Could a “childfree” life be the secret ingredient to a happy marriage? Many in the media certainly think so – and they’ve been promoting the idea more and more.
Journalists were abuzz with the topic last year after Time magazine’s cover story detailed a new British study claiming “childfree” translates to happier relationships. Lefty sites such as Slate, The Huffington Post and The Daily Beast published articles on women romanticizing their childless lives where women and experts reasoned, “I don’t enjoy alien-parasites” (aka “babies”) and “people have children to glorify their own ego,” to then call “the childfree life” “the latest version of having it all” and being the “most aware and responsible beings on the planet.” Continuing the trend, outlets such as The Guardian and CNN also joined in on the redefinition of family.
Journalist and author Lauren Sandler composed the controversial Time piece entitled “The Childfree Life,” which described how, “When having it all means not having children.” As data showed a decline in fertility rates, Sandler penned the message that “The decision to have a child or not is a private one, but it takes place, in America, in a culture that often equates womanhood with motherhood” – and in a media world only too happy to hype the non-traditional family.
To emphasize Sandler’s point, photographer Randal Ford captured a couple lying on the beach, arms entwined, to accomplish his goal of “show[ing] two people as a family unit” for Time’s cover. Ford added, “I wanted to create connectivity between this couple that didn’t have kids.”
The “no kids” mantra gained momentum when a British study announced in January that childless couples had happier relationships (although mothers identified as the happiest overall group in the study). The Guardian hyped, “Is the secret of a happy relationship not having children?” Others, such as The New York Post’s Todd Venezia, criticized, “If you’re unhappy in your marriage don’t blame your spouse — blame your kids. The feminuts at Jezebel sarcastically remarked, “Shocker!” at the study and continued, “It's not like it's a secret that children are basically an expensive way to give yourself white hair and stress-induced ulcers, and it can't be that everyone's simply blinded by the Baby Gap cuteness when they decide to breed.”
CNN, which boasts a history with “the childless” life, couldn’t ignore the news. Anchor Brooke Baldwin introduced her January 14 “Newsroom” segment by asking, “Want to have a happy marriage? Then don’t have kids.” Baldwin continued, “The findings, no matter who you were, if you didn't have a child, you were happier in your marriage and your relationships.”
But not all media were so excited – particularly those with kids. Tucked within Baldwin’s report, CNN digital correspondent Kelly Wallace recognized a Princeton study release the day before:
And this one looked at when it factored out income, education, health, religion, factors that might influence how satisfied you feel about your life. Once they threw all of those factors out the window, guess what? No difference in satisfaction and well-being and happiness really in general between people with kids and people without kids. And I kind of loved it, because for so long, so much of the research has been saying that parents are unhappy. Miserable. And people without kids are having the time of their lives.
But that wasn’t the bait to make the media bite.
Slate, The Huffington Post, and The Daily Beast all published series of articles from readers describing why they chose the “childfree” life. Slate’s 2012 series, “No Kids for Me, Thanks,” detailed “childfree and happy” articles written by various women. The titles were self-explanatory:
More recently Slate (and Salon), fastened onto the “childfree” life by reviewing Jennifer Senior’s “All Joy and No Fun: The Paradox of Modern Parenthood.” In her review, Slate’s Aileen Gallagher pushed her own personal quest to avoid kids, though she “confessed to feeling pangs … for a cat.” Not until the last sentence does she admit envy towards those with kids.
For its part, Salon published an Alternet piece listing, “9 reasons not having kids is the best decision I ever made.” According to freelancer Liz Langley, “Those of us who opt out of having children often do so not because we take parenthood lightly, but because we take it so seriously.”
Asking for readers’ input, The Huffington Post published, “Childfree Women: Tell Us What You Love Most About Not Having Kids” as well as an overflow of other articles on the topic, from “The 'Childfree' Life: The Latest Version of Having It All” to “Don't Pity Us Because We Don't Want Kids. Be Happy for Us.” and “Why (Most) Successful Women Are Childless.”
The Daily Beast started “Envisioning a Child-Free Future” via author Author Marci Alboher and featured their series last year called, “Why I Choose to Be Child-Free: Readers Share Their Stories.” The piece emphasized the “no kids” terminology: using “childless” instead of “child-free,” and using DINKS (Double Income, No Kids) and DILDOs (Dual Income Large Dog Owners). The series included those afraid of “not ready to lose my identity,” a woman who defined parenting as “your own story stops, or at least pauses, for 20 years” and several other explanations:
Jezebel, which sets aside a page for “childfree” news, didn’t offer a series, but highlighted a study detailing how, “Women Who Choose To Remain Childless Have Lots of Money, Hardly a Care in the World” and declared, “Shockingly, Not Every Woman Wants To Procreate.”
The “No Children? No Problem!” media attitude isn’t new – but 2014 promises a fresh concentration on the matter.
— Katie Yoder is Staff Writer, Joe and Betty Anderlik Fellow in Culture and Media at the Media Research Center. Follow Katie Yoder on Twitter.