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U.S. needs pact based on family

In fact, when it comes to Social Security, parents — especially women — often get the smallest benefit checks because they left the paid labor force to spend time unpaid parenting, he said.

Thus, the family and the whole nurturing sector of society are “simply taken for granted,” as if they will always be there, sacrificing themselves to produce the next generation with scant assistance from society at large.

Census data is now showing that more Americans are deciding that having a family isn’t worth the hassle.

Already, young Americans delay marriage until into their late 20s. Then, even when they marry, they are delaying parenthood.

“The instinct is that you don’t reproduce until you have this safe place, this nest, for your children,” said Mr. Longman. “In our culture, that has come to mean we need the house with the picket fence, with the good school district. … But the problem is you’re 35 years old before you have a chance to get there.”

Unfortunately for young Americans, reproductive biology doesn’t care about picket fences, car loans or college degrees. Female fertility starts to decline after age 27. An array of sexually transmitted diseases is lying in wait in the sexual social scene, including some that can silently sterilize women.

Even if a young married couple is healthy and just decides to have their first child at age 32, they run into the demographic adage that fertility delayed is fertility denied. In other words, if a couple has their first child late in life, there are many reasons why a second or third child may never appear.

The new census report shows that childlessness is at record high levels. In 1976, for instance, 10 percent of women aged 40 to 44 were childless. By 2006, it was 20 percent.

Civilizations don’t last long without a solid foundation of family units. What can be done?

Next week: More on the new family-based social contract.

Cheryl Wetzstein can be reached at