Movies, nice dinners and indie rock concerts are the new face of childlessness, at least according to a piece in this month's Details titled "The No-Baby Boom," the latest of many magazine articles about the gradual decrease in "worldwide" eagerness to reproduce. Using his own childless existence as anecdotal anchor, author Brian Frazer posits the steady rise in childless couples around the world (but especially in the U.S.) as a social trend in which it is both easy and fun to participate: "You could stress over starting a college fund, or you could consider that you can get a vasectomy at Planned Parenthood for less than the cost of a Bugaboo Cameleon stroller." Sounds like an easy choice! Let's examine this hot new phenomenon further.
First, we have the Shepherds, who've found fulfilling lives as expatriates living in China, where nobody has very many kids:
Even before the Shepherds left Asheville, North Carolina, for Sichuan province, they'd made their life decision based on the experiences of their 'childed' friends. 'We watched them struggle to pay bills, find suitable apartments or houses to fit their families, and work at jobs they didn't like because they needed the insurance,' Cynthia says. So she and Anthony enthusiastically took a pass on parenthood, an increasingly common decision for America's couples.
Next, we have the author and his wife, for whom childless living means carefree date nights without worrying about some hypothetical small, annoying creature back at home:
Our next-door neighbors have kids, and the amount of yelling, stress, and competition for day care, car pools, and a school with working metal detectors hardly seems worth it. As we head out for our after-work hike, followed by yellow curry in Thai Town and then an Arctic Monkeys concert, we wave goodbye and smile, pretending not to notice their faces frozen in exhaustion.
And so on. These folks' lives sound good indeed, but I can't help thinking something is missing from this narrative. The primary motivation in all of these instances seems to be happiness and personal fulfillment, a consideration primarily obsessed over by those who've had the bottom 90% of their hierarchy of needs met already. What about all the people who can't afford to raise kids or go to Arctic Monkeys concerts?
Frazer does pay lip service to "the state of the economy" as a primary reason American couples are declining to reproduce, saying that it costs a middle-income two-parent family an average of $286,050 to support a child through high school, and up to $400,000 if one "wants" (is able to?) pay for college. But he then quickly switches over to discussing the emotional costs "beyond dollars and cents," conveniently ignoring all the people who want children more than anything else in the world, but have come to the harsh realization that they're simply unable to care for them, a hard choice many Americans have had to make.
He also brings the rest of the world into it, saying that the global birthrate has dropped from 6 children per woman in 1972 to 2.9 in 2008; clearly, having fewer kids is the hottest thing since fashion mullets. However, in actuality, this figure is due more to improved access to family planning services in the developing world, where the majority of births occur, than to a growing number of couples who'd like more leisure time (correct me if I'm wrong). It seems disingenuous to include this as evidence in an article with the sub-headline, "How Parenting Lost Its Cool."
I don't mean to cast aspersions on well-to-do couples who'd rather spend their hard earned money on trips around the world than tuition at Princeton; in fact (full disclosure!), I'd be pretty excited to someday be half of one of those couples myself. But I do think any trend piece on childlessness in America, let alone the world at large, needs to take a closer look at the realities affecting the bulk of people making this decision. Either that, or admit the piece's limitations in scope up front. But that might be asking a bit too much from a magazine trafficking in aspirational wish-fulfillment whose other cover stories include "The Diet That Makes You Look Younger," "The 5-Minute Full-Body Workout," and "The Perfect White Shirt, New and Improved Cargo Pants, and the Season's Best Colognes."
The No-Baby Boom [Details]