17 May 2006
The decline of the parental unit
Having children buys you no social status these days, says the Professor:
My mother reports that when she was a newlywed (she was married in 1959) you weren't seen as fully a member of the adult world until you had kids. Nowadays to have kids means something closer to an expulsion from the adult world. People in the suburbs buy SUVs instead of minivans not because they need the four-wheel-drive capabilities, but because the SUVs lack the minivan's close association with low-prestige activities like parenting, and instead provide the aura of high-prestige activities like whitewater kayaking. Why should kayaking be more prestigious than parenting? Because parenting isn't prestigious in our society. If it were, childless people would drive minivans just to partake of the aura.
How did we get to this parlous state? There are plenty of obvious answers, most of them wrong. In terms of cultural phenomena, I'd think the most likely might be the general refusal of my generation (yes, Virginia, I am one of those hated baby-boomers) to let go of its adolescence, thereby providing a Bad Example for the generations to come. But it might be as simple as this:
Parenting was always hard work, of course. But aside from the economic payoffs, parents used to get a lot of social benefits, too. But in recent decades, a collection of parenting "experts" and safety-fascist types have extinguished some of the benefits while raising the costs, to the point where what's amazing isn't that people are having fewer kids, but that people are having kids at all.
Think of that high-zoot car seat (which you'll have to replace two or three times as the youngster grows) as an unfunded mandate.Posted at 9:20 AM to Next Generation
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