As we approach Valentine’s Day, it is clear that this holiday is failing and that its collapse will have serious implications for the United States.
The holiday is said to have begun with the legendary martyr, St. Valentine, who married Roman soldiers to their brides despite a ban on such ceremonies, and was martyred for it. Since then it has grown into an international holiday celebrating romantic love.
I was surprised when I heard a Stanford professor lecturing in southeastern France who claimed that romantic love was invented in Southern Europe, where my wife and I were living. And that this invention occurred early in the Middle Ages, about 1100 AD. Indeed, he claimed that the invention of romantic love was an idea equal in importance to the Renaissance.
It is hard to think of a world without romantic love, but in effect that is what we had before the 11th Century. The professor evoked images of a troubadour strumming his stringed instrument below a fair damsel’s window and singing her praises as an example of courtly love. Think of Romeo and Juliet. Presumably courtly love replaced more prosaic and functional male-female relationships. One thinks of subservient wives during the Dark Ages — subdued, dutiful, and hardworking, with short life spans and with high mortality during childbirth.
Today, romantic love on this holiday is celebrated by the giving of expressive cards, candy, gifts, and other evocations of one’s undying affection. Some re-dedicate themselves to marriage with a renewal of their vows.
So, how is this holiday failing us? The process of true love is implied: wooing ends in a permanent relationship like marriage. And with it comes, well, children. The birth of offspring seems to be the inevitable outcome of the consummation of “true love.” No doubt screaming night feedings of infants and the changing of soiled diapers are a long way from the troubadour and the damsel awaiting to be wooed.
But, hark! The “replacement rate” in the U.S. is now down to 1.7 births per woman, down from the rate that is necessary to support our population of 2.1 births. This is hugely significant. Retired folks like me depend on the younger cohort of workers to sustain us. We depend on their taxes and labors to make our lives not only pleasurable, but indeed possible. Social Security and Medicare are dependent on their contributions as are our seniors’ needs for care workers, nurses and support staff.
There are myriad explanations for this drop in fertility: birth control, teenage reproductive education, abortion, expanded opportunities in the workplace for women, the high cost of child care and college educations, later ages for marriages, inhospitable company, maternity leave policies and many more.
Nor is the United States alone with this problem. Japan faces an even greater catastrophic decline and has (gasp) opened up to immigration for five years for the less educated and indefinitely for the more learned.
Hungary is fighting workers’ unrest as it seeks to extract more work from its existing workforce. (The government of Victor Orban was elected for its harsh no-immigration policy.)
The answer to this problem is complex and as varied as the analysis of the causes. Of course, immigration is the easiest and most available source of workers. It is ironic that at this critical time the U.S. government is cracking down on the importation of the very workers we need to sustain us into the future.
Universal free nursery care and inexpensive college tuition would encourage parents to have children. Mandated maternity leave for both spouses would make raising children easier. All should be done to make having and raising children facilitated.
So as we near Valentine’s Day, the romantic dream of star-struck lovers of a perfect, joyous life to come surrounded by happy, Norman Rockwell-like children is now in a crashing descent. Let’s all support those star-struck lovers this day of romance and wish them a happy life — and a household filled with laughing children. And implement the policies that will make it all possible!
Phil Fullerton is a retired attorney in Fresno. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org.