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Old 08-29-2006, 02:01 PM   #1
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children: to have, or have not ...

there was an interesting article in this week's newsweek about the well-documented lowered birthrate in most Western (and some advanced) Asian countries. i thought there were some interesting points brought out in the article:


[q]The latest surge in childlessness does not follow historic patterns. For centuries in Western Europe, it was not unusual for a quarter of women to remain childless—a higher rate than in any country today. (In fact, demographers say it was the family-happy 1950s and '60s that defied the historical norm.) But in the past, childlessness was usually the product of poverty or upheaval, of missing men in times of war; infertility strikes 3 percent of couples at most. Today the decision to have—or not have—a child is the result of a complex combination of factors, including relationships, career opportunities, lifestyle and economics.

The new normalcy of childlessness affects all social classes, not just the stereotypical urban slackers or DINKs (double-income-no-kids). Katy Hoffmann, a 37-year-old hairstylist in the village of Friesack, an hour west of Berlin, says, "Even when I was a little girl I knew deep inside I didn't want children." Growing up in communist East Germany, the pressure was intense to marry and get pregnant by the age of 18, not least to qualify for a state-assigned flat. With the fall of the wall came the freedom to choose her life. Her husband, Lars, a 39-year-old firefighter, says he's long been indifferent to kids as well. "At the station the guys with kids tell us childless guys we should do our duty so that we Germans don't die out," he says. "But if I look at all the unemployment today, I'd say a little [population] shrinking couldn't hurt."

And while child-free households have long been common in the big cities of America and Western Europe, they're fast gaining acceptability in more-traditional rural societies as well. Only a few decades ago, Southern European countries like Italy, Greece and Spain were synonymous with fruitful families and tight knit clans— and their social ostracism of those who didn't fit the mold. Now those three countries are tied for Europe's lowest birthrate. Today close to a quarter of all 40-year-old Italian women expect to remain childless.

In some cases childlessness among women can be seen as a quiet form of protest. In Japan, which is in the midst of a child-free revolution, support for working mothers is almost non-existent (though recently that's begun to change). Child care is expensive, men don't help out, and some companies strongly discourage mothers from returning to work. No wonder women there think it's no coincidence that the Japanese word for "child" is pronounced the same way as "lonely." "Children are adorable, but in Japan it's career or child," says Kaori Haishi, author of "Reasons for Not Having a Baby." It's not just women who are opting out of parenthood; according to a recent study, Japanese men are even less inclined to marry or want a child. Their motivations, though, may have more to do with economic factors. Experts point to growing job insecurity and concern about the country's economic direction as driving forces for men's reluctance to raise a family.

At the same time, around the world it's mostly men who are at the head of a growing backlash against the childless. Politicians and religious leaders warn darkly of an "epidemic" of childlessness that saps the moral fiber of nations; they blame the child-free for impending population decline, the collapse of pension systems and even the rise in immigration. In Japan, commentators have identified the "parasite single" who lives off society instead of doing his duty to start a family.

In Germany, where the childless rate is the highest in the world, at 25 percent, the best-seller lists have been full of tomes forecasting demographic doomsday. In "Minimum," the conservative commentator Frank Schirrmacher describes a "spiral of childlessness," where a declining population becomes ever more reluctant to have kids. Media reports have stigmatized the "cold career woman"—one such recent article came with mug shots of childless female celebs—accusing them of placing their jobs before kids. Never mind that Germany trails its neighbors in the availability of child care, or the amount of time men spend helping around the house.

From Germany to Russia, there is increasing talk of sanctions against the childless. In Slovakia, a leading adviser on the government's Strategic Council on Economic Development proposed in March to replace an unpopular payroll tax with a levy on all childless Slovaks between the ages of 25 and 50. In Russia, where the birthrate has dropped from 2.3 in the 1980s to 1.3 today, a powerful business lobby has called for an income-tax surcharge on childless couples. In Germany, economists and politicians have demanded that public pensions for the childless be slashed by up to 50 percent—never mind that such pensions were invented as an alternative to senior citizens' having to depend on their offspring. These moves resonate favorably with voters and the media. Since a large majority of people in all countries still do have children, critics say such measures in effect serve as middle-class tax breaks in the guise of social policy.

In any case, there is no reason to believe that sanctions against the childless will do much to raise the birthrate. Germany, for instance, already spends more than any other country on family subsidies, and has the world's second-highest taxes on childless singles (after Belgium). Yet that hasn't done a thing to boost the birthrate. In fact, critics and demographers say that targeting the childless is misguided. "You can't emphasize enough that childlessness is not the reason for low birthrates," the LSE's Hakim says. Instead, study after study shows that the real culprit is a sharp drop in family size; in low-birthrate countries, those who do have children are just having one or two at most, instead of three or four. In Italy and Japan, among the 80 percent or so of women who do still have children, the one-child mini family has become the new social norm. This, too, is a modern lifestyle choice. "It's the minimal family that lets you off the hook from parents and social expectations, but exacts the least burden on your lifestyle," sociologist Hakim says.

[/q]



so what do we think?

is it fair to sanction those without children? conversely, is it "fair" to reward those who do have children? is it in society's interests to stigmatize those who choose to remain childless? what will happen to society in the long run if a one-child family becomes the norm? is this indicative of societies filled with people who refuse to change their lifestyles, or are people simply giving more thought to what it means to be a parent and choosing to opt out if they feel as if they cannot be a good parent? are these people setting themselves up for a very lonely old age?
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Old 08-29-2006, 02:25 PM   #2
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You should not sanction people who don't have children because what is the alternative here? For them to have an unwanted child in order to escape financial penalties? That sounds so backwards to me.

Also, how do you determine who is "electing" not to have children for various reasons vs. who can't? Everyone has to submit medical documentation in order to escape this tax? Right now every one of us could go and pay for genetic sequencing and find something in our genes which could theoretically cause us to not want to have a child. Bam! Easy solution and a way out of this stupid tax.

As far as choosing not to have children - it's a pretty common phenomenon among my peers. To me, it mostly seems to exist because we (especially women) today have choices we did not have in previous times. My Mom has often said to me that I can choose to live any kind of life I wish, that I don't have to get married or have kids or contribute to church bake sales. When she was growing up in the 50s and 60s, this was not the case. You did not buck the trend unless you wanted to live on the fringes of society. And she has also said to me that if she and her friends are being honest, many of them would choose a different life had they had a chance to do it over again.
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Old 08-29-2006, 02:27 PM   #3
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Re: children: to have, or have not ...

Quote:
Originally posted by Irvine511

so what do we think?

is it fair to sanction those without children? [/B]
Hell no!

Quote:
conversely, is it "fair" to reward those who do have children? [/B]
Hell no! Raise their taxes to pay for a greater share of school costs!

Quote:
is it in society's interests to stigmatize those who choose to remain childless? [/B]
Should we be stigmatizing anbody?

Quote:
what will happen to society in the long run if a one-child family becomes the norm? [/B]
Lower population, better quality of life, less pollution......

Quote:
is this indicative of societies filled with people who refuse to change their lifestyles, or are people simply giving more thought to what it means to be a parent and choosing to opt out if they feel as if they cannot be a good parent? [/B]
Who can afford to raise a child these days. With high divorce rates, who wants to be a single parent of be somebody elses paycheck?

Quote:
are these people setting themselves up for a very lonely old age? [/B]
Lots of lonely old people out there with plenty of family.
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Old 08-29-2006, 07:05 PM   #4
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is it fair to sanction those without children?
No. The implication that there's some kind of obligation to the state to have children is creepy. And no one's going to be fooled into thinking they'd save money by having children anyhow, so what's the point?
Quote:
conversely, is it "fair" to reward those who do have children?
What's a "reward"? Public schools, which made most of our educations possible? Three months max of (unpaid, sleepless) maternity leave, like we get here in the US? EITCs, which max out at $4400 for a 2-child household on a $15K income (you can't claim more than 2 kids towards it) then phase down to $0 as household income reaches $35K? These are necessary measures to protect children from poverty and mothers from workplace discrimination, IMO.

There are reasonable limits of course, but supporting childrearing is in the longterm best interests of society; none of us would be here without it after all, and it's not like children are some kind of luxury item that people who choose to have them "indulge" themselves with. You don't own them or control their destinies, you can't return them if you're dissatisfied, they exert tremendous drains on time and money...it's not like buying a yacht or investing in real estate or something.
Quote:
is it in society's interests to stigmatize those who choose to remain childless?
No, though short of prying questions from nosy relatives and wistful-envious grumbling from friends and coworkers with kids, I'm not sure how much said stigma really adds up to, or if it's any worse than the constant lectures parents get about all the things they're doing wrong.
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what will happen to society in the long run if a one-child family becomes the norm?
That depends on which society you're talking about and what its likely socioeconomic trajectory is.
Quote:
is this indicative of societies filled with people who refuse to change their lifestyles, or are people simply giving more thought to what it means to be a parent and choosing to opt out if they feel as if they cannot be a good parent?
Neither probably. Basically, either the potential pros outweigh the potential cons for you or they don't; no need to moralize it. It certainly will put a crimp or perhaps worse in your lifestyles, there's no two ways about that; on the other hand, there's no such thing as a perfect parent, any more than there is a perfect spouse, and the truly awful ones generally lack the self-insight to recognize that in themselves anyway.

The idea that becoming a parent is the sine qua non of a meaningfully productive life is certainly an assumption worth questioning; on the other hand, so is the idea that "maximum" professional achievement is the same.
Quote:
are these people setting themselves up for a very lonely old age?
Some will be lonely, some won't, depending on what kinds of social support networks they partake of and how reliable these networks are; but then the same goes for parents--who knows whether your children would be willing or able to care for you themselves. There are no guarantees with children, not ever.



You didn't quote this part, but I think the article is probably on target with the theory that declining family size has more to do with waiting until later to marry and start families than anything else.
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Old 08-29-2006, 07:14 PM   #5
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You know, society has expended an awful lot of effort trying to discourage teenage pregnancy by highlighting all the disadvantages of having children. Perhaps once these teens become adults, they still remember how "disadvantageous" it is to have children.

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Old 08-29-2006, 07:48 PM   #6
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So there goes the argument against gay marriage, eh?
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Old 08-29-2006, 08:15 PM   #7
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Originally posted by martha


So there goes the argument against gay marriage, eh?




oh no you DI-int.
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Old 08-29-2006, 08:48 PM   #8
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I don't plan on having children myself...I've already received a lot of criticism for it even from my own family (which is somewhat understandable because my parents just want a ton of grandkids...but that can be left up to my sister who already has a daughter).
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Old 08-29-2006, 11:25 PM   #9
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Originally posted by Irvine511






oh no you DI-int.







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Old 08-30-2006, 03:54 AM   #10
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I ask in all honesty and sincerity, what is the best reason to have kids that is not a selfish one?

It's just one of my inner conflicts.
I do want kids but find it hard to justify bringing them into a world that isn't exactly wonderful. I find most of my reasons would just be selfish. Maybe it's not selfish at all, just asking for a different perspective.
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Old 08-30-2006, 05:04 AM   #11
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What's wrong with selfish reason, your genetic material should get passed down at least once over (so at least 2 kids).
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Old 08-30-2006, 06:07 AM   #12
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This is such an individual choice. I cannot stand articles which try to discuss social trends or reasons why we do or do not have children. Slightly off topic..
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Old 08-30-2006, 06:14 AM   #13
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But they are so very relevent, like the connections between birthrate and rate of religious belief and socioeconomic status.
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Old 08-30-2006, 07:50 AM   #14
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Originally posted by U2DMfan
I do want kids but find it hard to justify bringing them into a world that isn't exactly wonderful. I find most of my reasons would just be selfish.
I don't know that there's any reason one could appeal to--either for or against having children--that would absolutely rule out the possibility of selfish interests, and/or arrogant presumptions about other people. I could tell you in all conscious sincerety that I mean to give something back to the world by bringing into it--and, far more importantly, raising my children to be--people who will work for good within it, but it's not like I can prove to you that my real desire isn't to flatter my ego by vainly attempting to create some sort of idealized version(s) of myself. Likewise, you might tell me in all sincerity that you don't think you'd make a worthy parent due to whatever personal weaknesses, but that doesn't prove that what you really wish to avoid isn't taking responsibility for anyone besides yourself. The overpopulation rationale in practice, particularly when made by citizens of the developed world, winds up being more of an excuse for continued excessive consumption and reckless resource exploitation than anything else. I know for a fact from having helped conduct "ecological footprint" surveys for a local environmental group that our household produces less trash and uses less fuel, electricity and water than most of our childless neighbors do. In the big picture, reduced average family size is part of the solution to this, but only part.

The world isn't an ideal place to bring up children, never has been and never will be.
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Originally posted by Angela Harlem
This is such an individual choice. I cannot stand articles which try to discuss social trends or reasons why we do or do not have children. Slightly off topic..
I'm inclined to agree...too often it tends to provoke hypermoralizing and chauvinism from both sides.
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Originally posted by A_Wanderer
What's wrong with selfish reason, your genetic material should get passed down at least once over (so at least 2 kids).
I'm guessing this is not the way you intend to propose the venture to your prospective childrens' mother.
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Old 08-30-2006, 08:09 AM   #15
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Quote:
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I ask in all honesty and sincerity, what is the best reason to have kids that is not a selfish one?
I don't know...while the perception may be that people have children for selfish reasons, from my experience, once you have a child, the last thing you can be is selfish. As a parent you have to put the child first (or certainly you should) and selfishness basically goes out the window. There's a lot of things that I'd have like to do and my wife would have liked to do over the past 2 years that we have skipped because of our son.

I don't think that anything I do for my child is selfish, I do things cause I want whats best for him, want him to have a healthy happy life.
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