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From this week’s issue, an essay on going “childless by choice,” and how too much of that may spell disaster for the country as a whole.
Sitting around a table at a hookah bar in New York’s East Village with three women and a gay man, all of them in their 20s and 30s and all resolved to remain childless, a few things quickly became clear: First, for many younger Americans and especially those in cities, having children is no longer an obvious or inevitable choice. Second, many of those opting for childlessness have legitimate, if perhaps selfish, reasons for their decision.
“I like seeing people with their children, because they have their special bond, and that’s really sweet, but it’s not something I look at for myself,” says Tiffany Jordan, a lively 30-year-old freelance wardrobe stylist who lives in Queens in a rent-stabilized apartment and dates a man who “practically lives there.”
Jordan and her friends are part of a rising tide. Postfamilial America is in ascendancy as the fertility rate among women has plummeted, since the 2008 economic crisis and the Great Recession that followed, to its lowest level since reliable numbers were first kept in 1920. That downturn has put the U.S. fertility rate increasingly in line with those in other developed economies—suggesting that even if the economy rebounds, the birthrate may not. For many individual women considering their own lives and careers, children have become a choice, rather than an inevitable milestone—and one that comes with more costs than benefits.
“I don’t know if that’s selfish,” says Jordan, the daughter of an Ecuadoran and an Ohioan who grew up in the South Bronx, explaining her reasons for a decision increasingly common among women across the developed world, where more than half of the world’s population is now reproducing at below the replacement rate. “I feel like my life is not stable enough, and I don’t think I necessarily want it to be … Kids, they change your entire life. That’s the name of the game. And that’s not something I’m interested in doing.”
The global causes of postfamilialism are diverse, and many, on their own, are socially favorable or at least benign. The rush of people worldwide into cities, for example, has ushered in prosperity for hundreds of millions, allowing families to be both smaller and more prosperous. Improvements in contraception and increased access to it have given women far greater control of their reproductive options, which has coincided with a decline in religion in most advanced countries. With women’s rights largely secured in the First World and their seats in the classroom, the statehouse, and the boardroom no longer tokens or novelties, children have ceased being an economic or cultural necessity for many or an eventual outcome of sex.
But those changes happened quickly enough—within a lifetime—that they’ve created rapidly graying national populations in developed, and even some developing, countries worldwide, as boomers hold on to life and on to the pension and health benefits promised by the state while relatively few new children arrive to balance their numbers and to pay for those promises.
Until recently that decrepitude has seemed oceans away, as America’s open spaces, sprawling suburbs, openness to immigrants, and relatively religious culture helped keep our population young and growing. But attitudes are changing here as well. A plurality of Americans—46 percent—told Pew in 2009 that the rising number of women without children “makes no difference one way or the other” for our society.
These changes are not theoretical or inconsequential. Europe and East Asia, trailblazers in population decline, have spent decades trying to push up their birthrates and revitalize aging populations while confronting the political, economic, and social consequences of them. It’s time for us to consider what an aging, increasingly child-free population, growing more slowly, would mean here. As younger Americans individually eschew families of their own, they are contributing to the ever-growing imbalance between older retirees—basically their parents—and working-age Americans, potentially propelling both into a spiral of soaring entitlement costs and diminished economic vigor and creating a culture marked by hyperindividualism and dependence on the state as the family unit erodes.
Crudely put, the lack of productive screwing could further be screwing the screwed generation.
That’s just the start. Keep reading “Where Have All the Babies Gone?” in Newsweek, and let’s hear it in the reblogs.
[Illustration by Shout]
This is little Mykayla Comstock.
Mykayla is 7.
Mykayla’s been battling leukemia since June, when doctors discovered a basketball-size tumor in her chest.
To cope with the debilitating symptoms associated with her traditional cancer treatments, Mykayla consumes a gram of cannabis oil every day.
She also likes the way cannabis makes her laugh. “It’s like everything’s funny to me,” she tells us. Her mom, facing critics, wants you to know she isn’t drugging her child.
“I use this for her medicine,” she says. “It’s amazing, and I think people should know that.”
Today in infuriating laws that drastically need to be re-examined, Abigal Pesta takes a deep look at the sad case of Ken Baldino, an 18-year-old senior in high school who spent six years in jail for having sex with his girlfriend, a 14-year-old freshman.
Here’s an excerpt:
ON A RECENT RAINY AFTERNOON, Francie Baldino steps into her kitchen and pulls out a favorite photo of her son as a toddler, dressed in a bee costume. Then she sits down at the table and describes the events that sent him to prison.
Baldino was a remarried mother of two when her son, Ken Thornsberry (who uses his father’s surname), met a girl named Emily Lester at a local Tower Records. The two teenagers were living with their fathers in the wake of divorce; both were struggling to find their footing at home and at school, says Baldino. They attended different high schools, but started spending all their free time together. Eventually, they slept together, although they certainly didn’t announce that to their parents.
Lester, now 22 and living in nearby Lake Orion, Mich., remembers the romance fondly. “I’ll never forget that day we met,” she says, recalling evenings spent wandering the county fair with her boyfriend, or listening to him play guitar in his high-school band. “I’ve never loved someone like Ken.”
Her father disapproved of the relationship, Lester says, and told the pair to split up. (Her father didn’t respond to attempts to contact him.)
The teens didn’t listen. “Ken was young,” says Baldino. “He was in love. He thought nothing bad could happen to him.” She admits that she wishes she had paid more attention, but in hindsight says she was focusing too much on running a graphic-design business.
One morning, Thornsberry drove to Lester’s house when he thought her father would be at work. His plan, he says: to pick up some belongings and drive his girlfriend to school. But her father saw Thornsberry outside the home and the two started arguing. Thornsberry kicked open the front door and hurled a sugar bowl at the TV. The father called the police. Thornsberry was arrested for home invasion.
When questioned by detectives, Thornsberry, then 18, admitted to sleeping with his 14-year-old girlfriend. On the advice of his attorney, he pleaded guilty to criminal sexual misconduct and was sentenced to a year in jail followed by three years’ probation, during which time he could not be around minors, including his girlfriend. He would also go on the sex-offender registry, which would list his home address and other personal information, for 25 years.
Keep reading. It’s a long read but well worth it for its examination of the merits of jailing high school lovers because the law says what they’re up to is illegal. What’s most frustrating about this to us is it completely denies the kid, Ken, of a normal young adulthood in which he would’ve learned the skills necessary to be a normal contributing member of society. Nice job, government.
Update: The New York Times’ Motherlode blog weighs in, asking, “How do we balance protecting children on the cusp of teenage life with not destroying the lives of teenagers barely over the edge of legal adulthood? Neither jail nor a free pass feels like the right answer.”
“I’m Alana. I’m 6. And I’m a beauty queen.” Yes you are honey. Yes. You. Are. And with the above clip, your tumblr’s interest in Toddlers & Tiaras is finally piqued. Alana, ladies and gentlemen, is today’s spirit animal.
Kids write the darndest things when they’re failing exams.
A little bit of me just died.
PS22 performs… The Smiths. And we melt.
Everyone loves something. What do you love?
We love that Sesame Street’s on tumblr.
The three most-repeated attention-getters in the happiness field are:
1. Lottery winners quickly return to the same level of happiness they had before they won the lottery.
2. Paraplegics are just as happy as everyone else.
3. Having kids makes you less happy, not more.
The argument was that our sense of happiness is a perceptual illusion. We believe kids make us happy because we remember the fabulous moments of joy with our kids, while we tend to forget the stress of changing diapers, defusing tantrums, worrying about school admissions, consternation over them not eating food we so laboriously slaved over, et cetera. Kids give us lots to enjoy, but they give us even more to worry about. They cancel themselves out, happiness-wise.
Po Bronson, puzzling out what happiness is.