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In this episode, Chelsea talks openly about the kinds of things you should never say to a childfree woman, and cites ample research illustrating why a childfree lifestyle isn't an empty one.

Voluntary childlessness study:

Falling fertility rates:

U.S. paid parental leave:

American loneliness:

Nuclear family:

Watch more of The Financial Diet hosted by Chelsea Fagan here:

The Financial Diet site:

Hey, guys. It's Chelsea from The Financial Diet. And this week's video is brought to you by Skillshare.

And today, I want to talk about a subject that is near and dear to my heart, and, honestly, maybe a slight departure from the usual topics that we cover here on TFD, but I still think has a huge amount of relevance when it comes to the topic of navigating life choices, especially for women. I want to talk about the way we talk to and treat women who make the choice not to have children, both at all, or even just biologically. So I am someone who definitely feels a strong sense that I am not meant to be a biological mother.

As of right now, my husband and I live a child-free, by choice, lifestyle. And that may continue indefinitely or we may eventually choose to bring children into our lives through fostering, adoption, et cetera. So I hesitate to fully align myself with the child-free community because, in many cases, that is referring to people who choose to go their entire lives without having children.

But in the child-free umbrella, especially in online communities, you'll often find a little bit of everything. For example, our own vise president, Kamala Harris, is technically, herself, child-free. But she has several stepchildren that she's obviously a huge part of their lives.

And it's a topic that I feel very, personally, passionately about. Because I actually consider that I am representative, personally, of a life path for women that is, not only very valid, but also something that, even just a short while ago, would have been considered nearly impossible. As a woman, I find that I have a pretty high level of self-actualization.

I moved to a foreign country and lived there for several years. I speak more than one language. I made a career as a writer and had my first book published when I was 23 years old.

I founded my own company, which now employs eight women and creates tons of work and opportunity for many others. And I did this all without any kind of college degree or inherited wealth, which is probably the thing that makes it the most statistically unusual. And I don't say any of this stuff to be braggadocios about myself because, for the most part, I think that I'm a product of privilege, like most other people who have entered that level of professional or personal success.

I was able to make the choices that I made in life because I had support around me. It may not have been in the form of super-rich and well-connected parents, but I definitely had places to fall back. I had a boyfriend and now spouse who always had a steady job that provided us with health insurance and a stable roof over our head.

I have a loving family and a great circle of friends. I was born in America, a native English speaker, white woman. Clearly, the deck was stacked in my favor in a lot of ways.

So I don't necessarily think that my trajectory inherently says something deeply impressive about who I am as a person. However, I do think it checks enough boxes that, for most people, it should be a satisfactory life path for anyone without other things. However, as a woman who is 32 years old, as of recently, and married with a man I've been with for literally-- it'll be 10 years in a month from filming-- I often hear pretty explicit levels of disappointment from people in my life because my husband and I are currently on the child-free path.

And this can totally vary I will absolutely not be calling out anyone, individually, because I want their right to privacy. But people in my social circles, in my own family, in my husband's family, have expressed all kinds of sentiments. Some of them think that even, for example, if we were to adopt a child that would not at all be comparable to having our own children.

Some expressed that I'm essentially setting myself up for a very empty life because I'm not choosing to have children. Some of them have almost explicitly never asked me any questions about any of the things that I do in my day-to-day life, but frequently asked me about children in a way that's more than a little passive aggressive. I've had people break down in tears to me about the fact that me not having children is robbing them of something.

And I try as much as possible to approach this all with a great deal of empathy. Because I do understand that for most people it is a life choice that is, A, difficult to understand. But also, B, If you really love the person who is making a child-free choice, you maybe, on a personal level, deeply want them to be a parent.

You think they are meant to be parents, that they would be good parents. And therefore, it can be acutely disappointing for them not to take that path. But whatever the reasoning might be and no matter how human and understandable it might be in its nature, the reality is that even academic research shows that our treatment of women, in particular, who choose not to have children is still extremely stigmatizing and othering.

One researcher highlights the fact that although there is a growing number of women who are choosing not to have children, these women are still heavily stigmatized. As she further explains, the terms women and mother have become synonymous. She further states that reasons not to have children are complex and child-free women are likely largely influenced by gender role expectations.

But the research on childless stigma suggests that women who choose to have children are still considered to be deviant, greedy, not fully women, and even subhuman. Mollen interviewed 24 child-free men and women and found that the majority of these participants responded that others often viewed them as cold, peculiar, materialistic, and egotistical. And this is pretty surprising when you consider just how much more normal the choice to not have children is becoming.

The US birth rate, which measures the number of births per 1,000 women and girls between the ages of 15 and 44 in a given year, sat at 58.2% in 2019, for another record low, according to the report. Its continual decline has been driven in part by a 73% plummet in the teen birth rate since 1991. That rate fell another 5% in 2019, reaching 16.6% per 1,000, the report notes.

Birth rates also fell for women in their 20s and early 30s in 2019, but rose for women in their early 40s. The rate for women ages 40 to 44 years old has risen almost continuously since 1985 by an average of 3% per year. But despite this normalization, the refrain that child-free women often hear is pretty consistent.

Probably the most popular one is that we're missing out on something that will never be the same without or is essential to our happiness or even our fulfillment as women. Some of the other greatest hits include you don't know what you're missing, don't be so selfish, why even get married if you don't want kids, what are you going to do when you're old, are you just afraid you'll mess up your body. I've heard basically all of those in some form or others.

And I have to say that even though I've made a kind of peace with it on a human level, it's still more bothers me sociologically that this is continued to be considered socially acceptable, both from working on the internet for over a decade now and also because I genuinely view my life with a very, very high level of fulfillment and actualization, I'm able to sort of take some of this commentary in stride and not really take it too seriously. But there are millions of other women every day who are hearing the same kind of feedback who may not have the tools in their mental health toolbox to deal with it in a productive way. And frankly, it should not be socially acceptable to make this kind of judgment on people's choices.

Obviously, the most socially risky element of all of this is that just because a couple happens to be child-free does not necessarily mean that this is by choice. And raising questions about it can obviously bring up many painful serious issues. But beyond that, even if the couple is openly child-free by choice, the idea that you, as a stranger or even as a family member, should have a right to impose your judgment or influence on that is really ridiculous.

There are many other life choices that we do not consider at all as up for debate and discussion as the idea of having children. But perhaps the most frustrating thing about this demonization of people and, particularly, women who choose not to have children is that it completely misses the point. Even though having children is objectively necessary to sustain humanity and for many people is a miraculous and wonderful life choice, we are also objectively creating a society which is making it increasingly difficult for people to make the choice to have children, especially women.

In fact, the US is the only country among 41 nations that does not mandate any paid leave for new parents, according to data compiled by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development. And as of April 2018, the second smallest amount of paid leave required in any of the other 40 nations is about two months. And this lack of protection around women in the workforce who choose to have a child is made all the more complicated by the fact that women are increasingly obligated to enter the workforce in order to sustain a family.

As we touch on pretty frequently here at TFD, the minimum wage has not even remotely kept up with the cost of living. Cost of living continues to radically outpace average wages. And things that used to be much more affordable, for example, the higher education of your children, are increasingly becoming out of reach for even upper-middle class families.

So the outdated idea of a mother who stays at home and takes care of the children and the father who goes out to work is, frankly, not even an economic possibility for the people who would even want that. And this is why it's so frustrating that we continue to put the same narratives on women who make the choice not to have children. Because in many cases, if we were creating a situation that was much more supportive of that choice and giving them the resources in order to make it comfortably and to not have to choose between a career and having a child or staying at home to raise the child, many more women might be likely to make that choice.

In fact, there is much data that supports the idea that the more a country goes out of its way to create a set of policy ideals that support motherhood, the more women choose to become mothers. It's also hard to ignore that a lot of this dichotomy that pits child-free people and parents against each other stems from a kind of latent resentment. The truth is that having children is extremely hard.

And seeing people opt out of that choice and still come across as fulfilled and happy can feel almost unfair. Because, why then, should certain people take on the burden of having to raise the next generation when other people can happily escape that reality and not feel like they're missing anything? I do understand, on a human level, how that could feel unfair and also maybe, to some extent, an indictment of the choice to have children, as if maybe it really isn't worth it to have children.

But the answer to that is not to stigmatize people who choose not to be parents. The real question we need to be asking ourselves as a society is how do we support mothers and people who want to become mothers. And I would say the same is true for all parents of both genders.

And beyond the issues that arise from creating a society in which it is increasingly difficult for women to choose to become mothers, we're also, to a greater and greater extent, dividing and narrowing the definition that we have as Americans of what it means to be a family, removing more and more support systems from the parent-children relationship. For example, as I mentioned, one of the nastier comments that women who choose not to have children will often hear is something along the lines of, what are you going to do when you're older? Who's going to come see you?

Who are you going to spend your holidays with? And not to be a humongous downer, but, actually, the statistics show that even people who do have children, don't necessarily guarantee that they're going to be surrounded by family members when they're older. For example, though we'll often ask for child-free people will do when we're older, around half of all seniors in assisted living homes do not have a single visitor on an average year.

And over half of them report feeling isolated. And although that does clearly extend beyond seniors who chose to have their own children, it does show that just because you have them, doesn't ensure that you'll be surrounded by love in your older age. But part of that breakdown is because we've become increasingly atomized as a society.

In America, we tend to imagine the family unit as what we refer to as a nuclear family, meaning parents and children living in a home by themselves. It's important to remember that throughout much of human history and even to this day in many cultures that are not America, this nuclear family model is pretty much unheard of. Families live inter-generationally.

Communities support each other much more actively between families. People stay close to their extended relatives and help one another in raising those children. And taking care of elder family members as they get older in your own home is considered part of the natural life cycle, rather than shuttling them off to a home where they're really never interacting with their other family members.

And we now have enough research to know that this nuclear family model has incredibly damning effects on mental health, on parent satisfaction, on child rearing, on basically every metric of what we can consider a successful family unit. There is a fantastic long-form article on the subject of the nuclear family in The Atlantic, which we'll link you to in the description. But here's just one quick quote. "If you want to summarize the changes in the family structure over the past century, the truest thing to say is this.

We have made life freer for individuals and more unstable for families. We've made life better for adults but worse for children. We've moved from big interconnected and extended families, which helped protect the most vulnerable people in society from the shocks of life, to smaller, detached nuclear families, a married couple and their children, which give the most privileged people in society room to maximize their talents and expand their options.

The shift from bigger and interconnected extended families to smaller and detached nuclear families ultimately led to a familial system which liberates the rich and ravages the working class and the poor." If we were to broaden our idea of what families and communities can look like, where different extended members of the family, or even social unit, could include close friends who, themselves, do not have children are still a very important part of rearing and educating that child, we may not feel such a distance between parents and those who are not parents. We would see those child-free people as having an integral role to play in society. Because, frankly, those who do not have their own children have more energy and more time to support the rest of their communities.

But all of that assumes, of course, that the child-free person does want to be a part of children's lives, which is very much my case. I love children. But there are also probably some child-free people who want, essentially, no contact with children, and certainly don't want to be a part of raising anyone else's.

But here's the thing. Even if you think that that is a morally wrong choice-- and I'm not going to debate that, but, like, philosophically seems shaky-- it's important to remember that shaming as a tactic empirically does not work. Shaming and ostracizing someone because you don't like a life choice, really, in it's best case scenario will just result in them not really wanting to be around you.

Worst case, it can create serious mental health issues for that person and make them even more socially isolated in that choice. Shaming child-free people is never the answer. In conclusion, although I know that there will always be people who feel that sort of reactionary, defensive, and sometimes, frankly, aggressive stance toward people who choose not to have children, I hope we can start thinking a little bit more broadly about the issue and understand that at the root of it is not who does and doesn't choose to be a parent, but how we do and don't support the idea of families.

In this country, in many ways, both economically and sociologically, we have chosen to divest from families at basically every turn. And, hopefully, if we stop pitting those two camps against each other, we can all start working together towards a society that supports every one of its members more efficiently, including and especially, its children. And if you're looking to broaden and change your own role in society by increasing your education, I highly recommend you check out Skillshare.

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