Thursday, March 06, 2014

The Baby Bust and Other Current Trends

I hasten to write a trend piece because the conclusions drawn are often very subjective. My surroundings dictate my views, and living in a large city on the East Coast may not correspond well to the rest of the country. Even so, my informal study might have resonance beyond a major metropolitan area. Class, race, ethnicity, religion, and a myriad of socio-economic factors, among others, are crucial towards understanding.

What I can say, based on a large sample of my friends and acquaintances, is this. Liberal, middle class, highly educated Caucasian young adults are shunning having children. By an exceedingly rough estimate, I would say that no more than 10% of the people who fit the particular criteria I’ve just defined are willing or even interested in procreation. This significant change in attitudes has taken root in the course of a generation or thereabouts. My own parents, by contrast, started having kids when my mother was 24. My mother wanted children immediately after marriage, which for her was at age 19, but decided against it.

If I followed my parents’ course of action, I’d have a nine year old by now, in addition to two other younger children. The mere thought alone is enough to give me a panic attack. But I am appreciative. I’m glad my parents always wanted me and my sisters. Had my mother not had such a severe labor with her youngest child, my parents' plan was for four kids, not three. I have a heartfelt respect for people who want to be parents, because I know I never could. This isn’t some sort of selfish sentiment on my part, but rather a reflection on my unfeasibility as anyone’s father.  

One of the most influential variables these days regarding having children is cost of living and location, location, location. Washington, DC, is an expensive city to call home, and in still-uncertain economic times, being able to afford even a single child is a tall order. I’m 33 and most of my friends range from 27-35, though not exclusively so. Those of us who have coupled up or gotten married usually have no plans to have kids, or if we do, we’re willing to put it off for several more years. An acquaintance of mine badly wants children of her own, but wants to complete her training as a therapist and be established in private practice before she even considers a pregnancy.

Alarmist, opportunistic treatises pumped out by the Right warn white people to maintain their majority at all cost. These seek to stir up fears that any other ethnic and cultural group will, when it is finally its time in charge, surely resort to punitive measures to avenge past discrimination. One finds this view far and wide. Harlem-based, reactionary black Pastor James David Manning has admonishing his congregation and, in effect, all African-Americans that Mexicans will soon be signing their paychecks. Pat Buchanan wrote a best-selling book on the topic, geared towards whites, which was slightly less inflammatory, but no less offensive.

Even if these racist, fear mongering notions had any validity, one cannot reverse the trends already in place. For two and a half years, I saw a therapist who worked in a clinic designed primarily for low-income residents. The area of town in which it is located, Columbia Heights, is predominately Latino. While waiting to be seen, I saw several young Hispanic mothers with multiple children, often pushing baby strollers and trying to supervise several kids at once. This is the face of the new Baby Boom.

I am not sure how they do it and for that, they have my deepest respect. By contrast, one of my doctors, a woman on the lower end of thirty, is married to an oral surgeon. Neither of them have the time to be helicopter parents, even if they were so inclined. The two of them have to rely on nannies for primary child rearing and make time for their three children when they can. Circumstances like these are increasingly rare, and if income levels like theirs were the norm, you’d see many more young white women with babies, though to be fair you’d probably see white kids being pushed in strollers by Latinos and African-Americans.

One child appears to be the maximum for many, should they have children in their late twenties or thirties. Many women have kept to a single birth beyond that, even waiting well into their forties and sometimes beyond. Once they’ve been established in a career path and achieved a relatively stable income, they feel that they can now be effective parents and give their kids the economic advantages needed to succeed. One woman I know had her first child at the age of 47 for the same reason and never intends to have another.

Many of my friends in their late twenties place more of an emphasis upon themselves. I wouldn’t call this selfish, as some commentators have. They’re the sort to move into a recently gentrified part of the District, a dubiously safe neighborhood of the city more to cut their rent in half than to be a trendy urban pioneer. The money saved is for traveling, be it to spend time with a friend from college or a former co-worker living in a different city. Not being coupled frees up their income. They’re not quite ready to settle down yet, so for a while, they enjoy being a rolling stone that gathers no moss. Washington, DC, is a very transient city in general, one where few people put down roots, which explains some of this wanderlust, but not all of it.

As I return to my sample, considering friends who are coupled, married, or single, I contemplate the similarities. Following World War II, returning servicemen had kids by the bushels in the so-called Baby Boom. Areas of town not far from where I live now were developed to provide roofs over heads and a modicum of home for those now eager to start families. Generation X and the Millennials have other priorities. I predict that the existing state of being will only continue. Americans will see an increasingly sharp number of young white married couples with no children and should they wish to be parents, they will only have one.

I emphasize again that the trends of one large city on the East Coast should not speak for the entire country. Working-class whites, often situated in more rural settings, are much more likely to sire children. One of my cousins, by way of my father’s side of the family, married in her late teens and had children shortly thereafter. This is a view that is conveniently not taken into account. I think Chris Rock put it best.

But not all people on welfare are black. There are white people on welfare too. But we can’t give a fuck about them!  Broke-ass mothafuckas, livin’ in trailer homes, eating mayonnaise sandwiches, fuckin' their sisters, listening to John Melloncamp records!

I grew up in suburban Birmingham, Alabama, in an affluent city south of town called Hoover. The South is much more traditional than the rest of the country and may always be. Getting married early was routine, as was settling down and starting a family. Being married right after college or in one’s early Twenties was not unusual. In DC, those same times in a person’s life were to be earmarked to explore the new freedom and independence of college. As graduation loomed, frivolities were pushed aside. Now began the inevitable path towards training and preparing for a serious job.

It’s a matter of priorities, once again, regardless of a person’s skin color, checking account balance, or level of education. Whenever it is that white people are no longer the majority in the United States, I could not even begin to tell you what to expect from it. I’m not especially afraid of change. We have no reliable or pertinent historical examples to give us a glimpse into the future. I’m fairly sure that no matter what, the wheels will keep spinning, and politicians will continue to disappoint us, regardless of their last name, what language they speak, or their own cultural experience.

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