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."
I am 39, have been married to the same beautiful woman for 18 years. we have 6 children; 16, 13, 9, 7, 4, 14mos. We homeschool and all of my children except th eyoungest are involved in city athletics the oldest palys varsity baseball for a local christian high school. We will always have kids in the house.
When we saw grow up do we mean being responsible or being a stodgy, dull grown up? We do the responsibility part, but I’m known to be a bit childlike.
“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.”
That’s a very interesting insight! You are right, it would place a burden on the kids. Kinda like they have to keep tap-dancing—doing well in sports, getting good grades, giving the parents stuff to brag about—in order to keep the parents occupied and happy.
“And I agree that parents who are emotional parasites of their children do no one any good.”
That’s a great comment! I would be interested to hear examples of this. Do you mean, for example, parents who get an ego boost from bragging about their kids’ sports?
“We will always have kids in the house.”
No you won’t, unless your adult children live with you after they are married, or unless you keep having babies well into your 70s! :-)
To me this is not so much about children as it is about the quality of younger women.
Just listen to Dr. Laura for a few weeks to get an understanding of the spoiled nature of young ladies.
LOL! Well, a little bragging is normal.
My statement was a gross over-generalization, but to me, being an adult means the ability to postpone immediate pleasures for future ones, being self-reliant and for taking responsibility for ones actions. Having a kid isn’t a necessary condition, but it does concentrate the mind most singularly on the aforementioned.
>>A healthy family is one where the marriage is at the center, not the kids.<<
You are absolutely right. My wife and I say, “We were a couple before we had kids, and nothing should change.”
Relationships are doomed once parents start putting their children between them.
Having said that though, this article is slightly scary. As our society becomes more and more selfish, we’ll see fewer and fewer kids.
We got married young and started raising children young. Never regretted a moment of it!
Children and Grand children
Shame on you for using common sense!
“Both partners having to work full time just to pay the bills makes it harder for people my age to have kids.”
Harder, but not impossible.
In WWII, women were encouraged to work as an act of patriotism. Then in the sixties, Betty Friedan decided that staying home could not possibly be fulfilling and wrote a seductive book that got women who fell for her claptrap out of the house in droves. The instant women controlled their own pocketbooks, amazingly (/sarc), the cost of everything increased just because it could. That caused even more women to enter the workforce because those women who hadn’t fallen into the trap couldn’t afford anything anymore.
Considering the massive negative effect this has had on society, maybe it would be an act of patriotism for moms to stay home. Why? Just think. Overnight it would decrease our gasoline usage by more than half and terrorists would not be financing their operations with our money. Oh...and it would decrease our carbon footprint. ;)
“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.”
I joke with people and say that it becomes 1952 when you cross the threshold of my house. My wife was raised by her grandmother, and holds a lot of those “old-school” Biblical ideals as to how a wife should be.
We homeschool, have only one vehicle, don’t take expensive vacations, have a small & modest home, and don’t eat out or entertain very often. We cut corners and save, but it’s worth it.
It’s a countless blessing to have a low-maintenance helpmeet who shares a love for children and the way things ‘ought to be’.
Good comments! Except...
Are you calling me selfish for not having children? I’ve never understood that argument. Maybe it’s because parents feel they are sacrificing so much for their kids that they can’t stand the thought of someone else not having to make those same sacrifices? Then that would simply be jealousy and self-righteousness.
“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.”
Agree strongly with you. It’s called “accessibility time.” In other words, a parent is around someplace, but not involved in or directing childplay. The child has a sense of security just knowing a parent is within calling distance. So-called quality time is good if not overdone. Children need to practice the good examples they get from their parents away from their parents. Like solving disputes. Nowadays, adults interfere and control that process and kids aren’t learning it how to do it themselves. Now we have anger management classes to make up for what they never were allowed to learn.
I go to restaurants that have no "family specials."
And when I go on vacation, I look for the places that the NAACP is boycotting.
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