Report Reveals Changes in Attitudes Towards Kids
PISCATAWAY, New Jersey, 22 JULY 2006 (ZENIT)
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
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
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,"
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
"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. ZE06072201