|American society was very
centered on marriage and highly focused on children in 1970 when
more than 70 percent of the nation's homes contained a married
couple. That year, the Census Bureau reported that more
than 40 percent of homes consisted of married couples with minor
demographics have drastically changed.
Last year the Census Bureau
reported that a majority of the nation's households are now
headed by unmarried adults. And according to 2005 census
data, there are 30 million one-person households as compared to
24.1 million with a traditional nuclear family consisting of a
husband, wife, and child under 18.
Looking at all household
variations in the nation, the most recent census figures show
that only 35 percent of American homes contain a child under 18
years of age. Statistics from the Department of Labor show
that working parents with minor children account for only 35
percent of the nation's workforce.
According to the National
Marriage Project, the demographics will continue to change
until, in a few more years the percent of American households
without children will climb to 75 percent.
A report released last week by
the Pew Research Center indicates that more than demographics
are shifting. Attitudes are too.
In a 1990 Pew survey, 65
percent of Americans said that having children was
"very important" to a good marriage. Back
then, having children was third on a list of nine
factors often associated with a successful marriage.
In this year's
survey, only 41 percent listed having children as
very important to a happy marriage. It ranked
eighth out of nine factors.
At the top of the
list of the new survey were "sharing household
chores," "good housing," "adequate income" and
Last week the Christian Science
Monitor published a story entitled "America becomes a more
'adult centered' nation." The author, Ben Arnoldy,
interviewed me for it.
"When child-free adults and their advocates look at the
political and cultural landscape, however, they still see
inequalities that favor married families and children despite
the demographic shifts away from Ozzie and Harriet's day,"
I explained to him that
workplace benefits were at the forefront of a struggle for more
fairness for employees without children.
so-called family-friendly policies such as flex leave and
day-care options not only give more benefits to workers with
children, but child-free workers also can find themselves
picking up the slack for co-workers on family leave.
With workplace demographics
changing so that two-thirds of the nation's workforce have no
children at home,
businesses have begun shifting from "family friendly" policies
to more neutral "work-life" programs. Some companies, for
example, give all employees the same amount of paid time off,
while others create cafeteria-style benefits, and many offer
generic benefits like gym memberships that all workers can
But unlike many private
employers who are adapting to changing workplace demographics
and attitudes, the American government seems stuck in the Ozzie
and Harriet mode when it comes to public policy.
There are many
government policies which treat the child-free like second-class
citizens. Take the federal Family and Medical Leave Act,
for example. Parent-child relationships are covered, but
siblings are not.
The Social Security Administration gives a $255 death benefit to
help pay for the burial of a worker who leaves a surviving child
or spouse, but nothing to help a surviving sibling bury a single person without
kids. The military treats personnel with children more
favorably than those without.
"No one is advocating ignoring the needs of children or those
who are raising children," I told the Monitor. "That's
important to everyone in society whether you have children or
not, but things have to be more balanced."
Part of that balancing act, I explained, is taking into account
that 19 percent of women in their early 40s are childless.
That's up from 9.5 percent 26 years ago.
Vincent Ciaccio, a spokesman for No Kidding!, an international
group for people without children, told the Monitor about
certain causes among the childless, including government
subsidies for birth control, holding parents responsible for
their children, and the establishment of child-free areas in
restaurants, movie theaters, and apartments.
With more adults choosing to
delay marriage, many foregoing parenting altogether, and older
Americans spending more years in their child-free years, I
suspect that we will be hearing more about the need to revise
workplace benefits and government policies. Things are not
quite balanced yet.
To read other editions of
Column One, click here.
Unmarried America 2007
Thomas F. Coleman, Executive Director of Unmarried America, is an
attorney with 33 years of experience in singles' rights, family
diversity, domestic partner benefits, and marital status discrimination.
Each week he adds a new commentary to Column One: Eye on Unmarried
firstname.lastname@example.org. Unmarried America is a nonprofit
information service for unmarried employees, consumers, taxpayers, and