Childfree as Lifestyle Choice

Laura Carroll, Childfree Choice

Last Sunday’s New York Times had an interesting article by Patricia Cohen—“Long Road to Adulthood is Growing Even Longer.”  It talks about how “young adulthood has undergone a profound shift.”  According to Frank Furstenberg, of the Foundation Research Network on Transitions to Adulthood, “people between 20-34 are taking longer to finish their educations, establish themselves in careers, marry, have children and become financially independent…a new period of life is emerging in which young people are no longer adolescents but not yet adults.”

A report by Princeton and the Brookings Institution indicates that …

..people not only view marriage as a lifestyle choice but parenthood as a lifestyle choice.  Love seeing findings like this! This is not only a view, but is language that reflects the position that parenthood is an Option, not destiny.

The article lays out the latest stats on delaying motherhood and marriage, including delaying motherhood stretches across all races and ethnic and income groups, according to Pew Research Center.  Also, “marriage has disappeared as definition of traditional adulthood;”  in 1990, births to unmarried mothers was 28%. Today, it is 40%.

Regarding childless stats at 20% for women in their 40s, Furstenberg points out that in the 50s this would have been seen as “bizarre or tragic” – it has come a long way now to be seen as a lifestyle choice.

We need to talk about being childfree more in these terms.  It is a linguistic frame that gets it away from starting with parenthood first, and characterizing “childless” or “childfree” based on something we are “not.”

On another channel, on the downside of the long road to the independence that comes with adulthood, the article indicates that in 2000 1/5th of 25 year old white men lived with their parents, and in 2007 this was the case for 1/4thof these men.  Furstenberg thinks that this is because we’ve not developed and strengthened institutions to serve young adults, such as nonresidential and community colleges and national service programs, “because we’re still living with the archaic idea that people enter adulthood in their late teens or early 20s.”

I think they still enter adulthood, but it’s the definition of adulthood that needs to change. It is not just that you are out of college and working and living on your own by early twenties.  Our economy has made this a longer road for this generation. Adulthood is more about actions that reflect taking responsibility for your own life and how you want to live it on your own terms.  This includes when and whether you reproduce.

The definition of parenthood seems to be changing too, at last.  As a “lifestyle choice” it helps to make it more OK to choose not to, as it is to have kids.

What do you think?

12 thoughts on “Childfree as Lifestyle Choice

  1. As more childfree people reach middle age, the younger generation, those still (perhaps) on the fence about being childfree, will have more childfree, older people around them to influence them and let them know it is okay to make a lifestyle choice which may not be in line with the typical “life script” to have kids.

    Relating to your earlier blog piece, I wonder what these stats are for a country such as Italy with its low birth rate and more younger men living with their parents like in that “60 Minutes” piece I referred to?

    1. Hi Deegee–a few years ago msnbc did a piece on Italian men living at home — check it out: http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/5761647/ It says more than half of Italian men between 25-35 lived with their mother and the reasons…that piece was done in 2004 so wonder if those stats have changed or not. Will surf around the net to see….~L

  2. Well this comment makes me a bit prickly: “a new period of life is emerging in which young people are no longer adolescents but not yet adults.”

    I am 40 years old and own my own home – in fact, it is paid off. I’ve been living on my own since I was 22, even though I had to work two jobs for several years, and I eventually made a decent career for myself in financial analysis. I take good care of myself and my dog. I’ve never even bounced a check! Yet because I have never been married and am childfree, I’m “not yet an adult”? What a condescending attitude.

    1. Hi Pirate Jo–agreed, but I try to keep in mind that that quote is in relation to the piece referrring to adulthood in the “old” terms, when “adult” supposedly meant out of college, have job, get married, have kids, etc. The article, on its best face, by the end, seems to be entertaining a new definition that expands it beyond the old mindset. Your make me think of one of the myths around not having kids by choice–that somehow it means we are unwilling to accept the responsibilities of adulthood. Your financial responsibility and life is an shining example of debunking this myth. Kudos to you. ~L

  3. I agree with your comment that being an adult is about taking responsibility for yourself. It seems, in Australia, that my nieces, nephews and friends children are far more naive than what we were at their age. Perhaps because their parents tend to wrap them in “cotton wool” even into their late 20’s, and are catching them at every fall. Makes it hard then, when as an employer you have to spoon feed them at every step and they act like it’s their right. Where’s the adult behavior in that?. (Sorry, had to have that rant). They are, however, more sophisticated and well informed in regards to things like sex and the law and far more open minded. Nothing seems to phase them. They haven’t grown up with the social prejudice like we did for example of being gay, a single parent, foreign or childfree.

    I think being childfree is not that big a deal anymore amongst the younger generation, and possibly viewed now as more a lifestyle choice.

    1. Re being childfree being less of a big deal with the younger generation–I hope you are right. It is part of what I want to study and track with the longitudinal study I will be starting soon with 20 somethings~L

  4. Pirate Jo, that bugs me too. According to that reasoning, some 15-year-old girl who gets knocked up by some boy is more “adult” than we are even though she pretty much can’t do anything else we can do.

    To me, things such as voting, serving on a jury, buying a car, buying a residence/signing a lease, graduating from college, meeting with your elected leaders to discuss issues, and working at a full-time job (or if you are retired early like me LOL!) are things which make you an adult. Having sex without protection and becoming a parent, something any underaged moron with functioning sex organs can do, is surely not one of them.

    1. It is interesting how our society has historically characterized “adulthood” as practically synonomous with parenthood, whether intended or not.
      To me it stems from being in such a child-centric society with everything being seen through the kid lense — you must be an adult because you have kids, you must not be selfish becuase you have kids, you are a good person because you have kids, and the list goes on! From mrs flowerpot’s comment–I hope she is right that being childfree is not as big of a deal with the younger generation, as this has the potential to influence these kind of age old myths. ~L

  5. About the kid lense–

    It’s not only what you “must be” because you have kids. I know this is going to sound “selfish” to some people, but I for one am getting a little tired of kid-centric society in general. I “must be” some kind of child-hating shrew because I don’t want to have my dinner ruined by people who bring their children into nice restaurants and then allow them to throw tantrums. I would, in fact, be tickled to see more “adults only” establishments that aren’t bars or some part of the sex industry. I understand that people who have kids want to go out and have nice meals too, but there’s no reason to bring the kids to places where they won’t eat the food.

    Some things I’d like to see made more ‘adult friendly’ include:

    Restaurants
    Airplanes (if I end up being the unintentional babysitter for one more person’s screaming kids on an international flight because mommy booked a seat across the plane and took a xanax I might just go mad)
    Shopping (I’d like, just occasionally, to go shopping for groceries or clothes and not have to watch out for children in places they shouldn’t be.)

    Okay, so probably my real beef is with irresponsible parenting in general. But I’d like, every once in awhile, to go out in public and find that there’s a place where it’s “safe” for me to be an adult without kids and my decision is respected by those who have chosen to have children by way of those people teaching their children to behave correctly or leaving them at home.

    1. Shaun, All I can say is…Amen! It is not selfish. To me it is about respect for others, which often is violated in our kid-centric society and all the assumptions that go with it–including we’re supposed to just put up with irresponsible parenting! Great comments. ~L

  6. I’m a straight middle aged female, no interest in having children, soon to move to Myrtle Beach. Looking to meet other people in Myrtle Beach who have decided to not be parents.

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