HOBSON: So the pressure is even greater to have children?
SANDLER: I’ve heard that from a lot of people. I mean, certainly in the 1950s, it was a very different thing, when one was sort of understood to be a mother first. But it’s funny how after feminism, to a certain extent, and when we rely on women as such an important part of the marketplace, when we celebrate self-reliance and individual choice as hallmarks of what it means to be an adult in America today, this is the one thing that kind of refuses to die; that if women do not choose to have children, our culture does not know what to do with them. They must be lacking something. They must be non-nurturing. They must be refusing to participate in our norms.
HOBSON: What are the consequences that you learned about in your reporting, that we should be thinking about if many people are choosing to go child-free?
SANDLER: You know, it’s a good question, and there are a lot of different answers to it. You’ll find a lot of conservative economists who think that this means the end of our economy. There are some people who believe that this will be the end of our military. There is a lot of hand-wringing amongst people who believe that women’s purpose is really to have babies.
I am not one of those people, and I see a very different way of looking at this – which is that I don’t believe that we have yet really come to terms with what women’s freedom truly looks like, and yet even though we depend on women so much now in the marketplace and in furthering our culture, we have an expectation, and we don’t have policy to support that expectation.
The disconnect between the realities of motherhood and the realities of a modern working life are quite dramatic, and they’re especially dramatic in the United States. I recently published a book on what it means to have an only child, which is actually my personal choice, and so I’ve spent years now, talking to people about how these choices are made. And I have yet to find a single person who thinks about the larger social implications of their own possible birth.