Certain activists are pretending that we're still in the 1950s
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.