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Friday, 18 August, 2000, 12:24 GMT 13:24 UK
Does society discriminate against the childless?
More and more people, particularly those in the West, are choosing not to have children. But increasingly, many childless people feel ostracised by a society that, they say, still puts a relentless cultural and even political premium on 'the family'.
Governments are introducing more child-friendly policies, particularly in the workplace and a recent survey says the childless are getting increasingly resentful of the benefits and child-friendly hours extended to parents.
In the US, the 'child-free' are already a political pressure group. Could that happen in other countries too?
Are governments, forcing childless adults to make personal sacrifices to support "families with children"? Or does society have an obligation to help working parents as they are raising the next generation of workers and leaders?
Is having children a behavioural choice or an obligation? Does society stigmatise those that choose to remain childless?
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I have chosen to be single and childless yet I have to pay a fortune in taxes to keep others in schooling, medical bills and countless other facilities. I pay the most and get the least!
I have chosen to be single and childless yet I have to pay a fortune in taxes to keep others in schooling, medical bills and countless other facilities. I pay the most and get the least!
A. G., London, UK.
There is definitely cultural discrimination against people who do not have children at work. I will be covering for some one on paternity leave and will be setting up a few projects which he will then just take over and this means I cannot go on leave as planned.
James Moore says; "It's no achievement to have children, it's just the ability to have sex". Wrong! My wife and I would love to have a child, but due to fertility problems we cannot. Medical fact. That is how God made us. Adoption is a choice, but in late 30's/early 40's, is frowned upon as we are "too old"...... but financially stable. A sad and disappointing reflection on the views of society and in my opinion a discrimination.
If parents of children of school age are discriminated against it is usually because they fail to keep their offspring under control.
Had I met the right partner at the right time, I would have children now. Those who suffer most are those who have NOT chosen childlessness, but fate chose for them. We pay enormous taxes to support families with children, to give them benefits to buy their own homes, while we, as singles, can only afford smaller rented accommodation. The quality of life for those with families - apart from people on social benefits - is higher, not lower than that of single people. In addition to that we experience discrimination when we travel alone or try to enjoy ourselves alone in bars or restaurants - just the stares of people are enough to put you off appearing in public alone.
Children are not just tomorrow's taxpayers, they are also tomorrow's consumers, workers, care-givers, inventors and entrepreneurs. Their demand will give your investments value and their labour will perpetuate the businesses you worked so hard to build. Suffer other people's children gladly, because without them, you're nothing.
Ellen Forradalom, USA
I see no evidence of childless couples and are certainly
not ostracised in the UK. Unfortunately as a
husband and father I have the joyous fortune of
having to wait for my son coming back from his first
day at school where he will be ridiculed by all the
other kids....."You've got a mum and a dad, my
mum says your dad pays tax and lives with you...you're
Paul Williams, London UK
In my experience, its the childless who discriminate against those with children - in the workplace. And I speak with experience as an employer as well as an employee. In highly competitive industries, such as consultancies or merchant banks - women with children are seen as less committed to work. And I've seen it time and time again when the women are side-lined for promotion or put first on the redundancy list, purely because they are seen as most likely to take up financial resources i.e. maternity leave and finding an expensive contractor to do the job whilst they are away.
This happens all too often!
It is very much easier to have a child but it is a hard job to bring him/her up, it is a challenge. I think parents should have enough time for their children. It is important that they look after their kids and educate them. Perhaps flexible working hours would be the best thing for parents if they want to have a child. It is fact the most of people are busy with studies, valuable service for the country etc. Therefore it is narrow-minded thinking if one feels that it is discrimination. The people have different choices and different ambitions in their life.
It's high time that the affluent societies get off their high horses and look at basic facts. Man is a mammal; to survive man has to reproduce. There are very simple basic natural laws.
If affluent societies keep ignoring them and set up programs like 'Equal opportunities for women and men' which do not contain anything more than balderdash to produce a sublime mysticism
to cover up their hot air thoughts about having children or not.
Who knows what underlying factors determine whether couples do or don't want children, and who are we to question people's decisions on a matter that is personal to them?
Where do you think your pension growth is going to come from? People with children are subsidising those without. £50per month per child does not go very far. When these future adults will be earning money and generating investment income through their spending for the "childless" peoples pension plans.
What a ridiculous question? The fact is that people having families are performing a valuable service to the State/ species. There are plenty of benefits available to those who are childless. It is ridiculous to think that they are being "discriminated against". Their circumstances are completely different. I completely support family friendly initiatives. I don't have children, but I am not so selfish and narrow minded as to resent those who do.
James Moore, UK
Much of the debate centres on finance; children cost now but will pay in the future for the elderly. They will also be paying taxes for the upbringing of the next generations! On a global scale the planet is overpopulated, with many people living in what us Westerners would call poverty. The one issue that is bigger than finance is resources. This planet has limited resources of all the things we humans need to continue the existence of the species. You can't eat money and neither can your kids!
Jean McEvit, England
There is a sense, here too in the San Francisco
Bay Area that if you're a single person with no
children, that you're almost expected to sacrifice
all of what should be your "free time" outside work,
for work purposes. Those with families (including
a former boss of mine) took considerably more time
off than their child-less single peers, and such was
accepted, whereas the single folks are chastised for doing
the exact same things. It makes me wonder how
those advocating this bias think how single folks will
find their eventual spouses if the individual is without a
life aside from work! The only thing worse than this
are the parents who believe they can be both a workaholic
and a good parent. Those are the truly delusional folks!
Society does not discriminate against the childless: raising a child is a monumental task, it is as difficult as being handicapped. I was 16 when my parents suddenly had a third child, and I had to take much care of him. Since then I decided I will never have children of my own, not to go through that hell again.
Janie Richter, UK
Children, biological or adopted, are property owned by one or more individuals.
People should have freedom of choice as long as it does not endanger others. All we need is a constant awareness campaign run by governments and international organisations dwelling on such issues and their niceties without undue encumbrances to individuals.
Informed decisions would positively reflect our collective responsibility in society.
I am one of those resentful employees, annoyed by the special consideration given to parents. My husband and I don't mind paying taxes for schools, and other things necessary for children, but we do feel that child payments should be means tested. It appears to be a "reward" by the government for being able to reproduce.
Paul Hicks, UK
Better that these western women don't have kids. They don't want kids and kids don't want to be unwanted. It goes to show that having kids is more than a biological function which females do.
As a parent myself it is a very courageous thing for someone not to have children. It's much harder, there is definitely a stigma. I had children at 38, my brother is childless by choice and I have some other friends who are childless not by choice and there is definitely a stigma. It's much easier to have a child on the stigma level but it is so profoundly difficult to be a good parent so if you're really not up to the challenge you shouldn't do it.
I firmly believe that for the progress of society fit persons should reproduce bearing in mind however that a child needs to be fed, clothed and educated or he/she will be a liability to society rather than an asset.
We've all got a responsibility to contribute to today's children, not just by producing them, because we'd be over populated. But it should be treated as important as any job, so if we're childless we have a responsibility to help people who are bring up children.
All those who say we should pay for others' children now because "they will look after us when we're old" have missed a crucial point:- these future carers will be paid for out of OUR savings. I expect there will be people to look after me when I'm old, but I expect to have to pay for it out of my savings, and am planning along those lines.
1) Societies don't have children, individual couples do.
2) The issue should not be so much parents/society interests, but in
fact the interests of the children (education, health, stable home
3) People should be able to make a choice to have children or not,
including adoption. However, the KEY should be: People should only
choose to procreate when they can afford it. After all, who supports
them if they can't find the means?
Theresa Rosmarin, New York, USA
What goes around come around. Even if today's "child-free" (of which I
am one) cross subsidise those with children, then those children will be
in turn contributing to the services of a "social democracy" that I hope
would be in place in years to come. I believe we will have to take
greater responsibility in the future for self financing of our own older
age, but there will still be a significant calls on the community for a
range of health and social services, which will be financed in part by
those children some of us unfortunately see as a burden now.
Those who do not have children are not being selfish. On the contrary they are concerned about the world and have made a personal sacrifice.
Those who want children have the option to adopt the many orphan children in the world. Instead these people are egotistical and want to have their own off spring. To leave a part of them behind.
All the members of society have a collective responsibility to the other
members. Everyone should have choice to have children or not, without
censure for their decision.
While the taxes of people without children support the children of
today, in the future the taxes of those who are currently children will
support the aged, if only indirectly through public hospitals and by
supporting the systems and structures of society. This is how societies
continue to function. We need to be able to pass the baton on to the
Unless Western countries have insufficient birth-rates, governments will take the easy option of allowing immigrants and asylum seekers to settle to make up short-falls. This erodes the culture and stability of Western countries, especially noticeable in the UK.
Childless couples do not get discriminated, it is actually the ones with children that are being discriminated. For example, if a mother wants to go and work, an employer will see that if she has a 16 year old son then a mother is too old to work. If she has a younger child, the employer will think how many days she will need off to go to the dentist or if the child is ill.
I am a father of two (a boy and a girl) from a previous relationship. I would not have fathered them if I had my way because they are very expensive and can be a nuisance too. Now that they are here, I love them and take my responsibility as a father very seriously.
I am in a new relationship with a woman I love and who hasn't had but keen to have them. This means that I will have more children by default and should love them as well.
I can identify with those who have made conscious decision not to have children and would have been one of them if I had met a like minded partner.
I think we all have a responsibility which the government sets us when we become an adult to look after society and the way society ticks over. I go to work full-time so I support many different groups of people. It's something you accept when you go into the workplace that you are going to be supporting different groups of people. We don't divide our taxes up and say "this is for you, this is for me". The government does that and that's the way of the world.
Governments should be aware of the value children, so should the community.
Without children society would be a miserable collection of oldies. We are
always ready to fob off our social responsibilities for the children within
our own community. It time that we realise that they are our most valuable
asset. Employers are members of the community and as such should also take
some of the load for rearing the next generation.
We need to keep in mind that government and each of us have an interest in a constant crop of younger workers since they are the individuals who pay into social security programs which allow us to retire. The fewer children we have, the fewer to pay into that system.
I believe there is a degree of social stigma attached not being childless by choice. I'm 23 myself and I've know all my life that I don't want children and I've recently faced enormous opposition while I've tried to get what I want out of life, which is to be sterilised. It's something that's always been there, like the knowledge you're gay or your straight I have always known that children aren't part of my life. I've faced nothing but patronising and derisory comments from the doctors and acquaintances.
Jay R., Melbourne, Australia
Children are our future. We will not live forever and
we need children to carry on with the business of this world. Also, as we
get older, we need care and service providers of all sorts. If we look
around us, we will realize that the old and retired are not able to
effectively care for their fellow old and retired. We need people to ensure
the continuity of our civilization and our very survival among other things.
The children that suffer at the hands of the generally poor parenting skills of the British swell the ranks of the disaffected/maladjusted in our society. Hats off to those individuals who recognise that they haven't the time to devote to what should be the major commitment of bringing-up children
Bringing up children is the sole responsibility of parents. Society should not pay for choices parents make.
I am childfree and have every intention of remaining so. I do not wish to add to the population problem. I have also had the gift of a good education, and feel that I can better serve humankind -and the planet - by working towards solutions to the problems we have engendered, rather than producing more consumers who, to a large extent, are the problem.
Everyone needs food, but too much is harmful. The same applies to children.
Every day about 180k people die and are replaced by about 450k. babies.
This is a situation that must lead to trouble especially as overpopulation
inevitably means over polution.
Dermot, Oxford, UK
It seems, from some of the comments, that we are extremely selfish. On one hand we have the 'why should we pay for other people's children' childless and on the other the 'don't you realise how much time it takes to raise children' parents. Both views are all about me, me, me.
The entire western world is suffering a population decline, and we need to elevate motherhood and babies if we are going to survive. Killing of the elderly and poaching the best brains from the developing world, is our current cynical response to the population crisis in the West.
I think not having children was a major part of the long and non-stop hours I used to work. In the end, I lost my job through stress. Many of the parents (though not all) seemed to work less hours; and one even commented on how she couldn't see the rest of us ever having time to start a family. That's what I think's the real issue here - are childless adults (not all of whom choose to be childless) to have friendships and relationships ruined in order that employers can give reduced hours to parents? It's employers that need to change their ways.
Pierre Stapley, Rosario, Argentina (Ex-pat from the UK)
Why should my wife and I, having taken the decision not to have children, be penalised by having to support through taxation, those who conciously or by accident, have them? We believe that all financial 'child benefits' should cease. If people choose to have children, they should ensure that they can properley provide for them and not depend upon the state to do so.
This is an absurd debate. People with children are constantly discriminated against by society. We are given substandard tables at restaurants and aeroplanes and certainly children are compromised in this "Adult" world. If parents are given some additional relief while providing such a huge service to society, i.e., the proliferation of a species and additions to a working society, it's the least that can be done!
In view of our unsustainable high population we should reward people who do not want children. The rest of us need to accept that the price of having children is greater inconvenience to ourselves.
The moaners who do not have children should bear in mind that when they finish their days work they have time to do as they please. On the other hand if, like myself, you have children your working day continues when you get home. Everyone out there with kids will relate to this.
I work with a guy who is the only person in a team of 10 who does not have kids. He is selfish, self centred and immature. His view of people with kids is they are lazy and overpaid. When you point out to him that his time outside of work is his and that his financial situation is much healthier that the rest of the team (even though he earns about the same) he simply won't accept the truth of the situation. I can not wait for the day he has kids to look after.
I run a small company. When I formed the company my first employee was a very capable lady who was a key asset to the company. After 13 months of employment she announced proudly that she was expecting her first child. As a responsible employer I paid everything that was required under EEC law. It took me three months to recover the sums from the Inland Revenue who stalled me at every point and said I should offset the sums due against other employees. This is OK if you have any other employees. A few thousands of pounds in contract labour were also expended to cover the shortfall in resources. The government did not lift a finger to assist in any way. I was lucky that the business survived. Any change in the law is most welcome.
Isn't it selfish to expect other people (yet to be born) to devote their lives to making sure we are OK at the end of ours?
Wayne, Cardiff, Wales
The primary cause of childlessness in heterosexual couples is not choice but infertility, which despite medical advances still blights the lives of one couple in ten. Infertility can have all the symptoms of a major mental illness. Anyone who wishes to contribute to this debate should recognise that there is as large a difference between "childless" and "childfree" as there is between choosing to close your eyes and being born blind.
Paula, Aldershot, Hampshire
The simple truth is, if you can't afford to give up work to look after your kids, then don't have them! There's no way that my partner and I could afford for me to give up work to look after a child, so we don't have any.
In the working environment, if asked to do something extra, there is only one question to ask: "What's in it for me?" If you are adequately compensated in some way for putting in extra time, doing extra work, etc, then fine. Otherwise, just say "no". After all, your employer only does what he is forced to by legislation, and the only possible reason for working is for financial gain. Why waste your life (which is the real thing, not a rehearsal) doing anything you don't want to unless it's absolutely necessary for you or your own family?
Have kids by all means. Your choice entirely. But why should I pay for it? State benefits and welfare for parents (single or otherwise) only encourages the production of more feral and equally fecund and feckless offspring. The problem gets worse with each generation. Crime wave? You ain't seen nothing yet.
Children are a blessing from the Lord. If some employers do not treat childless employees fairly, children are still very valuable and worthwhile now and in the future. The European civilisations that are too selfish to reproduce themselves will continue to decline psychologically and otherwise.
As a childless married couple my wife and I are the highest tax payers supporting those who through choice make a commitment to dedicate the next 12-16 years to parenthood, 12-16 years that I fund through child credit schemes, maternity and paternity breaks. What we need is law that does not discriminate against one set of society to support personal choices of another. The Government must stop passing legislation to remain popular and look at effectively resolving issues such as these.
This all seems like yet more divide and rule by our employers: If we didn't all have to work such unreasonably long hours, then there wouldn't be any problem with anyone needing more time for family/ social commitments.
By the way, to the person who suggested that schools stay open until 5:00 pm - do teachers not have lives and commitments, too? When will they be expected to do all the marking, preparation and paperwork if the children are at school for the whole working day?
Any benefits (tax, work or otherwise) gained from having children are more than offset by the additional work, and cost of raising them.
Louise, UK, Yorkshire
Being childless may be a conscious choice (for either personal or economic reasons), or one made by natural selection. Either way
the 'rights' available to non-parents are not in any way comparable to those of parents. Maternity leave/days taken to "look after the family when sick"
do not exist. I know the government needs to provide a positive signal to those families who produce offspring for the future well being of this country,
but that should not preclude the fact that all should have access to all benefits. An employer, for instance' is now legally bound to allow a new father a
13 week 'sabbatical' during the first five years of their progeny life, when they do not have to advance the same benefit
to a childless person at any time during their working life. Fair?
This debate simply shows how self centred, petty and jealous the human race in the Western world has become. It is a 'ME' centred culture, with no thought for others. I personally have children, but do not resent anyone leaving early or coming in late for any reason whatsoever. This should not be an issue of childless against families. Its time for the Western world to become more family orientated than work orientated, then perhaps people would realise what is important in life.
Childless couples are only
stigmatised by ignorant people
who are not aware of what goes
into making a successful society.
Most of this interesting debate has been about economics and the workplace. My grouse about "discrimination" is linguistic and philosophical: the way the expression "family values" has pushed out words like "ethics" rather implies that as a person who has no family and doesn't want one, I must necessarily be a thief, a liar, and a generally Bad Person. So let's go back to talking about right and wrong instead of "family values".
As a childless Paediatrician, I'm fed up with lame parents who rationalise their dysfunctional lifestyles as "you don't understand you don't have kids!"
Laura P, London, UK
Why are all these sanctimonious parents insistent that they are doing us all a favour by having children? They're not. Here in the UK the population density is making life intolerable. These people should not be indulged, they should be made to bare the fair and full cost of their decision.
I get tired of hearing politicians harp on about "family values", "the family budget", "the family way" - the "Blair way"!!!
As a single person I pay high taxes for services I do not use. I do not see today's young generation providing me with a realistic pension to live on in my old age despite paying in for it now. It strikes me that governments would like most people to die around 55 so they pay as much tax as possible before becoming burdens on the state which has to "rob Peter to pay Paul" all the time.
Just because I don't have children doesn't mean I'm an unfulfilled, materialistic work-slave. I have a loving partner who I'd like to spend more time with. If I had children, there would be no problem going part-time to look after them, but try asking to work less hours so you can spend more time with your partner.
In a time when we are having to work harder, faster and longer hours I think people easily become resentful of others they perceive as getting extra benefits and an "easier life" for making a choice to have children. It is understandable that women and men who have made the choice not to have children should resent even more having to work harder because of those who do. However, if we all took a deep breath and actually thought about the consequences of not having an adequate welfare system maybe we would grumble a bit less.
Matt, Netherlands, ex UK
Maternity legislation in Brazil is actually stronger than in Britain. As an employer, I now have to give a receptionist a range of benefits because she is pregnant, on top of having to lose her for four months. I love kids, and I'm happy that she's pregnant, but why should my company suffer because of this? I employed her to do a job and when she can't due to her own choice, I'm not allowed to replace her. I'm not her father or her husband and I really don't see what it's got to do with me. To all those people who go on about their endless rights, perhaps they'll give four months of their time free when their employer has a problem. "Somebody else" must always solve everything, mustn't they.
Having children is a choice...
Just remember where you would
be if your parents made the
choice you are making.
Roger, London, UK
Twenty-one years of working for an international organisation have convinced me that parents are often the hardest-working members of a team. Far from "sneaking off early" to look after their children, they work hard because they need their job! In addition, they are often better-balanced personalities than their childless colleagues, being less self-centred.
I do support that fathers should spend more time with their children. However, if the paternity leave of a person results in shifting his burden of work to his childless colleagues and they are not given any reward for the extra work, it seems to be unfair. What I suggest, is the companies should offer those childless workers compensation for covering the work of the others. So both the fathers and their childless colleague will be happy.
Sue , Australia
I think that flexible working
for EVERYONE in the workplace
can solve the problem of
parents and childless people
both feeling that they are
being made to lose out.
Plus, instead of throwing mud
at each other, both sides could
actually say "thank you" to
each other; If everyone was
childless there would be no
next generation to carry on our
(now richly enriched and mixed)
culture, and if everyone had
children at the same rate, then
the allowances of benefits to
parents would be unsustainable.
I think the balance is about right.
If parenthood declines, we should
provide more incentives. If it
increases, we should provide
I am still a student, so I do not have any clear ideas about this affair. But I am sure of one thing- the real problem in the world of work is not parents having time off for their little sons and daughters (because they are doing good and essential social work, they are dealing with our future); the real problem are those employees who, in their own jobs, are doing everything but working!
I think that people (non-parents particularly) should stop generalising. Just because we now become mothers, doesn't mean we can all just stop working and stay home. Sometimes the only way to support our families and give our children the basic necessities in life, we need to continue working and if our children are sick or we have to leave early because the daycare centre closes at a certain time, I feel it is unfair that we are being resented for having to do so. It is our duty as parents to be there for our children and part of that duty is providing for them. Not everything in life is a choice, sometimes we have to make the best of a difficult situation and perhaps when these non-parents become parents, they will have a better understanding!
Andrew J. Chisholm, Northampton, UK
We are reaping what we have sown in the name of "progress". Until a generation ago it was possible for a working man to support a wife and children, thereby ensuring that the best child care of all was available - Mum.
Feminism, and the political correctness it spawned, forced women into the workplace and away from their children. In turn, two income families generated economic demand that forced up prices (especially of housing), which made it impossible to live without two incomes! As a society, we have made choices because they seemed "progressive" or fashionable and sought ever more rights without paying sufficient heed to our responsibilities. The results are all around us and plain to see.
I can't help thinking that many of these "childless couples" who protest about the trend towards more "family friendly" employers would make similar complaints about having to support the old, the sick, the handicapped and the unemployed.
It's obvious that those who don't have kids haven't realise that things have changed since the 50's and 60's when their mothers stayed at home to raise them. I don't have children, but I can appreciate that childcare and nurseries are NOT cheap, and that one parent staying at home for 5 years (a disastrous career move in any case) is not always an option. At the end of the day, everyone has the right to take time off work at some time. How else would society progress if everyone decided not to have children?
Raedju, Brighton, UK
Children are a blessing. Parents should be honoured to have them but not lean on society to raise them. They are blessed and should fulfil their obligation.
I'm childless. I'm not expecting or relying on the children of today to support me through their taxes when I retire, I've already planned ahead for that. If I need to be cared for at that time, I will pay for it myself and not expect to be supported through other people's charity. I already pay out thousands of pounds a year in taxes for services I do not use, and then I'm expect to cover for working parents as well? I think I know who is really getting the raw deal here.
As a childless worker in my mid 20's I feel no resentment towards colleagues with children being given leave, etc. Maybe this is because I have better things to do than go around seething with jealousy and resentment. I suspect that the people who do resent workers with children being given special consideration are the type of people who are always worrying that someone else might be getting something they aren't, rather like spoilt children themselves.
Given the rather unpleasant views of the "Child-free", I am only too happy that natural selection will take its due course.
My wife and I have not been able to have children. Having come to terms with this we are able to see the behaviour of others from the outside, and never cease to be amazed at the way couples choose to have kids and then spend all their lives moaning about how much hassle it is and then expecting the rest of mankind to owe them a living. If you choose to have kids - great, but do not expect the rest of us to make allowances for you.
Ken Beach, Germany
Not one contributor has addressed the whole subject which is FAMILY friendly policies in the workplace. This should not be restricted to parents with young children, but everyone who has a family member in need of help and support from time to time. I was extremely grateful for the flexibility my employer allowed me when my three children were small and it was even more important when my mother was dying of cancer. So, childfree employees should not feel resentful but glad that such enlightened approaches mean that they can find it easier to meet their responsibilities to their extended families - it's not just a "perk" for younger parents.
I do find the hysterical reaction by the "childless" brigade a little unsavoury. Having children is a choice but I am sure such people will be pretty grateful that someone made the sacrifices to enable us to have a future population when they are old.
It's certainly not easy to find an adequate solution for this problem.
What I'm wondering is why there are so many mothers working after their childern are born - or fathers? At least one of them should stay with the baby if possible, don't you think ? What do you have children for, if you just leave them with a babysitter or take them to nursery?
In any case you shouldn't punish those people who choose not to have any children by giving them extra-work for "less" money! An employee should earn money for the performance and not for the children he has.
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