pretense of equality. However, some citizens might doubt feminine rule regarding national security. Leadership that mimics the late Margaret Thatcher or Golda Meir could be reassuring.
By contrast, tyrannical fiat resembling a once-and-future Hillary “what difference does it make?” “not marked classified” “cloth wipe” Clinton would invite transnational attack and dismemberment from those who intend us harm while we fecklessly engage in navel-gazing.
Female Rule Won’t Mean a Better World
In our civilized cocoons, we forget our inherent savagery. Human beings have a proclivity to inordinate cruelty towards each other, tamed incrementally over millennia by collective monopolization of violence. But even within the past century, a catalog of government-instigated atrocities yields a long list. When human beings can act with impunity, their behavior is all too often barbarous with might-makes-right justification. Just witness the investigative videos from Center for Medical Progress revealing Planned Parenthood’s organ harvesting operations.
Perhaps political leadership under women will reduce this carnage, but there are reasons to be skeptical, especially given the paucity of historical examples because every contemporary matriarchal tribe is pre-industrial. The largest modern matriarchal society is the Minangkabau, at four million in West Sumatra, Indonesia, a country of 250 million.
One might also anticipate less innovation, as Camille Paglia commented in “Sexual Personae,” “If civilization had been left in female hands, we would still be living in grass huts.” As an effective majority of voters, women must decide whether they’re willing to accept those tradeoffs and the incumbent risks associated with power.
Ronald Reagan said, “Ours is the only national anthem that ends with a question. Every generation must answer that question.” Whatever the myriad causes that produced so many Julias, we’re stuck with this situation. Either we find a way to persuade them to abandon the sirens of the centralizing Left, or else ultimately abandon our magnificent inheritance from the creators and preservers of our fair republic.