by Ben Sixsmith
Monday, 11
October 2021
Debate
07:00

There is less pressure to have children than ever before

Certain activists are pretending that we're still in the 1950s
by Ben Sixsmith
We’re not in the 1950s anymore. Credit: Getty

Dr Jessica Taylor argues that “all girls should be given the strong counter-narratives…that they do not have to ever have children, or get married, and that their lives can just be for them.” This, she argues, is “totally missing at present.”

What confuses me about this tweet is the idea that there is pervasive stigma around being unmarried or childless — something that is reinforced by the media. Over the past year, we have seen headlines like “Why I Have Zero Regrets About My Childless Life”, “Why Women Like Me Are Choosing To Be Childfree” and “No Partner, No Kids, No Problem”. One article in Elle, from this spring, titled “Why Can’t I Stop Thinking About Child-Free Women?”, rhapsodised about their “pure true-to-yourselfness” and ability to “prioritize their solo life journey, on their own terms” (it goes without saying that people’s lives, childless or otherwise, are rarely so simple).

Sometimes, having children is problematised. There are endless profiles of people choosing not to have children to “save the planet”. There are rare but respectful considerations of anti-natalism — the idea that it is actually immoral to inflict life on a child.

Big business is paying attention. The writer and academic William Costello points to a report by the investment bank and financial services company Morgan Stanley, which welcomes rising numbers of single and childless women as this demographic is “set to boost segments of the economy where single women historically spend more, including apparel and footwear, personal care, food away from home, and luxury and electric automobiles.” This sounds rather short-sighted.

That there is no dominant taboo against childlessness is reflected in opinion polls. According to YouGov, a sizeable 10% of childless 18 to 24-year-olds and 20% of childless 25 to 34-year-olds never want to have kids. To be sure, that still means that most people want children but is that inherent to them or a product of conditioning? I am no psychologist but I suspect that it has more to do with nature than nurture. We live in a time, after all, that does a great deal to discourage family formation through student debt, housing costs and so on.

Now, I’ll lay my cards on the table: I think most people will live happier, richer lives if they get married and have kids. It brings companionship. It brings responsibility. It helps us contribute towards the flourishing of individual life. But that is not true for everyone. Some people find companionship and responsibility elsewhere, and benefit people in different ways. Others, frankly, are not fit to be spouses and parents. People are complicated.

We can argue about that. But it is absurd for cultural progressives to behave as if the moral consensus of the 1950s is in place — shadow boxing with the ghost of an austere patriarch who lost his life decades ago. Perhaps acting as if you are an eternal underdog means you never have to face the consequences of your victories.

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Galeti Tavas
Galeti Tavas
11 months ago

Up until the ending of the Baby Boom, throughout history, it has been thought a societal duty to have children, and in all religions, a sacred duty.

The costs of raising a child to take their place in the actual goods and service producing economy are astoundingly high. Then one works ones 30-50 years, and later does not work again.

Some one paid, and raised us, that we may contribute to society. Some will take care of us after we finish working. In those 3 phases of life we are part of a society that is like a great wheel. We receive, we contribute, and we receive again.

And in those middle years we raise the children who will replace us, that society may continue.

It is only if the best, and the solid citizens, raise replacements for themselves can society work. But now we import our replacements, or pay the under-employable to have them, as we are too selfish and money oriented to pay for, and raise, our own children.

That this is an insane way of running things becomes more clear all the time, but instead of changing ourselves and taking on the civic duty of raising quality children ourselves (and the other rewards which accompany that), we just do more of the second way.

Claire D
Claire D
11 months ago

I often feel as if I’m stuck in some kind of time warp when arguing with feminists, it’s as if they can’t bear to let old grievances go, even though they are long gone, eg, the vote, employment rights, equal opportunity etc.
I think it’s because there was the belief that achieving these equalities would make people happier and more satisfied, and of course they don’t, happiness is fleeting, satisfaction too in some ways. The problems of living never end, as soon as you’ve climbed one steep hill there’s a mountain looming before you, honestly you have to laugh, it never ends.

Last edited 11 months ago by Claire D
Tony Buck
Tony Buck
11 months ago
Reply to  Claire D

Once Feminists live as men do, they realise subconsciously that there’s little reason to envy and hate them after all.

But Feminists can’t admit this to themselves – their vacant souls having been occupied for so long by nothing except man-hating rage and bitterness.

Victoria Hart
Victoria Hart
11 months ago
Reply to  Tony Buck

Ridiculous statement. I don’t have children, but I’m certainly not “living as men do”, nor do I hate the generality of men. Incels, on the other hand…

Brendan O'Leary
Brendan O'Leary
11 months ago

With apologies to Philip Larkin, the great toad that squats over the lives of 18-24 year olds these days is university, simply delayed adulthood , in many, if not most, cases.

Julian Farrows
Julian Farrows
11 months ago

As someone who’s worked in Higher Ed for almost twenty years, I have to agree with you.

ralph bell
ralph bell
11 months ago

Problem is other nationalities and ethnic groups/cultures are still having children and which will further dominate our culture and ethic population. It feels like a self defeating strategy that selfishly jeopardises our children’s future for our own indulgence.

Brendan O'Leary
Brendan O'Leary
11 months ago

Your last sentence explains almost everything about this and every other First World Problem.

There is no “perhaps” about it:
acting as if you are an eternal underdog means you never have to face the consequences of your victories.

Claire D
Claire D
11 months ago

True.

Hosias Kermode
Hosias Kermode
11 months ago

I do wonder what on earth people at the end of life are going to get meaning from. By the time you get to my age you realise the career you’ve put all those years into is utterly meaningless. The world would have gone on perfectly happily without most of what most of us do. The fun I got from it is behind me now. Only the education and the pure joy I got from being first a parent then a grandparent have lasted. Life is not about taking. It is not about self It is about giving. That is the only route to happiness and contentment. Sadly that lesson is not learned until it is too late to make other choices. I pity those poor women who have chosen the childless route. I know a couple, now in their 40s and they are miserable.

Tony Buck
Tony Buck
11 months ago
Reply to  Hosias Kermode

“It is better to give than to receive” said Jesus.

Since “it is in giving that we receive.”

And yes, a society like our own, comprised largely of Takers, will be miserable, crime-ridden, crime-obsessed (see the TV listings).

The Dead Souls, the damned, endure terrible misery even in this world: “Many sorrows hath the wicked.”

But can still turn back ! God have mercy on us all.

I haven’t been referring here to the legions of people suffering from depression or other forms of mental illness – they are blameless victims caught in the desert of loneliness and despair that our society now is.

Margaret Tudeau-Clayton
Margaret Tudeau-Clayton
11 months ago
Reply to  Hosias Kermode

My husband and I are both retired after careers which we both enjoyed and through which we made many friends. We have never regretted not having children, on the contrary. On both sides we have lovely, appreciative nephews and nieces and we are both still active. My life has never been more meaningful.

Alison Tyler
Alison Tyler
11 months ago
Reply to  Hosias Kermode

Many things are not choices at all they’re an acceptance of whatever comes. We had no children and decided against fertility treatment, you could waste a lot of time waiting for a baby who never comes.
We had really enjoyable few years, unexpectedly we got pregnant.
A rethink – and they said don’t get excited it’s a fluke, later we had another child unexpectedly.
In all circumstances we had fun, we did not weigh ourselves down with great expectations. Our lives are unlooked for gifts, so we expect, non-specified, good things, and now at retirement have not so far been disappointed. It has been, on balance, a great joy and completely fascinating.

John Montague
John Montague
11 months ago

No children – or an average of less than 2 per couple means that in about 100 years we can go back to the medieval bliss of having the same population as about the year 1500 in the UK. We’re at about 1.65 now (ONS from 2019). Probably save the planet, but humanity won’t be on it anyway so that will be nice – we’ll all be doomed in the most equitable fashion 🙂
Maybe a slightly extreme equation (halving every 20 years) but you get the gist.

Tony Buck
Tony Buck
11 months ago
Reply to  John Montague

If you hate the human race that cool-headedly, you have.my pity. But writing-off the whole human story over many millennia, in the process, seems nihilist.

Obviously, you overlook three things
– immigration
– the West’s approaching demise
– the Almighty. The end of humanity will arrive as described in the Bible (chiefly in its last book, Revelation) and at the exact time God has always foreseen and decreed.

NOT when and as Wise people in the West think humanity’s end will arrive !

“God knows the thoughts of the Wise, that they are worthless”

chris sullivan
chris sullivan
11 months ago

Surely the key issue here is that our political leaders have clearly failed to promote an environment that is supportive of raising a family !!! The odds and stress of doing that (unless you come from some form of “old money” ) are severely stacked. In many countries now it is very difficult for a young family to even purchase their own home – a prerequisite for for secure family life. Plus the unreliability of the job markets etc etc. If you create sympathetic conditions children will be born. Many animal species only breed when conditions are supportive – not dissimilar to intelligent h**o sapiens. Its all about quality leadership and the lack thereof. If our leaders want us to live in a ultra competitive capitalist economy then they are being disingenuous if they are surprised that the young opt out of the stress of parenthood – or are our leaders just plain stupid or uncaringly cynical ??

Andrea X
Andrea X
11 months ago

Who/what are the “cultural progressives”?

Andrea X
Andrea X
11 months ago
Reply to  Andrea X

What does “progressive” mean and is it in opposition to what, regressive?

Tony Buck
Tony Buck
11 months ago
Reply to  Andrea X

The word approximates to “liberal.”

Claire D
Claire D
11 months ago
Reply to  Andrea X

I’d say “progressive” used in this way means public policies that endeavour to make society “fairer”, ie, equality, diversity, individuality, social justice, all come under it’s aegis.
There is another aspect to it when it is used as a weapon in political speeches, ie, claiming the speaker’s policies are “progressive” indirectly implies the opposition is “regressive”, eg, “We are the party of progress”.

Last edited 11 months ago by Claire D
Linda Hutchinson
Linda Hutchinson
11 months ago

This is interesting, when I was in my teens we were forever being told about over-population and many of my peers just drifted into the idea of not having children. When my husband and I made this decision it wasn’t because we wanted a life of enjoyment and no responsibilities, it wasn’t because we were ambitious in our careers, it was a decision made for, what we thought were, unselfish reasons. By the way, I have rarely felt judged about this, there has just been the occasional demand (and I use this word advisedly) to know why I have no children, which always seemed a little insensitive becasue as far as they know it might not have been something I wanted.

Victoria Hart
Victoria Hart
11 months ago

I can honestly say that I’ve never felt pressured to have children by either my family or my peers. Would my life be better with kids? Possibly, even probably – I have no way of knowing. Am I unusual in not feeling that pressure?

Barbara Williams
Barbara Williams
11 months ago

COP26 is lining up to ensure that we continue to persevere on the self-destruct path of infinite growth on a finite planet. A planet which is now witnessing the cascading tipping points of climate, ecological and financial collapse. Can anyone imagine a more promising future for a little one?