never married, over forty, a little bitter


But the idea that mass childlessness is the product of a “lifestyle choice” or a political movement defies common sense. We are, after all, highly evolved primates. Reproductive instincts are hard wired in our brains, and historically, only events of serious magnitude—wars, depressions, famine, and seismic shifts in the economic system, such as the industrial revolution—have caused large numbers of women to forgo having children. When resources are scarce, and when they don’t have much help, women will postpone motherhood. And despite the romantic myth of the self-sacrificing mother, if given the option, most women will choose to advance their own position before bearing more children. That’s because in the long run, a woman’s improved status benefits her children. It’s a pattern replicated all over the natural world, and has been for thousands of years.

Our failure to recognize this pattern—and the systemic changes manifested as individual decisions—has serious implications for the future. Many people will argue that a lower birth rate is a good thing for an overpopulated planet—and they will be right, up to a point. It’s the forces driving widespread childlessness that should concern us. America’s disappearing children are the canaries in our coal mines, a warning that our social and economic system is seriously out of whack.


“Marion de Wald cooks,” he said grimly. “She does all the cooking and looks after two kids as well.”

I tried to remember one minute that whole week end when Marion and I weren’t either feeding people, or clearing up from doing it, or preparing to do it again. And presumably she never stopped doing it. But I couldn’t quite see why just because she did, I should. I mean, here was I practically fresh out of the egg, everything was so new to me, and here was everybody telling me to stop drifting, and start living in the this world; telling me to start cooking, and sewing, and cleaning, and I don’t know what. Taking care of my grandchildren.

— Elaine Dundy, The Dud Avocado, p. 144


It is notable that freedom from financial anxiety works wonders for fathers, too; in countries where healthcare is universal and reliable and wages are fair, there’s less need to spend weekends and holidays toiling at the workplace, even in families with only one full-time income.

But the American social conservatives who advocate for women to spend less time in the workforce and more time in the home rarely advocate for the creation or expansion of programs that would support their goals. They operate in a fantasy world in which it’s possible to turn back the clock to the middle of the 20th century – or a television version of it, anyway. But in the real world, poverty and inequality militate powerfully against family life, rendering marriage an unattractive option and child rearing stressful and financially perilous. Anyone interested in promoting participation in family life should thus look to the nations that have managed to do just that.


Liberating women (and all people, for that matter) from the depressing tyranny of the boss has been a long-standing leftist project. McInnes and other social conservatives pay lip service to such liberation when they talk about the unhappiness of working women, but they tend to advocate solutions that merely replace the tyranny of the boss with the tyranny of the spouse, and lock breadwinners into similarly grim straits. The proper aim is to free women and their families from both forms of control, and for that, robust social income and benefit programs like those found in European social democracies are the proven ticket.