fb-pixel Skip to main content

How did children become the new leaf blowers? Suddenly no one wants them.

Earlier this month, the Pew Research Center predicted a forthcoming “baby bust” in the United States: “[A] rising share of US adults who are not already parents say they are unlikely to ever have children.”

Pew reported that 56 percent of childless adults said “they just don’t want to have kids.” Among those who cited a specific reason, 36 percent cited a “medical or financial reason,” and 14 percent attributed their hesitation to the “state of the world” or “climate change/the environment.”

In a long, unintentionally comical essay, “To Breed or Not to Breed?,” The New York Times recently showcased the 14 percent of childless adults who are Really Bummed About Everything. The views of average Americans such as Miley Cyrus (“We’re getting handed a [twerky word deleted] planet, and I refuse to hand that down to my child,” she told Elle magazine) and Seth Rogen are brought to bear.

The Times tracked down a 40-year-old Boulder, Colo., businesswoman who won’t be having children because “I literally can’t go to a dinner party without the collapse of a civilization being at least mentioned, if not being the main topic of conversation.”


At my last dinner party, we discussed whether Patriots quarterback Mac Jones passes more effectively in the shotgun or in the five-step dropback. But that’s just us, I guess.

I’m a tad insensitive to the bleatings of the younger generation. I am the guy who read Jenny Offill’s elegant novel “Weather” and thought it was about a young Brooklynite dissatisfied with her dead-end job at the local library. But most reviewers agreed with Leslie Jamison, that the book was actually about “the end of the world itself. The thing that cannot be stared at directly is not the sun, but our own doomed planet.”


Times are hard, but everything’s relative. According to Volker Ullrich’s unputdownable “Eight Days in May: The Final Collapse of the Third Reich,” there were about 11 million “displaced persons” roaming Europe at the end of World War II. These included 7.6 million foreign enslaved laborers imported into Germany, 2 million prisoners of war, and of course the too-few survivors of Hitler’s death camps.

I wonder how their collective future looked to them?

Because I subscribe to conservative Catholic mailing lists (don’t ask), I just read David G Bonagura Jr.’s essay “The Last Acceptable Prejudice.” Bonagura claims — to paraphrase a famous “Guys and Dolls” line — that he’s been getting the fisheye from the supermarket clerk because he has six children. “After the supermarket cashier allows the ‘punk rocker’ to pass, why must he ask me, ‘Are they all yours?’ as he sees me approach with my children?” Bonagura asks.

“Such cheap shots coming from all sides lead me to this conclusion: Animus towards large families is the last acceptable prejudice in America,” he writes.

Touchy, touchy.

Is having multiple children really “the last acceptable prejudice”? I can think of many social groups it’s still OK to ostracize, starting with New York Jets fans and ending with the growing number of people who refer to “nonfiction novels.”

Yes, I keep a little list.

So in some circles, you are stigmatized for having any children at all, and elsewhere you’re accused of overbreeding if you field a youth hockey team. How fortunate that my wife and I found the happy mean of three children who, mercifully, ignore the daily newspaper.


Their generation will make the most of their lives and times, as generations have before them.

Alex Beam’s column appears regularly in the Globe. Follow him on Twitter @imalexbeamyrnot.