Jonathan Last–The Rise of Childless Americans

The latest numbers suggest that an amazingly high percentage of women today””18.8 percent””complete their childbearing years having had no children. Another 18.5 percent of women finish having had only one child. Together, that’s nearly 40 percent of Americans who go their entire lives having either one child or no children at all.

And it’s a big change in behavior from the recent past. There have always been people who lived without having children””either by happenstance or by choice. But for all of American history, the numbers of this cohort were fairly small. In 1970, for instance, just about 8 percent of women completed their childbearing years with no children. (And only about 11 percent of women finished with only one child.) Over the next 40 years, those numbers rose almost without interruption. (The numbers ticked backward only once, in 2002.) This dramatic increase in childlessness””the number more than doubled””took place in just two generations and came at a time when medical advances were drastically improving the odds of infertile couples conceiving.

So what happened?

Read it all.


Posted in * Culture-Watch, * Religion News & Commentary, Anthropology, Children, Ethics / Moral Theology, Marriage & Family, Other Faiths, Philosophy, Religion & Culture, Science & Technology, Secularism, Sexuality, Sociology, Theology

2 comments on “Jonathan Last–The Rise of Childless Americans

  1. Teatime2 says:

    Wait, he pins part of the reason for fewer children on Social Security? LOL. Yes, indeed. Collectively, Americans all had children to provide financial, physical and social support for themselves in old age. And that whoppingly huge Social Security check was seen as letting everyone off the hook so, collectively, Americans shouted, ”Yay! Now we don’t need to have many or any kids!” Seriously? People actually think this way?

    Well, in my family going back three or so generations, family size was variable but the philosophy was quite the opposite. You worked hard and situated yourself so that you could retain independence in your old age and also be able to help out your adult children if they hit a rough spot.

    Yes, he’s right that the change from agrarian society and the introduction of family planning lowered family sizes. But other realities made having children much more expensive and a longer-lasting liability, if we’re simply looking at the economics of childbirth and child-rearing.

    It’s funny, though, how romantic hindsight can be. Back in the day, people had a lot of children knowing that some wouldn’t survive beyond early cildhood. If they all did survive, the oldest often didn’t complete high school because they had to help support the family. Girls were married off in their teens. If tragedy struck, as it did in my mum’s family, kids were split up between family members able to take them and orphanages.

    It wasn’t idyllic. We know that. Bless those who have the desire and abilities to raise large families. But don’t castigate those who choose not to or simply can’t. Trying to score political points with this is ridiculous, though.

  2. ATC_in_Texas says:

    I find it unfair that having one child is lumped in with no children. Why is having one child not valued?

    I love and treasure my only son as much as I would have if we had two children. We decided to stop at one due to the cost of raising a child, my age, and autoimmune problems that I carry and passed down to my child.