Glenn Reynolds has written us an essay on childlessness in the USA.
He has two explanations, both related to the prestige of parenting. Parenting does not have the prestige it once did, he says. And parenting now costs too much time and money, partly because not taking meticulous care of your child is a good way to earn a lot of negative prestige, and partly because parents have to do more training and coddling and teaching and preparing to get the prestige of being a parent.
Over at the Star they’ve had a little discussion on reducing the money costs of parenting. People have suggested consciously accepting a lower material standard for one’s kids (fewer toys, fewer vacations, lower status clothes). I would also think about reducing education costs. Paying your kids way through a great college costs lots of money, as does preparing them to go there. (Credentialism is anti-family in more ways than one). My parents were able to afford 9 kids because when I went to school my dad covered the cost of the gasoline to drive me there, gave me $50, and told me good luck. BYU wasn’t where I planned to go, but that’s where I could afford. Reducing education costs can also include buying a home in a less expensive neighborhood. Almost all of the young couples in my ward live in trailer homes, because thats what they could afford getting married young and having kids. But the schools in our area are only passable, as you would expect with an area that has lots of trailer homes. We can supplement or even replace the schools with efforts at home, or course, but these efforts take time and are also *costs* in the sense used here. Expecting people to homeschool is *probably* another disincentive to parenting (it may be that by making stay-at-home-mothering seem professional and useful in modern terms, it restores prestige and actually acts as an incentive).
None of these fix the problem, however–society still burdens parenting by expecting too much out of each parent and by making intensive parenting a status issue. So do we LDS (have you ever got together with other young LDS couples and started talking about your kids. Its all about either how many milestones your child has recieved and all the great programs and techniques your using). But there’s probably nothing to be done. Status is ubiquitous wherever humans are. Instead of proposing fixes I’m just remembering that sometimes Saints have to bear the shame of the world, which includes accepting less prestige and status for oneselves and one’s children, if that’s what it takes to have more children to love.
Put all that aside, though, and let me return to Gary Reynold’s essay. His good, libertarian conclusion is that if the increased burden of parenthood is largely a matter of social expectations and social status, there’s nothing we can do about it politically. I think he’s wrong for two reasons. First, even if politics and laws can’t change the social expectations that increase the costs of parenting, they can subsidize those costs (whether that’s a good idea or not is another question). Second, politics and laws probably can influence social expectations in some ways, and certainly can give parenting higher prestige, by showing that its a social good that we want to promote.
I’m not suggesting any specific programs just now, but I think that even if Reynolds is right about the causes of the declines in (1) having larger families and (2) having families at all, it is still true that “responsible citizens and officers of government everywhere [should] promote those measures designed to maintain and strengthen the family as the fundamental unit of society.”