- Ethics & Religion
July 19, 2006
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
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
within three years of marriage. By 1990 only 37 percent did so. Couples have
years. People are also living longer, adding more childless years.
2. Couples are having fewer children. In 1960 women had 3.5 children; the
fell to 2 children per woman by 1990 and has remained at that level. That offers
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
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
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
marry in order to have an enduring relationship of love, friendship and
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
And 56 percent of teens wrongly think "having a child without being married
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
America pays a price for exchanging selflessness for
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