Families Without Children
Report Reveals Changes in Attitudes Towards Kids
PISCATAWAY, New Jersey, JULY 24, 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 age.
-- 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 ...
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