[Update: Every few months, this post attracts a sudden rush of outraged and often profane feedback of the "How Dare You Seriously Suggest . . ." variety. In nearly every case, it's obvious that the angry commenters have misunderstood the post's final paragraphs. To me this is confirmation of the poor state of cultural literacy in contemporary America. If you read this post and are considering posting an outraged or indignant comment, read this first so you will know what the phrase "modest proposal" has meant in English for the last 300 years. If your comment displays no awareness of this phrase's meaning, it will be summarily deleted.]
I’ve read more than a few columns and blog posts decrying the supposed cult of natalism among certain demographics (primarily white conservative evangelicals) in America today. Take, for example, the reactions in some quarters to the Duggars of reality-TV fame. They are viewed alternately with scorn (“are they nuts?“) and fear (“scary and icky“), and are sometimes even blamed for destroying the planet. Having never watched their show, I can’t comment on any personality issues the Duggars may or may not have, but I find the revulsion some show towards people who choose to have more than 2.2 children to be pretty offensive.
I’ve come to realize, in part thanks to this article (N.B. some bad language) my wife forwarded to me, that antipathy to parenthood is really widespread in America today. Apparently there are tens of millions of married couples in our society who are “childless by choice” (no info in the article on how many abortions were needed for these folks to maintain their status).
Over and over again the word “lifestyle” appears in the article’s apologia for voluntary barrenness. It’s true that you can afford to be much more self-centered without kids and can entertain yourself to a far greater degree when you spend your entire paycheck on yourself. The author waxes eloquent about the pity he feels towards his old friends who are now burdened with children.
He does make a pathetic attempt to deal with the objection that childless couples aren’t pulling their weight in the job of maintaining civilization by pointing to . . . the Duggars. “See, I found a couple with 20 kids! They make up for the 20+ million childless couples!” Really? If the article’s estimates are correct that roughly one third of married couples in America are childless, that would mean the other two thirds would need to have an average of more than three children per couple to pick up their slack, just to replace the current population. Since, even in the Bible-Belt South, people give you weird looks if they see you with more than two children, that certainly doesn’t seem likely to play out.
What do you want to bet that this author expects one day to collect a monthly Social Security check and Medicare benefits paid for by the children of the contemporaries he pities so? Does his choice to enjoy more vacations and lattes today while expecting others to provide for his future cause him to lose any sleep at night? Not likely.
Here’s my modest proposal to solve the country’s budget and demographic problems: Congress should pass legislation stating that if you are “childless by choice,” you must choose one of the following options:
- Forego Social Security and Medicare until you are 80 years old.
- Pay the college tuition of two children from families with more than three children.
- Provide ten hours per week of free babysitting for families with more than three children.
I mean, this is a recession, and we all need to pull together and tighten our belts, right? Why should the freeloading childless enjoy themselves on the backs of those rearing future taxpayers?