On September 9, 2022, self-described “Christian nationalist,” Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-GA) addressed her tweet to American women: “Ladies, Be a Mom. Anyway you can. It’s the most challenging, happiest, joyful, craziest, rewarding, fulfilling, exhausting, thrilling, and most fun adventure you will ever have in your entire life.” That same morning, anti-abortion activist Abby Johnson asked the crowd at Liberty University if anyone had more than eight children. When many in the audience cheered she said, “Yeah, right, there’s some breeders here. Alright. I love it. The Lord says be fruitful and multiply. We’re doing the job.”
The “family values” of the Christian Right have always included pronatalism: the belief that children are a foundational source of personal and cultural flourishing and thus families should have more kids. There is nothing in this belief that requires it to proceed from culture warring or political motivations. Reproductive freedom—to have no children or 10 children—is a fundamental human right that people exercise at their discretion. But increasingly, in the United States and around the world, the “us vs. them” populist impulses are driving a form of pronatalism that seeks to promote larger families, “the nation,” and specifically meaning “our kind of citizen.” I call this “nationalist pronatalism.”
In a recent study, my co-authors and I find that this form of pronatalism is driven by cultural traditionalism regarding gender roles (patriarchy), desire for ethno-cultural dominance (Christian nationalism), and perceptions of threat to ethno-cultural majorities (whites and Christians). In other words, it is a concern for “American” fertility that is less about personal fulfillment and more about cultural and political power. And it reflects the ideals we see in authoritarian regimes around the world.
Like other developed nations, American birth rates are plummeting. This includes Americans across the political and cultural spectrum. To be sure, there are reasons to be concerned about this trend that don’t necessarily involve “us vs. them” populist xenophobia or fear of cultural change. For better or for worse, our economic growth depends on labor supply. And our social safety nets depend on a tax base that’s partly connected to the size of our working population.
Just as important, as social demographer Lyman Stone points out, as fertility rates decline, there is a growing disconnect between the number of children women end up having and their ideal number of children. In other words, women might actually like to have more children than circumstances will allow.
But when we hear leaders on the Christian Right lament declining fertility, their concerns reveal whose births they would like to see increase. Charlie Kirk, for example, lamented declining birth rates because Americans are “going to have to supplement through cheap immigration.” Fox News host Tucker Carlson simultaneously warned of America’s fertility crisis while famously trotting out the “great replacement” theory that Democrats would replace “real Americans” with immigrants more likely to vote for Democrats. Christian social media provocateur Matt Walsh argued that higher fertility rates increase patriotism because children give citizens a reason to invest in their country.
These arguments reflect a form of pronatalism that is less concerned with children themselves as an end and more with the right children with the right values. This pronatalist ideology is actually quite similar to the one reflected in authoritarian regimes of the past century and today. Mussolini in fascist Italy, Hitler in fascist Germany, and Ceausescu in communist Romania all stressed traditional, patriarchal family ideals and sought to enforce high-fertility policies so as to produce more native-born Italians, Germans, and Romanians.
Even today, we see similar concerns and efforts employed by Vladimir Putin in Russia and Victor Orban in Hungary. The goal isn’t helping women obtain their ideal fertility goals. Rather, women need new goals entirely. Instead of chasing careers, women should embrace their role in the home, and have more children to serve the nation.
In our recent study, we surveyed over 1,000 Americans and asked them how much they agreed with statements like “Married couples in our country should have more babies, not fewer” and “Our declining fertility rate should alarm us as a nation.” We also asked questions about how much they affirmed patriarchal gender roles, how they felt about Christian nationalism (the belief that America has been and should always be “Christian” in its self-identity and policies), and whether they felt whites, Christians, or men experience more discrimination than various minority groups.
We found the strongest predictor of whether Americans affirmed statements reflecting “nationalist pronatalism” were that they strongly held to patriarchal gender norms, Christian nationalism, and they believed whites and Christians faced “the most discrimination” these days.
What does this mean? It suggests that those who are most concerned about declining American birth rates are also those who fear that the groups who have historically wielded power in the United States are under attack, and they would prefer to see America return to traditional social arrangements when men, whites, and Christians were back on top.
In other words, the vision of America as an “us vs. them” struggle, in which the “us” (whites, Christians, and men) are threatened by the “them” (racial, religious, and gender minorities) seems to lead many Americans to fear declining birth rates. This fear doesn’t stem from concern for personal fulfillment and women’s reproductive freedom but cultural and political preservation. “People like us” must have more babies to overcome “people like them.”
There is no more disturbing an application of this philosophy than the manifesto penned by the murderer who killed 10 Black Americans in a Buffalo grocery store this year. The young man lamented declining white fertility and expressed that whites were being replaced by immigrants with higher birth rates. But he wasn’t just a white nationalist. He was a white Christian nationalist. He explained that being “white” wasn’t just about genes but about “white culture,” which included Christianity. His fear that white Christian America was being overwhelmed with non-white babies led him to murder innocent minorities.
To be sure, right-wing white Christians are unlikely to advocate such violence. But they appear motivated by similar fears. Instead of gunning down innocent “outsiders” and “threats” to white Christian power, their means of overcoming ethno-cultural threats is instead to raise armies of culture-warriors, exchanging bullets (for now) for babies.
 The title “Make America Mate Again” was suggested by pastor and friend James Linton.