This week’s issue of Time magazine features a cover story by Lauren Sandler about “The Childfree Life.” In the second paragraph, Sandler mentions my book about demographics, What to Expect When No One’s Expecting. (Now available as an audiobook!) Here’s what she says:
If you’re a woman who’s not in the mommy trenches, more often than not you’re excluded from the discussion. But being sidelined doesn’t exempt childless women from being scolded. The Weekly Standard’s Jonathan V. Last has made the case in his controversial book What to Expect When No One's Expecting that the selfishness of the childless American endangers our economic future by reducing the number of consumers and taxpayers.
I’m not going to lie—it’s nice to be mentioned in Time. (Not as nice as it would to have been to be part of Time’s best cover story of the last 50 years. But still.) Unfortunately, Sandler misrepresents my book to such an extent that the most charitable explanation is that she didn’t read it. And now another media operation, Bust magazine (it’s not what you think—Bust is a feminist glamour mag devoted to “BUSTing stereotypes about women since 1993”) has taken Sandler’s misrepresentation and misattributed her words directly to me.
Bust’s Solange Castellar takes the Sandler graph above and turns it into this:
Sandler quotes a book titled What to Expect When Not Expecting that scolds women who would rather not bear children. “The selfishness of the childless American endangers our economic future by reducing the number of consumers and taxpayers,” says What to Expect author Jonathan V. Last.
As the piece further explains, most childless women are still being scolded for not helping our “American spirit.” Sandler presents an example of this in Jonathan V. Last’s book, What To Expect When Not Expecting, in which he says “the selfishness of the childless American endangers our economic future by reducing the number of consumers and taxpayers.”
Ignore the repetitious repetition—see what she did there? Sandler claims that What to Expect argues that “the selfishness of the childless American endangers our economic future by reducing the number of consumers and taxpayers.”
Bust turns that into: “‘The selfishness of the childless American endangers our economic future by reducing the number of consumers and taxpayers,’ says What to Expect author Jonathan V. Last.”
What’s funny is that the Bust writer could be so careless—twice, with the exact same quote.
Anyway, back to Sandler’s description of What to Expect, where she says that I “scold” the childfree and blame their selfishness for America’s economic problems. Part of this is a tortured reading of the book and part of it is plain wrong.
I'm pretty explicit in What to Expect that the childfree lifestyle is rational and understandable. I don’t scold the childfree. Instead, I tend to validate their suspicions. How clear am I about this? Well, here’s one representative paragraph:
Finally, this book is not an attempt to convince you to have babies. Children are wonderful, in their way. But you’ll find no sentimentalizing about them here. To raise a child is to submit to a staggering amount of work, much of which is deeply unpleasant. It would be crazy to have children if they weren’t so damned important.
That’s on page 10. The rest of the book generally goes on from there, talking about how civilized it is being childfree and how the real question is why anyone goes to the trouble of having babies in the first place. Here’s more sympathy for the childfree from page 34:
It is a hard truth that living child-free in a place like Lincoln Park or Old Town Alexandria can be a glorious, wonder-filled existence. Having children is often a one-way ticket out of Eden into some soulless suburb lined with big-box stores, chain restaurants, and strip malls. It is nearly impossible to have both. And so, as Nikolai Botev of the United Nations Population Fund put it to the New York Times, in the modern pleasure carnival, “childlessness emerges as an ideal lifestyle.”
If Sandler takes that as scolding, then I guess it’s fair enough—who am I to invalidate a reader’s feelings? But you have to be an awfully sensitive soul to come away from What to Expect feeling judged.
As for blaming the childfree for America’s economic problems, this is simply false. I don’t say that at all, anywhere. What’s more, the case I present is that the data on “ideal fertility” suggests that our problem is not the rise of a childfree class that doesn’t want children.
Yes, there is a very small minority in America which prefers no kids. But most people in America want kids. About 2.5, on average. And we’ve wanted 2.5 kids, pretty consistently, for the last 40 years.
Our problem, from an economic point of view, is the yawning chasm between our fertility aspirations and the families we actually achieve. (The average American wants 2.5 kids, but winds up with 1.9 kids.) What’s the cause of this disconnect? A whole constellation of factors, including skyrocketing college costs, the rise of divorce and cohabitation, the breakdown of marriage, and stagnant middle-class wages, just to start. Figuring out what it is about the economy and the culture which keeps people from having the children they want is one of the major thrusts of What to Expect.
It’s nice to have What to Expect mentioned in Time. It would have been even better if someone associated with the magazine had actually read the book.
Jonathan V. Last is a senior writer at The Weekly Standard and the author of What to Expect When No One’s Expecting: America’s Coming Demographic Disaster (Encounter).