Life without children. Sarah Ackerman/Flickr CC-BY-2.0
Those who remain childless by choice are becoming more vocal and public about their decision. In a New York Times piece, No Kids for Me, Thanks, Teddy Wayne recounts a conversation with British writer Geoff Dyer, 56, who seems to have regular trouble with children interrupting his tennis.
“Two winters ago, I found myself playing table tennis with him in a Brooklyn establishment,” says Wayne. “Within 10 minutes, we were booted out for a child’s birthday party as dozens of children and their guardians swarmed the room. ‘The only thing I hate more than children,’ he told me as we gathered our belongings, ‘are parents’.”
Between 1976 and 2006, the percentage of childless women between 40 and 44 in the United States doubled, from 10 per cent to 20. Though in recent years that percentage has come down – now hovering around 15 – it is unclear if the change in the decades-long demographic shift marks a trend of is just a short-term blip.
Up until the 1850’s, marriage and children were essentially a given, it was, as Psychologist Eli J Finkel wrote in the New York Times last year, “the era of the institutional marriage.” The family structure was necessary for shelter, food production and security.
As time went on, the country grew wealthier and daily household tasks and providing for a family became less labour intensive. Marriage was no longer motivated by basic survival needs, and became more about love.
As the script continues to be re-written, men and women are realizing there are ways of living outside the traditional roles, and in a society where so many options are available, people are waiting longer to settle down and choosing to have fewer children or none at all.
Women have the option to delay pregnancy and sometimes they wait too long and can no longer conceive when they want to.
Those who remain childless by choice (or “child-free” as some prefer to call it) are increasingly looking to define themselves and promote their lifestyle option. The Not-Mom Summit planned for October of this year gives women with no children a chance to connect with others who made the same decision not to have children and to hear speakers inspiring them to celebrate their lifestyle choice.
No longer wanting to be thought of as sad spinsters, non-mothers are uniting. But why the strong opposition to starting a family? Our society doesn’t exactly make parenthood seem all that appealing. We obsess over and worship celebrity baby bumps, at the same time as looking down on those who choose to have children in less than ideal circumstances.
What many of those without children see are constant Facebook photo updates from their friends with kids; they are turned off by helicopter parenting when they see adults whose entire existence revolves around their children. The high intensity parenting practiced by the upper middle class looks exhausting and unappealing.
The media glorifies the single life. TV shows like Leave it to Beaver and Home Improvement have been replaced by Sex and the City and Two and a Half Men. The childless are constantly asking themselves: Why not focus on travel? On a career? On romantic relationships? Why not do the things that make you happy?
The problem is, being childless doesn’t make us happy. A study from Santa Clara University found that while happiness of parents has stayed the same relative to before they had children, the happiness of the childless has actually decreased.
Having children is good for you on a personal level and it also helps the country as a whole. Our social systems and economy are based on minimum population replacement levels. In much of the developed world, fertility rates are below replacement. Were it not for immigration, many countries wouldn’t have the tax base to pay for health care and social security as the majority of their population enters retirement. It’s a common misconception that the world is overpopulated and we need to slow population growth. In much of the world, fertility rates are below the 2.1 children per women needed for population replacement. In the countries where fertility rates are high, death tolls brought on by disease and infection are also high.
Though the media may glorify the single life and spread misinformation about the need for population control, we shouldn’t be too quick to throw away traditional ideals. Making and raising babies is still a great life choice, despite the complaints of cynics like Mr Dyer.
Ada Slivinski is a Canadian journalist who writes about family and social issues.