Clockwise from top left: Josiah, Makai, Jeremiah, Nariyah, Jonah, Noah, Maliyah and Isaiah were born to unemployed single mom Nadya Suleman on Jan. 26 after she received fertility treatments.



How DARE you have 8 children!



The birth of Nadya Suleman's octuplets have brought to a head what researchers have been noticing in the air of the USA’s—“righteous anger” at anyone who dares to have a large family (let alone have eight kids all at once). I am less interested here in Nadya’s situation (or the ethics of implanting embryos) as in how America is becoming hostile to people with children.


A recent study released from Rutgers University (sponsored by the National Marriage Project) observes there is an increasingly hostility to couples having any children who automatically become burdens to taxpayers who have to fund schools for them—even hostility toward families who are not on food stamps.  Their insightful report is titled Life Without Children: The Social Retreat From Children And How It Is Changing America. Rather than writing a full column on this I’m going to simply type up my own notes from the report. You can read the entire report at the link above, but here are my notations that I think are worthy of being aware of, and some questions I’m pondering. I hope you’ll add your insights:

(If you are in a hurry read the red sentences)


1.     American life is changing so that children are less central to the lives of Americans. p3 Marriage is undergoing a profound change and much of that change is shifting the focus away from children. p4

2.     More than half of all births to women under thirty are now outside of marriage. p6

3.     [At the same time] child-centeredness within marriage is fading—legally, socially and culturally, marriage is now defined primarily as a couple relationship dedicated to the fulfillment of each individual’s innermost needs and desires. p7

4.     As recently at 1990, 65% of the public said that “children are very important to a successful marriage.” By 2007…only slightly more than 40% agreed with that statement. p7

5.     More women postpone both marriage until later—to age 30 for college educated women, and they postpone having children several more years producing a new longer era of life—married before children. p12ff

6.     Likewise “life after children” has expanded—a women who reaches 65 can expect to live 20 more years meaning she lives as much as 60 years of her life without children. p11-12

7.     More women are having no children at all—24% of college educated women have no children at all—ever. p12-13

8.     [Thus there is a shrinking number of people with children in a society—and the rest are left to pay the bills for education and other infrastructure supporting the next generation.]

9.     Father absence is a commonplace feature in a society where marriage and parenthood are splitting apart. p17 Close to eight out of ten African-American children are born outside marriage. p17 But father-absence is not limited to only one group—34% of American children in 2000 were not living with their father—and that was nine year ago. p18

10. [All this combines to mean] there are a declining number of American households with children. The percentage of American households with children has dropped from nearly five out of ten in 1960 to slightly more then three out of ten today. Having children means you are in the minority. p19-20

11. A factor is that having children costs lots of money. To feed house and clothe a child to age 17 costs $204,060. And that does not count sports, music, camp, tutoring and the like. The media’s insessant message is children are budget-busters. For many parents the costs of child rearing means more debt, smaller retirement savings and greater exposure to economic uncertainties then they would otherwise have. [So more chose to live for themselves and opt out of having kids.] p25-29

12. We are in the midst of a profound change in American life. Demographically, socially and culturally, the nation is shifting from a society of child-rearing families to a society of child-free adults. p30

13. [Thus] parents today have less political clout. In the last Presidential election, parents represented slightly less than 40% of the electorate. In order to be heard parents will have to must increasingly organize more like a special interest group and explain themselves to a larger population. p31

14. Parents are losing community support for funding of schools and youth activities. Voters are rejecting school budgets with the idea that children are not the responsibility of the childless adults. p31

15. Pop culture has promoted programs like Friends and Sex and the City glamorizing and sexualizing young urban child-less life. [and programs like The Office make children and families seem unnecessary.]  p32

16. The expressive values of the adults-only world are at odds with the values of the child-rearing world. The new ethos is libertarian; its outlook is present-minded; its pursuits include the restless quest for new experiences; the preoccupation with youth and sex appeal; a denial of suffering, loss of finitude; and confidence in personal transformation through the make-over, the second chance and the new beginning. In short America is an aging society with an adolescent culture. p35

17. The cultural devaluation of child-rearing is especially harmful in the American context. [in some European cultures parents are paid to rear the next generation—in America the main compensation is cultural  affirmation and that is disappearing—parents with six children must defend themselves for their incontinence.] p36

18. Parenting today is commonly viewed as a private lifestyle choice that competes with other appealing lifestyle choices. p36

19. [A sidebar analysis shows this has been a long time coming and includes movements like environmental activism and ZPG (save-the–world and have no kids), Feminism (kids will sidetrack your career), libertarianism (you choose what you want—just stay out of my pocket).] p41-41


The thoughts I’m pondering after reading this study:

1.     Could parenting in America increasingly become a lifestyle choice some make that the rest are not obligated to support—more like the homosexual lifestyle?

2.     Will the larger child-free populace try to write children out of public budgets—pushing for the elimination of income tax benefits for children, voting down funding for public schools, and cutting back on college loans as they increasingly see children as “the burden of the parents, not of society?” Are we headed toward the model of closed schools, silent playgrounds and an aging population absorbed their own comfortable life (and with reorganizing government to meet their own needs)?

3.     To what extend do Christian young people agree that a “successful marriage” is about (in order of the survey) [1]Sharing household chores, [2]Sexual fulfillment and [3]Mutual interests—all ahead of “Having children?” To what extent does the view of marriage uncovered by this secular study pervade Christian young people? And, of marriage is mostly about those three things, to what extent does that kind of partnership even require an opposite-sex relationships?

4.     To what extent do we in the church encourage child-free adulthood in our programming and ethos?  Is this good as we follow the changes in a culture or does it concern us?  We followed the up-with-singleness culture with increased awareness and programming, will we follow the child-free (or even child-prejudice?) movement too? Would that be bad or good?

5.     How will this massive cultural shift already in its advanced stages affect children’s and youth programming in the church? The church often quietly adopts the culture’s values after a few years of decrying it. Will we do this in the church on child-rearing? If we do, what does this mean for future age-level staffing positions in the church—for youth pastors, children’s ministries staff? Will an increasing number of child-free adults on board question the expense per-person of youth and children’s ministries? Will there be a push to exchange youth pastor positions for a new position: senior adult pastor? Will child-free board members expect couple-who-choose-to-have-kids to take care of their own kids’ needs?

6.     Will the shrinking number of adults-with-children hover even more as “helicopter parents” as they act more like an interest group or minority? Will the quest to “raise a perfect child” actually increase with the parents as their numbers decrease?

7.     How does all this affect the home-school movement? To what extent is home schooling a product of it—parents taking full responsibility for their own children without being a burden to the public treasury? 

8.     If churches actually do eliminate youth programming, will some sort of home-youth-programming emerge? Or will “mainlining” youth into adult program become more popular? Or will regional children’s and youth programming emerge that parents will band together to support—like they pay for swimming lessons, driving school, ballet lessons, and soccer leagues?

9.     Where does a society wind up when it cares less about the next generation? Where does a church wind up when it cares less about the next generation? How would denominations reorganize if they cared less about the coming generations?

10.  How should the church respond proactively to these shifts—shift with them and adapt or somehow push back?


I’d really like to hear your thinking on this as we in the church together ponder this shift in the culture. Changes like this as slow and thus it is never an emergency to discuss—but slow changes are the most permanent. Have you seen any evidence of this sort of shift in the last 10 years?


So what do you think?

During the first few weeks, click here to comment or read comments


Keith Drury   February 24, 2009