Santorum is a terrible messenger on this subject, in part because he – like too many conservative politicians – have spent their careers not talking about the family for its positives, but on the negative social consequences for those who don’t have one. If you spent the bulk of the past two decades using the family as a political cudgel, it’s very difficult to pivot to a message of uplift. But this doesn’t mean that Santorum’s all wrong about what’s happening: a redefinition of the pursuit of happiness – and in this case, it is having all sorts of ramifications to the way individuals think of themselves and think of the community they inhabit.
For Santorum and his fellow social conservatives, the family is the basis for community. The American dream is straightforward: you grow up, you go to college, you meet someone and get married, you settle down and buy a house and have kids. When you have children, you tend to go back to church; you are more careful about the condition of the neighborhood you inhabit and the people in it; you suddenly care more about what’s on television and about what they are being taught at public schools. You become more budget-minded and cost-conscious, more attuned to things like property taxes, and more sensitive to gas and grocery bills. All of which, in Santorum’s view, lead to one tending toward a small-c conservatism of a communitarian variety: a life connected to others via the children you raise.
What happens if this pattern of life behavior is delayed, disrupted, or deferred entirely? The Pew report on “Millennials in adulthood” was subtitled “Detached from Institutions, Networked with Friends”, and that’s an apt description.