Skip to comments.Families Without Children - Report Reveals Changes in Attitudes Towards Kids
Posted on 07/22/2006 6:03:00 PM PDT by NYer
PISCATAWAY, New Jersey, JULY 22, 2006 (Zenit.org).- Life without children is a growing social reality for an increasing number of American adults.
This is the conclusion of the 2006 edition of "The State of Our Unions" report on marriage, released last week by the National Marriage Project. The project is based at Rutgers, the State University of New Jersey.
Up until recently, for most people, the greater part of adult life was spent with young children forming part of the household. A combination of marrying later, less children and longer life expectancy means, however, that a significantly greater part of adult life is spent without kids being in the house.
The report, titled "Life Without Children," was authored by Barbara Dafoe Whitehead and David Popenoe. They start by noting how many recent publications complain of the difficulties in raising children. Many surveys also show that parents report lower levels of happiness compared to non-parents. In fact, an increasing number of married couples now see children as an obstacle to their marital happiness.
This isn't to say that children are rejected by the majority of couples. Nevertheless, there is a growing feeling of trepidation about taking on the responsibilities of parenthood. Of course, bringing up kids has never been easy, but there are good reasons why a growing number of parents are feeling increased pressures, the report explains.
A weakening of marriage bonds contributes to the difficulties of having children. Cohabiting women, the report explains, may postpone childbearing until they have a better sense of the long-term future of the relationship. If they wait too long, however, this places them at risk for never having children. Being in an unhappy marriage is another source of uncertainty. Couples who are worried about getting divorced are the most likely to remain childless.
Citing Census Bureau reports, Whitehead and Popenoe lay out just how much family structures have changed.
-- In 1970 the median age of first marriage for women was just under 21years-old. The age of first marriage has now risen to just short of 26. Women who have a four-year college degree marry at an even later age.
-- In 1970, 73.6% of women, ages 25-29, had already entered their child-rearing years and were living with at least one minor child of their own. By 2000, this share dropped to 48.7%. For men in the same age bracket in 1970, 57.3% lived with their own children in the household. In 2000 this had plummeted to 28.8%.
-- In 1960, 71% of married women had their first child within the first 3 years of marriage. By 1990, this almost halved, to 37%. So after getting married, couples now experience a greater number of child-free years.
-- In 1970, 27.4% of women and 39.5% of men, ages 50-54, had at least one minor child of their own in the household. By 2000, the shares had fallen to 15.4% and 24.7%, respectively.
-- In addition, a growing number of women are not having any children. In 2004, almost one out of five women in their early forties was childless. In 1976, it was only one out of ten.
-- The proportion of households with children has declined from half of all households in 1960 to less than one-third today -- the lowest in America's history.
In general, then, a few decades ago life before children was brief, with little time between the end of schooling and the beginning of marriage and family life. Life after children was also reduced, with few years left before the end of work and the beginning of old age.
Contemporary culture has quickly reflected the changes in family life, the report observes. It is increasingly common to find the years spent raising children portrayed as being less satisfying compared to the years before and after.
Adult life without children is depicted as having positive meaning and purpose, and as being full of fun and freedom. Life with children, by contrast, is seen as full of pressures and responsibilities.
In general, life without children is characterized by a focus on the self. "Indeed, the cultural injunction for the childless young and the child-free old is to 'take care of yourself,'" the report comments.
The years spent bringing up children is just the opposite. Being a parent means focusing on those who are dependent and subordinating adult needs to the requirements of the children.
By way of compensation traditional culture normally celebrated the work and sacrifice of parents, but this has now changed. Increasingly, the popular image of parents is a negative one. The new stereotypes range from the hyper-competitive sports parents who scream at their own kids, to those who ignore the problems their undisciplined children cause for others in public places.
The latest variant are the so-called "helicopter parents," who get their name from the way they supposedly hover over their children and swoop down to rescue them from any negative consequences of their behavior.
Television programs have long made fun of fathers, notes the report. More recently mothers are also being shown as unfit, unable to carry out their responsibilities without the help of a nanny, or as being over-indulgent and negligent.
By contrast a number of the most popular television shows in America in recent years, such as "Friends" and "Sex and the City," celebrated the glamorous life of young urban singles.
Bias against children
What does this portend for the future, the report asks. For a start, less political support for families. In the last presidential election, parents made up slightly less than 40% of the electorate. Less votes translates into less support for funding of schools and youth activities. Already a number of communities across the nation are trying to hold down property taxes by restricting the construction of affordable single family housing.
In cultural terms the bias against children is likely to grow. Entertainment and pastimes for adults -- gambling, pornography and sex -- is one of the fastest growing and most lucrative, and exciting, sectors of the economy.
By contrast, being a devoted parent is increasingly subject to a ruthless debunking, the report notes. In fact, the task of being a mother is now seen by a growing number as being unworthy of an educated women's time and talents. So the more staid values supportive of raising children -- sacrifice, stability, dependability, maturity -- will receive less attention.
"It is hard enough to rear children in a society that is organized to support that essential social task," the report observes. "Consider how much more difficult it becomes when a society is indifferent at best, and hostile, at worst, to those who are caring for the next generation," it concludes.
The family, "founded on indissoluble marriage between a man and a woman," is where men and women "are enabled to be born with dignity, and to grow and develop in an integral manner," explained the Pope in his homily concluding the World Meeting of Families in Valencia, Spain, on July 9.
"The joyful love with which our parents welcomed us and accompanied our first steps in this world is like a sacramental sign and prolongation of the benevolent love of God from which we have come," he noted.
This experience of being welcomed and loved by God and by our parents, explained Benedict XVI, "is always the firm foundation for authentic human growth and authentic development, helping us to mature on the way towards truth and love, and to move beyond ourselves in order to enter into communion with others and with God." A foundation that is increasingly being undermined in today's society.
Between this kind of thinking and abortion, liberals will be eventually become an insignificant minority.
LOL! I have jokingly, at times of stress with our teenagers, told my husband that it would be easier to raise dogs! At that time, I guess I was half joking.....I'm glad it's almost over now.
They need to adjust the tax bracket and give parents with teenagers, combat pay:')
If it were only liberals, I'd be inclined to cheer this trend on . . . postponing children, that is, not aborting them. But the Me/Me/Me Now/Now/Now culture is not confined to liberals. A significant number of self-styled conservatives see "personal liberty" as the highest good . . . and they believe they are most liberated when they are free from any and every responsibility toward others.
LOL! You got that right! They will drive you crazy at times! :)
Funny how what goes around comes around.
Of my survey I know a woman doctor and dentist who are almost begging to marry. No luck. They went for the income, passing on guys. Now guys are passing on them.
I can't wait to read all the posts about how horrible a person I am. They always make me laugh.
Or diets. Hand over the Better Batter ice cream.
Drop in at any large store, walk around and observe kids in or near the toy department or in the checkout lanes screaming, demanding, whining...
What you see might well cause you to take an oath never to procreate! I think people today are flat SCARED of kids.
If government would keep their darn fingers out of how parents choose to raise their children I think more people would be inclined to have more children.
Unfortunately with the NEA hovering over the classrooms parents are becoming just the breeders of the pupils. We have no authority over what they are taught anymore.
I think every American child should study American history first then world history. That way the kids would see how much better America is than the other countries. Instead the kids are being taught that they are citizens of the World and must know the distinctions between every other race on earth. They must never look down upon any other country because that isn't PC.
What a view of adulthood.
Look for offense, and you're sure to find it.
Interesting and relevant story. I think an important point that they left out was the impact on fertility rates of children whose parents were divorced.
Ultimately, I think it's going to be a lot more difficult for parents and children in the coming years. Our society in general is anti-child, and the infrastructure that would otherwise support young families is not doing so well. The government schools are a scandal, and with smaller families over generations there are fewer resources for young families to rely upon.
(Full disclosure: I'm married and childless.)
Just look at myspace.com......you'll see the future....or at least part of it. It's scary.
I hear you. I can put up with a lot of thing but you are right. Neat freaks are down right scary:')
The family structure will need to change. The nuclear family can't be sustained for much longer by many, many people. Look for a return to multi-generational extended families.
I just don't believe we are getting low on kids. Go to any Walmart during the day. They are full of pregnant women , with usually one or two in the baskets.
same with comedy
Our children kept our marriage together: whoever left had to take the kids and neither of us wanted them! LOL Honestly, I can't imagine life without them and now that they are adults (23 and 24 years old), we find them to be the kind of people we want to be around.
My husband and I used to joke about that too. It was "you take them. No I want to pay child support" :")
Hmmmmmm....I don't know if that's true. Seems to me like the feminist marching orders are being rejected wholesale.
A lot of it is very frightening. It's not just that so much of it is borderline pornographic. It's that so few of the kids show any evidence of interest in anything other than the deviant and sensational. Perhaps kids raised in decent homes do not maintain sites there. One hopes.
But what would life be without them?
After 40+ years my wife has not found hers.
What you are seeing are the parents, not the children. Children, for the most part, are a reflection of the way they are raised. The nanny state that we live in is partially to blame but the biggest blame lies on us as citizens, because we let this happen.
The second article was about the declining numbers of children in San Francisco schools. Once again, the question of why there aren't children in San Francisco wasn't addressed. The problem that the article discussed was how to avoid laying off teachers when they weren't needed anymore. According to what I can find, demographically, around 15% of San Francisco residents are 19 or under, whereas a sampling of other cities shows a 25-30% 19 or under demographic. The solution for the San Francisco Unified District was to close schools, but absorb all the faculty and staff into other facilities, so they wouldn't lose their jobs. In neither of the articles was there an indication that the absence of children itself was a matter for concern.
I married at 38. Waited for love. Wanting children was not a priority for me. No regrets.
Interesting that things began to change after the 70's. It wasn't called the "ME" generation for nothing.
It would be no life without them:') I enjoy my quiet time now that they are grown and am doing more "me things" but I would not have done it differently.
There was a segment on The OReilly Factor this past week about the declining rate of marriage in America. The two women guests danced around one of the biggest reasons. It was never mentioned and you will never see or hear it mentioned. It is a taboo subject.
Many men, my 22 year old son included, are afraid to get married and have children these days! Why? They are afraid of the family court system we have which is so biased toward women that father's basically have no rights at all! My son has seen what has happened to me (paying $900 child support per month for the next ten years), and I don't blame him or any of the young men out there for not wanting to have children. If no children, then why get married? It is too big of a negative outcome hanging over every man's head.
And, here in Ohio, they hand out alimony like it was beads at a Mardi Gras parade. The states WANT the 2% tax they collect on every dollar of child support and alimony paid. Ohio collected 2.1 BILLION in 2004, and 2% of that is over 40 million dollars. Yes, the state government corporations LOVE divorces - especially when children are involved. And all this doesn't count the Federal Incentive programs (Ohio got about 37 million of that 500 million dollar pie in 2004!). And then there are Federal matching funds that kick in. Believe me, it is a money making business that NO ONE on the mainstream media wants to touch with a ten foot pole!
This may come as a shock to you and others but life without them can be pretty nice.
I decided at around age 18 (really and this may not be unusual for males) that I didn't want children and followed through. Today, I'm an old man, financially secure, largely due to not having to pay for the support of children through the years, and especially their higher education costs, and content with my situation. My wife of 35 years, our beloved dogs, and I live in a nice house situated in 23 acres of woodland.
And you know what? I don't think that I missed a thing.
The bottom line is that a LOT of people just are not appropriate for having and raising children. Many reasons.
However, society needs "concepts" for people like that. Labels that people can wear proudly that say they are not part of the child and family part of society--that they have another role that does not involve marriage and children.
Not "old maid" or "otaku", but something respectful.
As example in China is the old tradition of the "Amah", a woman who is not going to get married and have children, who instead lives with a non-related family as a combination assistant and nursemaid. They pay her room, board and a stipend, and treat her like a "maiden aunt" living with them. Only some were lesbians, most were just "extra females" whose families could not afford dowry, but were not debased, like prostitutes.
People who are not part of marriage and children can then get out of the way of those that want marriage and children, instead of competing with them because they don't know what to do otherwise. It is frustrating for men and women who want to get married to date someone who doesn't, waiting for weeks or months before they mention it.
On top of everything else, a LOT of people who shouldn't get married with intent to have children want to, anyway. Often times they just can't stand the *stigma* of not being on the marriage/children track. And yet this programming often leads to disaster both for them, those they marry then divorce, and any children they make but didn't want.
Social systems like family, churches, doctors and counselors need to step in and encourage people they don't think should marry, *not* to. Such advice has been condemned for many years in our culture, and it shouldn't be. Romantic notions such as "love conquers all" have caused immense pain and suffering. Especially when you are young and dumb, you need advice on what works and what doesn't.
In past, even arranged marriages offered more stability than just "leaving it up to the kids." At least you would have *something* in common with your spouse, not just mutual lust.
We should be amazed that *anybody* can meet a mate and get happily married at all, just on their own. Would you tell a teenager to just take all his money, and spend some of it on a car without asking anybody, even a mechanic, about it?
In the US, except maybe in Utah run by the LDS church, are there any chaperoned social events where polite young men and women can meet, converse, socialize, and practice their manners with each other? Say from ages 16-25, if not all together.
And if they do get together, get married and want to have children, look how hard it is. Two entry level jobs and an apartment, it could take 10 years to get to the combined salary of $40k they would need to pay a mortgage on a house.
So there are social changes that are need both for non-children people and child-bearing people. Not more government, but new societal paradigms. To teach children that not everybody will or should have children themselves, and that there are other things to do in their lives if they don't have children. And also to make things as easy as possible for people who want children to have them, even to the point of subsidizing those that are really good at it.
"If government would keep their darn fingers out of how parents choose to raise their children I think more people would be inclined to have more children.
Unfortunately with the NEA hovering over the classrooms parents are becoming just the breeders of the pupils. We have no authority over what they are taught anymore.
I think every American child should study American history first then world history. That way the kids would see how much better America is than the other countries. Instead the kids are being taught that they are citizens of the World and must know the distinctions between every other race on earth. They must never look down upon any other country because that isn't PC."
Sounds like an advertisement for homeschooling! :o)
Being a wife and mother is the greatest challenge of my life. I am grateful for the daily opportunity to better myself for the sake of my family.
I have a friend who had to marry his school sweetheart at 16 due to an unexpected pregnancy (circa 1970). They had twins and a pretty decent life. The kids turned out pretty good and were out of the house at 18. So my friends did their parently duty by age 34 and have enjoyed an empty nest since, except for entertaining grandkids.
Don't sweat it. Most people just pay lip service to the joy of kids.
I'm with you, OldPossum...in fact, I believe some of my friends are quite jealous of our happy life without children. Now, I'm not saying that having children is bad...I'm saying it's not for everyone and there is absolutely NOTHING wrong with that.
Hang in there! It does get better .... albeit much later in their lives than when we were young. Society and ad campaigns have programmed them as being the center of their universe. The education system has assisted with their message that all youth must attend college or go through life as failures. College has projected the image that their lives will be fulfilled once they graduate with a degree. Then life slaps them with a reality check when the only job they can land in a competitive marketplace, that of bartender.
The euphoria of "me, myself and I" eventually wears off and if it doesn't, you as parents can help it along :-)
happy for you. maybe it was best your gene pool dies out?
Kind of a mean spirited comment, no?
I think parents of today, who have limited the number of children they bring into the world, have doted far too long and hard on their offspring, They have instilled 'greed' in their progeny and deserve the payback.
Sounds like you are picking the wrong women...
Thanks for the comment, and I believe you're right. Folks who are in a pickle somehow find a way to rationalize their situation.