“No One Told Them to Have Children!” Is Becoming a Mainstream Attitude Today

Poor people having children

An economic trend and a social trend have combined today such that parents are now being judged today by a completely new set of criteria.

With the decline of the middle class, more people than ever before are being judged by the criteria, “No one told them to have children!”  In other words, the new criteria means that instead of full adulthood being conferred only upon those who have become parents and householders, that adults are now judged as being irresponsible for becoming parents, unless they can provide a middle-class standard or above for raising their children.

How did this change come about, and in only two generations?

The first element was a social change, with the sexual revolution, with availability and acceptability of contraception and abortion, and more young married adults choosing a child-free lifestyle.  A generation ago, those choosing to be child-free were called selfish.  Now, they are called responsible, especially if their incomes are not up to an upper-middle-class level.

In today’s America, getting married and having children is no longer the normal progression of adult life.  Now, it’s about finding a job or career which pays enough to afford a middle-class lifestyle.  Anyone who has children, by choice or mistakenly, without having achieved that, is now judged harshly as being a burden on society.

Thus, the middle classes are very careful now to have only one or two children. A few upper-middle-class  families have several children, and can well afford them, but more are having only two children.  Lower-middle-class  parents, as well as any parents who are struggling financially, are now viewed as irresponsible, and that their problems are of their own making.  “No one told them to have children!” is now a common judgement by those without children.

The poor (even the married poor) are judged most harshly for having children, whereas in the past the married poor would have been expected to have children.  The poor often have more children, but not always for the reasons (irresponsibility) that the childless or better-off imagine.  (Those reasons are not the subject of this post.)

In the past, only Catholics were judged for having too many children and being poor because of it.  Now, all poor families are judged for having any children at all.

To other cultures, the new situation in America appears incredible.  Other societies view children as the foundation of their growth and family support of the different generations throughout life as a necessity.  Other societies place less burden on young parents, whether they provide free daycare for working mothers (European societies) or inter-generational child care for children, or even the support of having maids at home,  to enable parents to work.

Two generations ago, the norm was that women were at home caring for children, while men worked.  But as women have gone to work, American society has not provided any workable childcare solution compared to other societies.  The result is that now, it has become socially acceptable and even common to judge that whole classes of people should no longer be having children at all.

–Lynne Diligent

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11 Responses to ““No One Told Them to Have Children!” Is Becoming a Mainstream Attitude Today”

  1. amseghir Says:

    This is a very controversial issue, indeed. This situation is the same even in Morocco. I’m still not married, but I’m not planning on having many kids when I do.

    Provided my current (and potential) financial status, having ONE child would be more than enough.

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  2. Lynne Diligent Says:

    Very interesting, amseghir. I understand the pressures of modern life are in Morocco now. One thing I don’t think has arrived in still-developing countries is the idea that whole classes of people, or especially lower-class people, should not be having children AT ALL–if for no other reason, that they still need those children to support them in old age, since the majority of the population is not yet covered by any type of social security. What do you think?

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    • amseghir Says:

      I think this kind of thinking has been invading Morocco in the last decade. As a matter of fact, when I read the title of this post, I thought it was about an Eastern country!

      I remember a discussion between two women arguing over the use of contraceptive, the woman who was against contraceptive said that it’s against the will of God. The other woman replied, “Well, if you really want me to have many children, why don’t you give me access to your bank account!” And these women were not young or educated, which means that this type of thinking is really common in Morocco.

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  3. Katherine Says:

    I think the reasons are not about “lifestyle” as much as about new information regarding the health of children, of women, and of lifetime outcomes. High childbearing rates were and are accompanied by high levels of infant and young child mortality, maternal mortality, and population increasing beyond the land’s capacity to sustain numbers. Areas of high birthrates mine their soils, or, if displaced to cities, they mine the fertility of farmlands elsewhere. As people grow more educated, and, especially, as women take more control over their fertility, they reduce their childbirth rates.

    Also, women in the working classes often *didn’t* stay home to raise their kids, nor did their husbands. Staying home was very much a class and privilege issue, historically, and the unpaid labour value of “women’s work” can be > 60% that of total GDP.

    We have 7 billion people on the planet as it is. Large families are unnecessary and, indeed, irresponsible. The real issues are about equitable distribution of labour and profit, and the increasing inequality between the too-rich and the too-poor, which in turn affects the elderly as well as the young.

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  4. Lynne Diligent Says:

    I see! But the question I would really like an answer to is whether OTHER people in Morocco are now judging the poor harshly for continuing to have children they can’t afford to raise properly. In the past, the solution for the poor was to place them with more well-off families as child maids. Now that there are very few child maids and children are expected to go to school, how are these poor families who can’t afford to feed their children managing? These poor rural women are most likely young and don’t have access to contraception. So, are poor married couples in Morocco now being harshly judged by OTHERS for having too many children, or not yet?

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  5. Happy Elf Mom Says:

    I don’t care how many children someone has, but I have to say it miffs me that people plan children they can’t care for, knowing my tax dollars DO.

    We are lower-middle class, and our van is 13 years old. We buy most of our clothes at the thrift store and shop for bulk foods. If someone in my family gets cancer, we have to seriously think about foregoing treatment because it will take all we have and more. And the person could still die. Meanwhile, the poor sail along, oblivious to what “getting cancer” means financially. Or worrying about paying for school fees or instruments or pretty much anything because THEIR fees get waived and mine don’t. They get free hot lunches, THAT WE PAY FOR, and then their kids have the audacity to make fun of mine because WE can’t afford the school lunches. Our children pack peanut butter every day.

    Every child is a blessing, but there is a reason why people – especially middle class people – get very miffed at lower class people having several children they obviously cannot pay for.

    People in unforeseen circumstances I view very differently, however. “Stuff” could happen to anyone. Those are the sorts of people these programs are supposed to help, and I have no problem being generous to someone going through a hard time.

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  6. Lynne Diligent Says:

    All very good points, Happy Elf Mom!

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  7. Crazy Calvin Says:

    To borrow Pope Francis’ words (which he stated in a very different context), “Who am I to judge them?”

    Having said that, I do think there is sound wisdom in this sentence:

    One should not breed them if one cannot afford to feed them.

    Please pardon me if I sound offensive to those who have plenty of kids, but one only needs to take a look at the breeding rates in the animal kingdom (to which humans belong).

    The lower the breeding rate of an animal species, the more evolved it tends to be on the evolutionary ladder.

    Micro-organisms tend to breed at an alarming rate (in suitable conditions). Slightly up the evolutionary ladder, insects like ants and mosquitoes spend a huge portion of their energies during their short lifespans to breed as many offspring as possible. Moving further up, vertebrates like fishes, amphibians and reptiles are a bit more restrained in creating and bringing semi-copies of themselves into this world, while still striving to outdo the fellow members of their species in terms of breeding.

    Moving further up the ladder, birds lay only very few eggs during their lifespan, when compared to the other egg-laying species (lower ones) in the animal kingdom, while they do spend a huge effort in trying to successfully hatch them and raise the little hatchlings till they can fend on their own.

    Mammals, of course, are unique in the sense that they don’t lay eggs. This makes them breed at an even lower rate than birds (in general), because of the sheer energy they have to spend in bringing their young ones into the world.

    Even among mammals, there is a clear difference in the number of offspring in each litter among different species. Those like rats and rabbits procreate rather prolifically. Those like cats and dogs are relatively more restrained in their procreation habits, while still having more than one young one in each litter. Then there are those mammals (in general, the larger ones) which tend to have only one offspring at a time under normal circumstances.

    Humans belong to the last group of having only one offspring at a time (although humans do give birth to twins, triplets etc., these are exceptions rather than the rule).

    What does this suggest?

    To me, it seems that reproduction can be graded on a quantitative-qualitative scale.

    The simpler species of the animal kingdom tend to follow the quantitative model of reproduction.

    The more evolved a species is in the animal kingdom, the less quantitative and more qualitative its reproduction strategy becomes.

    I wonder if this kind of generalisation is also applicable within members of the same species?

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  8. Crazy Calvin Says:

    One remarkable phenomenon that has been observed in the countries of the Third World is that the number of children a woman has is indirectly proportional to her level of educational attainment. Simply put – in general, the more educated a woman happens to be, the fewer children she tends to have!

    In other words, women’s education is by far the most effective form of controlling population explosion in the Third World:

    http://www.independent.co.uk/news/education/education-news/educate-girls-to-stop-population-soaring-1050580.html

    Again, I don’t mean to sound offensive to those having plenty of kids, for I don’t know if this kind of generalisation is applicable to First World societies.

    I guess once women understand (through education) that their self-worth is by no means defined by the number of children they have, then the amount of child-bearing and child-rearing they perform becomes a matter of choice in their lives, instead of the compulsory obligation it was earlier (and still is to those women who haven’t been liberated through education).

    Contraceptive methods may have empowered women to decide the course of their own lives, but the greatest liberator that enabled and enables those empowerment methods happens to be education.

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