Parents are seen as more trustworthy. How many world leaders are there who don’t have children, aside from Angela Merkel?
“Most definitely there’s a professional stigma,” Lisa Given says in a phone interview from halfway around the world. Prof. Given is a transplanted Canadian who teaches information studies at Charles Sturt University in Wagga Wagga, Australia. “There’s a sense that the decision to have children is more natural or normal, so not having children means you’re careerist, a ladder-climber, or that you’re still playing at being a child. As if you aren’t yet grown up yourself.”
Prof. Given is 43, and she has been married for 20 years. The decision not to have children is one she and her husband took painstakingly – and she feels the consequences every time she is seated around a conference table with her co-workers, many of them parents.
Colleagues have told her that she doesn’t understand how children learn because she doesn’t have one herself (although she does have a degree in education). “Not having a child is seen as a huge gap,” she says. “But I’ve never felt it as a gap. I have a very full life.”
The angst over declining fertility rates echoes around the wealthier half of the globe. In Japan, we are famously told, adult diapers outsell children’s; in most of Western Europe, the fertility rate does not come anywhere near the replacement rate of 2.1 children. According to Statistics Canada, we haven’t hit the replacement rate in this country since 1971. Even in the corn-fed United States, where birth rates have traditionally been higher than other industrialized countries, a long-term decline in the number of tiny new Americans (and a precipitous drop during the recent recession) is ringing alarm bells in some corners. Make that deafening klaxons.
In Canada, according to the 2011 Census, for the first time more people live in single-person households than households with children. In 1961, only 9 per cent of households consisted of one adult; it’s 28 per cent now. In 50 years, the fertility rate has dropped to 1.6 per cent from 2.7 per cent. The population is aging – 14 per cent of Canadians are over 65, a number that is expected to double in 20 years – and that brings a whole host of economic strains.
“The principal reason that a society ages,” says a 2006 report from the Vanier Institute of the Family, “is because adults choose to have fewer children than did their own parents and grandparents.”
A recent, long article in Newsweek magazine screamed a warning over declining fertility rates in America: “Crudely put,” authors Joel Kotkin and Harry Siegel wrote, “the lack of productive screwing could further be screwing the screwed generation.” In addition, they argued, the growing chasm between the aged many and the working few will mean “a fight over debt, austerity, benefits and government spending that will make the vicious battles of the last four years seem more like, well, a tea party.”
In other words, get those bedsprings squeaking, you selfish young things.
“Selfishness is a terrible word,” says Laura Scott, author of Two is Enough: A Couple’s Guide to Living Childless by Choice. “It’s important to understand what you really want, and not what you should want. The role of parenthood is too big to go into half-heartedly.”
Ms. Scott, who grew up in St. Catharines, Ont., and now lives in Tampa, Fla., was 22 years old when she told her future husband that she didn’t want children. She held her breath with anxiety. “I don’t either,” he said, to her relief.
Now, she is a chronicler of the child-free movement, having lived it and surveyed hundreds of other couples who made the same choice. She works as a “reproductive decision-making coach” – that is, she helps young men and women decide which path to take: baby or no baby?
It is a difficult decision for her clients, especially in a child-obsessed world, with its endless discussions of celebrity baby bumps and attachment parenting and “having it all.” Buy a Lululemon tote bag and it comes adorned with the words “Children are the orgasm of life.”
“A lot of them don’t feel they have the right to say no,” Ms. Scott says of her clients. They are caught between society’s norms, wanting to have children to please parents, and worried that they will never be able to afford the same life those parents gave them: They don’t have that kind of job security, and they don’t see a future where iPads and trips to Disneyland could possibly be on the shopping list.