If the leaked draft in the Dobbs case is, in fact, the Supreme Court’s majority opinion, then the end of the Roe v. Wade abortion regime is upon us. This is a fact. And notwithstanding the ferocious legislative and judicial fight it will set off, Americans on both sides of the partisan divide should have an interest in supporting low-income women and families facing unexpected pregnancies. This is especially incumbent upon the GOP, which has long sought Roe’s repeal but remained indifferent at best to the need to actually help American families.
For many Republicans, the overturning of Roe will occasion the need for a new political strategy. In the decades since the high court’s fateful 1973 decision, the Republican Party took shape around the famous “three-legged stool” of supply-side economics, foreign hawkishness, and social conservatism. Because the courts had usurped decision-making on social issues, the GOP was relieved of the burden of having to legislate about them. Voters animated by social-conservative concerns became a reliable portion of the party’s base, delivering repeated victories while hoping for good judicial appointments in return.
On social issues, GOP judges have been a mixed bag, at best. Ironically, it was the candidate least beholden to the traditional GOP who made the firmest commitment to appointing anti-abortion judges. During the 2016 campaign, Trump was pilloried by right-liberal commentators for what they said was his insincerity concerning abortion. Six years after Trump released his list of would-be Supreme Court picks, Roe looks set to be overturned.
The end of Roe offers the Republican Party a golden chance to articulate an agenda that will be genuinely supportive of families. But most commentators, even conservative ones, mistakenly assume that the chief goal of such programs should be remedial—to slightly expand or slightly tweak the existing welfare state in a pro-family direction.
But the crises plaguing ordinary family life aren’t the tax rate on boomer investments or marginal welfare rates. The problem is that Americans aren’t getting married. According to the National Center for Health Statistics, marriage rates in 2018 (the last year for which data are available) fell to 6.5 per 1,000—the lowest since national record-keeping began in 1900. Rates of birth out of wedlock spiked to 40 percent in 2019, from 18 percent in 1980. Breaking down these numbers by race reveals an even sadder story.
While few things are more slumberous than policy debates, one country can help us cut through the noise. When Hungary set out to reverse its catastrophic population declines, it picked one goal that has enabled the rest: promoting marriage. And it picked one lever by which to support the choice to marry: young homeownership.
Between 2012 and 2019, Hungary introduced, for married parents, subsidies for building homes, a home-purchase cash subsidy, and a subsidized home-purchase loan. Between 2010 and 2020, the share of births in wedlock gapped up by nearly 20 percent—and today stands at 70 percent. Between 2010 and 2020, the annual number of marriages also increased by a staggering 87 percent.
The United States now exhibits an enormous generational gap in homeownership. As of 2021, Americans under 35 had only a 37.8 percent homeownership rate—while their parents continue to hoard the housing stock as well as Wall Street equity. Over the last two decades, expectations of homeownership among younger American adults have plummeted, according to Gallup polling. Only baby boomers have become more optimistic.
The housing market is one place where intergenerational warfare has unfortunately become real. With mortgage rates rising just as inflation swallows young workers’ incomes, the dream of homeownership and family formation is slipping further out of grasp.
Even today, marriage and homeownership enjoy a strong association: 79 percent of married couples are homeowners. What would a pro-family, pro-homeownership policy look like? Couples could learn that, upon marrying, they would be eligible for an interest-free loan toward home expenses; the loan instrument would be progressively forgivable as their household grows. A Republican administration could found a National Family Investment Bank to offer interest-free loans to qualified, married couples on a certain portion of their mortgages.
While right-liberal conservatives can hum a good tune about the importance of the family, they tend to wring their hands when it comes to using the levers of power to make family life financially possible. The family-policy approach, by contrast, seeks to make possible the choiceworthy.
A home is the physical, material heart of family life. Young couples contemplating marriage will despair if the goal seems elusive, and they may pause childbearing if it burdens their ability to keep a roof over their own heads. However the details cash out, making life livable for young couples would also help the GOP win over a younger, more loyal voter base.
Long ago, the saying “home is where the heart is” captured both the material and emotional dimensions of household life. To have a home—or to aspire to have one—remains a great motivator. But paeans to morality or “traditional culture” alone won’t help Americans achieve homeownership. Politicians seeking to take the victory in Roe further will have to start from this hard reality.
While homeownership itself isn’t the be-all and end-all of family policy, families won’t form if it seems impossible. Marriage and the family flourish when young couples see a hopeful path ahead. Opening that path will require a broad set of reforms to our broken political economy. Reshoring US industries, increasing young workers’ bargaining power through revitalized workplace organizing, and addressing pervasive health precarity are all crucial steps.
In the post-Roe world, the GOP will have to find new ways to keep the allegiance of socially conservative voters whose economic lives are growing ever more precarious. If it does, it can transform a coming electoral victory into a new synthesis of pro-family and pro-worker policies.