Obnoxious Tones in the Childfree Debate

This article in the Daily Beast on childfree living that was brought to my attention definitely irked me...a lot.  It had enough condescension and judgment about the nature of childfree living that I got a bit twitchy and proceeded to write.  Many of you know that I have opted for the childfree life and regularly engage in the conversation about the conscious decision not to procreate.  I've read and discussed it here on this blog and most of my friends know--it's one of my soapboxes for sure.  I understand and appreciate why people procreate, I just don't care for it and I get annoyed about the ways in which people decide they know what's best for me and other people making the conscious decision. I get further annoyed when writers attempt to talk about people opting for childfree living deliver articles that still echo of judgment.  Of course, some child-filled folks aren't likely to see the strong bias or underlying misdirects that the authors point out since the childfree lifestyle is often foreign to them (note--it's foreign but not incomprehensible--no more than the child-filled life is incomprehensible to childfree folks.  Too many on both sides of the discussion argue that the other can't "truly" understand what the other's life is like.  I find that an extremely misleading assumption.  Our entire lives and interactions with one another are extraction of personal experiences to understand the other person and that has the potential to extend to all aspects of life).  

So here are some of the faults I find with the article. 

Let's start with the first paragraph:  "First, for many younger Americans and especially those in cities, having children is no longer an obvious or inevitable choice."  The problem here is the last bit:  "no longer an obvious or inevitable choice."  Since when is an "inevitable choice" considered an actual choice?  It's not.  If you can have any choice of color of a Model T Ford so long as that color is black--it's not a choice.  So the authors' frame to imply "choice" when historically there wasn't any speaks to a bias of that's what "should" be done.  This bias is made crystal clear by the second sentence:  "Second, many of those opting for childlessness have legitimate, if perhaps selfish, reasons for their decision."  

So not only do adults have actual choice, but they may have actual "legitimate" reasons to not have children.  However, one should be weary because those legitimate reasons are "selfish."  Wow.  First, the assumption that the decision to not have children is "selfish" while whelping out a pup is considered unselfish is problematic.  In many ways, procreating can be argued as an ultimate act of selfishness--particularly in a modern world where each child puts further demand on a ecosystem that humans are already overtaxing and in conjunction with the massive number of children who have no homes or families.  Choosing to procreate in that light would be seen as much more selfish and self-centered. 

But why do my reasons for not procreating need to be legitimized?  I've consciously and purposely chosen not to have children whereas nearly half the pregnancies out there are  "unexpected."  That suggests to me that our lack of legitimate reasons and conscious decisions for procreating in all likely still contribute significantly to the gender gap, since procreation invariably impacts females substantially more than males (both directly and indirectly).  That many can't legitimize their need to breed beyond "because" isn't entirely reassuring and again, given the aforementioned environmental and social issues above, are much more suspect and problematic.  After all, my decision to not procreate puts no further potential burden on the larger social system than that which I already represent.  But those who procreate increase the direct (in terms of resources consumed) and potential (should the parents rid themselves or lose the right to have said child) burden upon society.  But my decision needs legitimacy?  To be clear, it's not the act of procreation that I take fault with.  It's that my decision to not procreate needs to be legitimize and is regularly framed as "selfish" when there's clear reasons why we would want to legitimize the selfish decision to procreate.  

The next problem I see in this article is the term "Postfamilial America."  That somehow not procreating means you are beyond the traditional family?  Again, it hints at this idea of being non-family oriented.  However, many of the people I know that don't procreate are very-family oriented.  Connected and close with their families in ways.  And if by post-familial refers to the idea that we extend ourselves beyond our traditional family bonds; that too is inaccurate.  The 1900s gave us the nuclear family, but "family" has had a much larger meaning throughout history and extended to a variety of people that weren't necessarily family or superficially family.  
History of Human Population--we have little
 to fear about a population decline

The article flailing cries that "Postfamilial America is in ascendancy as the fertility rate among women has plummeted, since the 2008 economic crisis and the Great Recession that followed, to its lowest level since reliable numbers were first kept in 1920."  This statement is a bit confusing since first, by fertility do the authors mean women who are potentially fertile or women who have become pregnant?  But I think it's the nationalistic vibe that permeates the article that we see start to rise.  Population decline may be happening in pockets, but the global picture continues to be one of substantial growth.  We're 7.1 billion and counting.  In the course of visiting the Population Institute website for about 10-15 minutes, it was reported that the population had grown by 1000 net births.  

The authors continue to fixate on the concerns and challenges that are supposedly created by those selfish non-procreators.  Whose going to replace the workforce?  What about all those elderly entitlements?  (Of course, he seems oblivious to the fact that adults without children--particularly DINKs--are likely to have more resources to work with and be less of a social burden).  The authors are not concerned about the overall continued population growth in the world, but about the United States.  So much of the challenges that he points to--only exist because of a self-interested and one might say selfish approach to looking at human population.  These are artificial threats created by an artificial barrier called nation.  Here, the authors are playing upon a xenophobic bias (his own and the readers) to ignore the larger picture and just frame the US in a state of crisis (making note that we could go the way of Europe or Japan who also face population declines) that is in part, caused by the childfree selfish people.   

The overall assumption that the population growth of the 1900s was a positive thing seems ridiculous at best given when we know not only about the environmental impact but that in this country millions of children go undernourished and uncared for.  In the end, the idea that childfree living is somehow connected to a potential decline in our culture negates that the practices of the 1900s have created a variety of problems that childfree living actually addresses much more than negatively impacted.  Yes, we have benefited greatly from that growth--I won't argue that.  But the idea that it is sustainable and childfree people are compromising America's future by having legitimate yet selfish reasons for not procreating is ludicrous.  

Ok, there was a lot more that I wanted to write, but I think I'll save that for a book.  This article probably doesn't deserve any more attention.

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  1. I think you've confused quite a few things here. For instance you wrote:

    "By fertility do the authors mean women who are potentially fertile or women who have become pregnant?"

    Fertility "rate" has a clear meaning in demographic statistics, and it refers to the number of children a woman has in her lifetime. So if on average women have 2 children in their lifetime, the fertility rate is 2.

    And you continue on to write:

    "Population decline may be happening in pockets, but the global picture continues to be one of substantial growth. We're 7.1 billion and counting. In the course of visiting the Population Institute website for about 10-15 minutes, it was reported that the population had grown by 1000 net births."

    Net births does not mean that you wouldn't eventually, if the trend of decling fertility rates continue, see a decline in the world's population. The reason why you can have net births at the moment but simultaneously a declining fertility rate is because older people are simply living longer than they have before. But they will eventually die, and there won’t be enough younger people to replace them at current population numbers, and so you will stop seeing any net births in the numbers if the trend holds. The U.N. itself has predicted that the world's population will top out and hit a ceiling by the year 2050 and then it will start to decline. They base this prediction on the current fertility rates around the world.

    You also have a misunderstanding of resources. You say that adults who choose to have children are a strain on resources misses the fact that resources are created by the productive effort of human beings. So while they may consume resources as children, they eventually become part of the labor force and start producing resources themselves. In fact the smaller the population, you generally have a less diverse, less robust economy than you would if you have more people in it. Think about a small village in a reomte part of the world, how many resources do the people of that village have? Not very much. You don't have enough people to open a variety of diverse business serving a near infinite amount of niche markets like you would in say New York City. A division of labor, and more of it, which requires more people, makes a for more robust economy and a higher standard of living.

    1. Hi there,

      Thanks for taking the time to read my blog and provide such an indepth response.

      Thank you for the clarification about fertility. However, I still find it a weak argument or poor choice of words to say that "Postfamilial America is in ascendancy as the fertility rate among women has plummeted, since the 2008 economic crisis and the Great Recession that followed, to its lowest level since reliable numbers were first kept in 1920." After all, if by what you are saying is true--that we're dealing with "lifetime"--then how is measuring 5 years--5 financially tumultuos years at a point in history in which there is much wider and safer access to birth control really an accurate portray and not just playing the fear card?

      You're right that net births doesn't mean there isn't the chance of declining fertility (if that is in fact as accurate in the US as implied by the article) but there still is ample population being born--that 1000 births in 15 minutes seems proof and burgeoning populations in many other non-Western countries seems proof of that.

      I agree about population saturation needed in order for there to be a thriving economy--however, if we consider that we've past equilibrium of sustainability of environmental resources, then yes, every person added does deplete much more than contribute because each child represents an intense over-drawing of resources and demands on the system long before it will reasonably contribute or feasibly counteract the demand.


  2. With immigration, is the notion that there will be no children to look after an aging population false? And didnt the Germans try to bribe fertility as a way to protect a natural German culture? Quebec does the same thing in Canada.

    If anything we're going to be screwed because of overpopulation in cities. A promotion of rural lifestyle needs to be done, if anything. Has nothing to do with birth rates.


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