Thursday, August 15, 2013

Time Magazine's Childfree Life

From Laverne and Shirley in the 1970’s to Sex and City in the 1990’s, the childless life has been celebrated and even promoted by the entertainment industry for decades. Unfortunately, the message that “having it all without having children” has not only resonated among the common folk, but statistics are beginning to show that whether or not adults choose to have it all, more of them, nevertheless, are choosing not to have children.

Incidentally, the August 12 edition of Time Magazine’s featured article, "The Childfree Life" by Lauren Sandler, argues in favor for such a lifestyle. In fact, the subtitle reads: When having it all means not having children. In the introduction of her article, Sandler provides compelling statistics on the decline of the birthrate in America. The demographic crisis that was once relegated to Europe has indeed crossed the pond. Indeed, the trend of depopulation is no longer a European thing anymore. Initially, the contributor of Time Magazine gave me the impression that the secular media might- just might! –be seeing the writing on the wall: That America is headed for a demographic winter. She even reported the following:

"The birthrate in the U.S. is the lowest in recorded American history. From 2007 to 2011, the most recent year for which there's data, the fertility rate declined 9%. A 2010 Pew Research report showed that childlessness has risen across all racial and ethnic groups, adding up to about 1 in 5 American women who end their childbearing years maternity-free, compared with 1 in 10 in the 1970s. Even before the recession hit, in 2008, the proportion of women ages 40 to 44 who had never given birth had grown by 80%..."

But no! By citing the declining birthrate statistics Sandler did not go so far as to consider what the repercussions would be for a childless nation. The fact that there are more adult diapers sold in Japan than baby diapers and that this has a lot to do with their decreasing global economic significance, does not enter into the discussion. Neither does the historical evidence that nations with declining birthrates do not fare well in times of crisis. As Fulton Sheen once said,

“History does not reveal the survival of a single nation with a declining birthrate in a moment of trial and crisis…The decline of the population always begins with the economic top; those who could most afford to have children do not. The group less economically blessed produces more. Soon the infection against the family spreads from those in high economic brackets to those below, and a civilization goes into decline.”

And what about the fact that Europe’s below replacement fertility just happens to be concurrent with their looming fiscal problems? That too is an important consideration. And as for America, it is by no means exempt from the cold chill of the demographic winter. More and more eulogies are given by politicians over the anticipated insolvency of the U.S. Social Security entitlement program.  Moreover, there is certainly more cost-benefit analysis going on in healthcare and medical communities over elderly clients/patients because of the growing number of aging Baby-Boomers. But as far as Time Magazine is concerned, the lifestyle which has led to America’s birthrate decline has to be defended. But please note, it has to be defended with their eyes closed to the future; not just for America as a nation but for Americans as individuals.

Sadly, like many proponents of secular-liberalism, Lauren Sandler acknowledges that some people have serious concerns about a declining birthrate, but she never seriously responds to the merits of those concerns. For instance, she made reference to The Weekly Standard’s Jonathan V. Last and his book, What to Expect When No One’s Expecting. Sandler has him saying that “the selfishness of the childless American is responsible for no less than the possible destruction of our economic future by reducing the number of consumers and taxpayers.” And, to her credit, she acknowledged an insightful commentary on what a childless nation portends by Ross Douhat, who happens to be an informed Catholic. She said, “In a December column in the New York Times headlined more babies, please, Ross Douhat argued that the ‘retreat rearing is, at some level, is a symptom of late modern exhaustion’ –an indicator of ‘decadence,’ reveal a ‘spirit that privileges the present over the future.’”

So much to unpack with these dire predictions! But does she intellectually engage the points being advanced by Jonathan V. Last and Ross Doughat’s ? No, she does not! Instead, she assumes a defensive posture with a complaint that women who choose to be childless are often judged because fertility treatment is widely available. She then quotes Amy Richards, author of Opting In: Having a Child Without Losing Yourself, who said, “There’s more pressure on women to be mothers, to fulfill that obligation, than I’ve ever seen.” Really?! If the American birthrate is at a record low, to use the words of Sandler, then is the pressure on women to be mothers really that bad?

With that said, if the pressure to be a mother and the pain of being judged for not having children wasn’t enough, Sandler sounds the alarm on what the average child costs. “The rise of attachment parenting,” she said, “with its immersive demands, and the sheer economic cost of raising a child- for a child born in 2011, an average of $234,000 until the age of 18, according to the USDA, and $390,000 if your household earns over $100,000- has made motherhood a formidable prospect for some women.” No doubt, with each new child there is a mouth to feed. But Sandler misses the more important truth that with each new child there are hands to build and minds to invent. Perhaps this is why the explosion of the technological progress rise in the early twentieth century followed the sudden spike in the world’s population ( i.e. due to the reduction of infant mortality rate).

In any event, if you are looking for a serious refutation to the argument that a declining birthrate does not bode well for America…well…the reader is not going to find it in the featured article of Time Magazine’s, "The Child Free Life." Neither does it meaningfully prove false the worry that childless parents will suffer from loneliness in their old age.

Meet Eleanore Wells. Sandler introduces her as a market researcher in New York City. And like other childless women, Sandler claims that “she finds judgment at every turn.” In fact, she was rudely asked, "Who is going to take care of you when you’re old?" And then Sandler goes on to report that Wells wanted to reply that nursing homes are filled with parents. Again, this is true, in part, because more parents are choosing to have their children raised by people other than themselves (i.e. daycare. Here, I speak of the preference by many parents to rely on daycares, not its necessity that circumstances sometimes requires). It naturally follows, therefore, that when these parents in their old age need care, their son or daughter behave as they were raised; they too will likely rely on an institution outside of the home to care for a loved one. But by not having children at all, the chances of being institutionalized in one’s old age increases ten-fold. It almost guarantees it if, in fact, the elderly person who never had children cannot care for him or herself. Again, Sandler and Eleanore Wells miss the bigger picture.

When all is said and done, we have to remember that truth lies in proportion; that is, the communication and perception of truth are not only a matter of raw content, it also depends on what is emphasized and what is not. Time Magazine contributor, Lauren Sandler, raises some legitimate points. Children do cost a lot. And no childless parent should be “judged” (but neither should parents who have eight or ten children).  Still, these considerations pale in comparison to the eventual outcome of a childless nation. And it is precisely this outcome that Sandler fails to take seriously in her article.

Finally, the Catholic Church's teaching on contraception and on procreation will be vindicated as soon as nations discover that a childfree life may be an ideal for worldly people, but it is no way to ensure their longevity.  It is important to note that faithful observance of God’s moral law is the best guarantee of national prosperity. After all, divine law anticipates what people like Lauren Sandler will not or cannot anticipate. 

By the looks of Time Magazine's cover, the quest for a childfree life is a way to have it all. But when this quest goes nationwide and when the results of that quest take hold, Time Magazine will be forced to show a different picture; one that will hardly resemble the vacation-like image we find on their August 12th edition.