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McManus - Ethics & Religion
                         July 19, 2006
                         Column #1,299
                  For Release on July 22, 2006
                    "Life Without Children"
                        by Mike McManus
                               
     "Demographically, socially and culturally, the nation is shifting from a society of child-rearing families to a society of child-free adults.  The percentage of households with children has declined from half of all households in 1960 to less than one-third today, the lowest percentage in the nation's history," according to a study by the National Marriage Project (NMP) at Rutgers.

     This change in America has gone virtually unnoticed and undocumented. In 1960, 62 percent of an adult's life was spent a spouse and children, the highest in history.  By 1985 that dropped to 43 percent, the lowest in history.

     Why?  There are four key reasons cited by NMP's report "Life Without Children," by Barbara Dafoe Whitehead and David Popenoe: (www.marriage.rutgers.edu).

     1.  Married couples wait longer to have children.  In 1960 71 percent had a child
within three years of marriage.  By 1990 only 37 percent did so. Couples have more child-free
years.  People are also living longer, adding more childless years.

     2.  Couples are having fewer children. In 1960 women had 3.5 children; the number
fell to 2 children per woman by 1990 and has remained at that level. That offers more child-free
years at mid-life. In 1970 27 percent of women aged 50-54 still had at least one minor child at
home; that number dropped to 15 percent by 2000.

     3.  The marriage rate has plunged by 48 percent since 1970. Only half (51.5 percent) of American adults are married. If the same percent were marrying in 2006 as in 1970, there'd be 3.3 million marriages, not 2.2 million.

     4.  Finally, fewer women are having children at all.  In 2004 almost one out of five
women in their early 40s were childless vs. one of ten in 1976.

     "Childless young adults are exceedingly well suited to life and work in a dynamic society
and global economy. They display great facility and comfort with new technologies. One of their
most desirable attributes is that they are not tied down by child-rearing obligations. They can
pick up and move. They can work odd hours and go on the road," write Whitehead and Popenoe.

     When women do have children, many suffer from "mommy shock." Motherhood is a radical change of life, moving from absorbing work and personal freedom to a life in which their time and life are no longer their own. "Everything that once seemed so easy to do on their own
now requires advance planning, lining up a babysitter, checking in at home while you are out."

     Furthermore, contemporary motherhood now threatens contemporary marriage   The stress of rearing children has contributed to a divorce rate of 40-50 percent for first marriages.

      "Most Americans today don't marry in order to have children," the report states. "They
marry in order to have an enduring relationship of love, friendship and emotional intimacy.
Achieving this new marital ideal takes high levels of time, attention and vigilance. Like new
babies, contemporary marriages have to be nurtured. The problem is that once a real baby comes
along, the effort and energy that goes into nurturing the marriage goes into nurturing the infant.

     "As a result, marriages can become less happy and satisfying during the child-rearing years," the report states.

      In the past, couples put the needs of their children first.  Today, significant numbers are less willing to do so. When asked, "Should a couple stay together for the sake of the children,"
81 percent of today's women say no, a jump from 51 percent in 1962. 

     A second impact of the loss of child-centered marriages is that many children sense that they are not wanted and have major doubts about whether they even want to get married themselves.  Only a third of teenagers agree with the proposition, "that most people will have fuller and happier lives if they choose legal marriage rather than staying single or just living with someone," according to the University of Michigan. 

     Of course, the kids could not be more wrong. Many studies report that married people are twice as likely to say they are "very happy" compared to those who are single. Compared to those
who remain married, the never-married "have a reduction in wealth of 75 percent."

     And 56 percent of teens wrongly think "having a child without being married is
experimenting with a worthwhile lifestyle."  Result: a seven-fold increase of babies born out of wedlock, soaring from 5 percent in 1960 to 36 percent in 2004.

     America pays a price for exchanging selflessness for selfishness.   
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