Skip to comments.Children? Or are we 'adult-centered'?
Posted on 08/30/2007 9:06:05 AM PDT by qam1
As more Americans decide not to have children and boomers are living longer, we are becoming a more adult-centered nation.
Kids just aren't as big a part of American life as they used to be.
Americans' child-free years are expanding as empty-nest seniors live longer and more young adults delay -- or skip -- childbearing.
In 1960, nearly half of all households had children under 18. By 2000, the portion had fallen to less than a third, and in a few short years it's projected to drop to a quarter, according to a report from the National Marriage Project.
Suburban households trail national trends.
More than half of all households in DuPage, Kane, Lake and McHenry counties had a child under 18 years old living at home in 2005, U.S. Census figures show. Only Cook County dipped below the 50 percent threshold.
That the shift toward child-free homes has not yet gained momentum locally is not surprising, experts caution, as many families with children settle in suburban neighborhoods with larger homes, good schools and green space.
Yet suburban families are not exempt from the challenges of having -- or not having -- children.
Youngsters increasingly take a back seat in perceptions of marriage's purpose.
Since 1990, the percentage of people who said children were very important to a successful marriage tumbled from 65 percent to 41 percent, according to a Pew Research report.
For some child-free Americans, their growing numbers argue for greater equality with parents in government benefits, the workplace and social esteem. That worries family researchers and child advocates who see in the same trends a move to a more "adult-centered culture" -- one that threatens the strength of families and the social compact to provide for the next generation.
"We are getting much more of an adult-oriented culture than has ever existed arguably, and that could prove problematic," says David Popenoe, co-director of the National Marriage Project at Rutgers University in New Jersey. "You can envision a society in which children are kind of an afterthought and not in the interests of society as a whole."
He sees the priorities reflected on television: Almost gone are family sitcoms in favor of a generation of programs following the model of "Friends" and "Sex and the City."
And he worries about a shift at the ballot box. In New Jersey, voters rejected nearly half of school budgets in the state last year -- the lowest passage rate in more than a decade, according to a report from Popenoe's center.
In Illinois -- where homeowners on average fund a third of local school revenues -- swaying voter support to increase tax rates is increasingly difficult.
In April, eight suburban school districts sought higher tax rates. Voters rejected all but three. Two years earlier, half the 10 bids to increase school districts' tax rates gained the necessary voter support.
With parents a smaller presence at the polls -- just under 40 percent in the 2004 presidential election -- some child advocates say it's getting harder to win empathy on issues.
"It's not: Do people love children? It's: Are they thinking about them?" says Robert Fellmeth, director of the Children's Advocacy Institute at the University of California San Diego School of Law.
In California, older adults are not passing along opportunities to the next generation, Fellmeth said. He decries the lack of universal health coverage for children, low funding for foster-child families, and skyrocketing university tuition.
Fellmeth also sees children being jammed into extreme poverty by the growing trend of out-of-wedlock births -- which now stand at 37 percent. The Pew report found growing acceptance among younger people for childbearing outside marriage.
When child-free adults and their advocates look at the political and cultural landscape, however, they still see inequalities that favor married families and children despite the demographic shifts away from Ozzie and Harriet's day.
A major flash point: workplace benefits. Family-friendly policies such as flex leave and day-care options not only allocate more of the benefits pie to workers with children, but child-free workers also can be left picking up the slack for co-workers on family leave, says Thomas Coleman with Unmarried America, a nonprofit information service about unmarried adults based in Glendale, Calif.
Myriad government policies, he says, leave the child-free feeling like second-class citizens -- everything from the exclusion of siblings under the federal Family and Medical Leave Act to greater death benefits given to families by Social Security and the U.S. military.
But with only 35 percent of the U.S. workforce having a child under 18 at home, businesses have begun shifting to more neutral work-life programs. They include the same amount of paid time off for all workers, cafeteria-style benefits and generic benefits like gym memberships that all workers can use.
"No one is advocating ignoring the needs of children or those who are raising children. That's important to everyone in society whether you have children or not, but things have to be more balanced," Coleman says.
Part of that balancing act, he says, is taking into account the 19 percent of women in their early 40s who are childless. That's up from 9.5 percent 26 years ago.
The birth rate among twenty- and thirty-somethings nationwide was 108 per 1,000 women in 2005.
Women of the same age living in Cook County had a lower birth rate, 2005 Census figures show. DuPage, Kane, Lake and McHenry counties all eclipsed the nation's fertility rate -- in some cases, dramatically. In McHenry County, for example, 142 of every 1,000 women from 20 to 34 years old had a child.
Women are marrying later, devoting more attention to careers and waiting longer to have children, research shows, which sometimes results in them not having children at all.
Other times the choice is deliberate. According to the National Center for Health Statistics, 6.2 percent of women in 2002 between ages 15 and 44 reported that they don't expect to have children in their lifetime -- up from 4.9 percent in 1982.
It's not a widely respected choice.
"There is a social stigma, but I think it's not equally applied across the country and not equally applied to both genders," says Vincent Ciaccio, a spokesman for No Kidding!, an international group for people without children based in Vancouver, British Columbia. "I am aware of some women who just don't mention they are child-free in mixed company."
Ciaccio conducted one of the few surveys of the child-free in the United States, involving 450 individuals. The more common motivations included concerns for personal space and time, and no feeling of a compelling reason to have kids.
Among married couples in Ciaccio's survey, 62 percent said they were concerned children would undermine their relationship with their spouse.
Preserving spousal companionship ranked high in another survey of 171 child-free individuals that was conducted by Laura Scott, who is working on a documentary about being childless by choice.
In dozens of sit-down interviews with childless individuals, Scott also found generally high support for public education and community programs for children.
Ciaccio's survey highlighted certain causes among the childless, including government subsidies for birth control, holding parents responsible for their children and the establishment of child-free areas in restaurants, movie theaters, and apartments.
Also of great importance: simple respect for their decision.
"People who don't have children and parents have a lot in common. They are not natural antagonists," says Ciaccio. "If parents respect the choices of people who have not had kids, and people who have not had kids respect the choices of parents, then we can all move forward together for mutual benefit."
This is being counter-balanced by all the adults who refuse to grow up.
Both partners having to work full time just to pay the bills makes it harder for people my age to have kids.
I don’t blame young people for not wanting kids and having to put them in our dumbed down schools. The teachers in our schools today don’t care about the kids and rip off the state for most of its money. I think we would find better education if people had to pay for their childs education and those that don’t have children, shouldn’t pay anything. Those that had to pay would make sure they would get their moneys worth.
Ping list for the discussion of the politics and social (and sometimes nostalgic) aspects that directly effects Generation Reagan / Generation-X (Those born from 1965-1981) including all the spending previous generations are doing that Gen-X and Y will end up paying for.
Freep mail me to be added or dropped. See my home page for details and previous articles.
You make a really good point. This is why homeschooling is becoming a gargantuan hit and will continue to do so.
“In dozens of sit-down interviews with childless individuals, Scott also found generally high support for public education and community programs for children. “
Funny how it’s the childless couples who want the most government intrusion into child rearing.
I think society should be adult-centered, not child-centered. “Back in my day,” parents were not so uber-involved in all the extra-curricular activities of their children, like most parents are today.
My BIL just moved his daughter into college last week. He says he will have a very difficult time with empty-nest syndrome, because he and his wife spent so much of their time going to all of her basketball and volleyball games, which were several nights a week. Now I supppose he and his wife are just going to stare at each other across the table, not knowing what to talk about.
A healthy family is one where the marriage is at the center, not the kids. Just my humble opinion. :-)
Here in New Jersey, we've taken to voting down school budgets because we're voting against high taxes. We're not voting against children.
The article missed that point. In NJ we pay the highest property taxes in the nation (hence my screenname), and the property taxes consist mostly of school tax.
Amen! When parents make children (as opposed to the marriage) the center of their lives, it puts a huge burden on the kids, from childhood through adulthood.
Quite true. There are a lot of adults who don’t want to grow up and put the burden of being adult on their cihldren.
There are alot of adults that SHOULD NOT have children.
I didn’t really grow up until I had a child. Childlessness leads to childishness.
When we were first married, my lovely bride and I knew we couldn't afford kids. My sister-in-law commented that if we waited until we can afford them, we might never have them.
Our first child was born nine days after our first anniversary. We struggled for decades on my job plus Mrs. Chandler's providing day care for other folks. We drove some pretty crappy cars over the years. Our home was small. We didn't have the latest toys or go on expensive vacations. But our kids all turned out great and we have a very close extended family.
It's all in your priorities.
When I was in college, it was all AIDs and STDs and a nice recession when I graduated. Liqour and cigarette ads were banned.
Now that I'm an adult and have kids, there aren't that many other couples with kids, people don't want them around and TV is all Viagra and retirement ads....
That's what it is to be a Gen-Xer.
Well....I went out to lunch last week to a pizza joint. As soon as I walked in, I noticed 15 to 20 children in the place. I turned right around and went somewhere else. I don’t hate children. I just don’t particularly like them. Not all the time....
You're both close to the truth. There is a time for everything. When children arrive, the focus of the relationship naturally shifts to them because by their very nature they require the attention. But the parents shouldn't substitute the childrens' lives for their own. Part of child rearing is modeling a healthy marriage. And I agree that parents who are emotional parasites of their children do no one any good.
I think kids are great, but sometimes I prefer peace and quiet, too.
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