Pop culture fires up the supremacy of marriage over singlehood. Corporations like American Express are introducing “made especially for busy, multitasking moms” credit cards to pump gas into the family minivans. President Obama keeps funding his predecessor’s “Healthy Marriage Initiative,” encouraging unmarried parents to tie the knot.
There is no escaping the story of virtues of having babies (and a heterosexual marriage that should precede them). Last week, Reihan Salam of Slate.com went as far as to insist that childless folks pay more tax to help parents raise kids because children are the saving grace in a nation of misanthropes and economic downfall.
After a lifetime of exposure to this, we naturally come to believe that family is the only road to achieving happiness. The danger of this narrative cannot be overstated: it forces us to conform to socially approved life choices.
The positive feeling we associate with raising family didn’t happen by accident. It’s a result of systematic incentives and encouragement.
Government uses pro-marriage policies to ramp up birthrates because it needs the next generation of taxpayers, soldiers and entrepreneurs. Family, not rugged individualism, is the religious bedrock of America’s founding. Heaps of studies that show marriage or kids don’t make people any happier fall on deaf ears.
Family is also the social panacea. Earlier this year, Florida Sen. Marco Rubio declared marriage as the greatest poverty-fighting tool. Conservatives contend that people are better off committing themselves to community and country than personal freedom.
The message to abandon dangerous individualism and crank out cute babies like Ford Model Ts is written into the law. Married couples enjoy over a thousand federal benefits and cheaper insurance premiums. Couples and families pay less per person for goods and services than singles do. The Tax Policy Center estimates that in 2013 parents got about $171 billion worth of tax breaks.
Married men are getting paid progressively more than their single brethren, reports a 2010 study from Duke University. Being a single can cost a woman more than a million dollars over a lifetime because income tax, social security, health and housing systems are built to favor families.
It’s no wonder politicians campaigning for votes invoke “working families,” not unmarried childless workers. Society views single people as selfish, because they don’t make the sacrifice to invest in future generations. Never mind that they already subsidize married couples and cover for co-workers on parental leave.
The prejudice and discrimination they face have even inspired a new vocabulary: singlism.
But singledom is here to stay — and thrive.
More than a quarter of U.S. households now consist of only one person. Unmarried women, with over 50 million of them, are the fastest growing voting bloc with unpredictable alliances. In 2008, singles accounted for 35 percent of all consumer spending. By 2020, the world’s single population will have jumped by 20 percent.
Those who still believe the fate of a nation is tied to its birthrates can relax. In fact, lower fertility rates are associated with higher gains in education and economy, social and political stability.
There are also saner ways than boosting birthrates to support an aging society. Progressive reforms, such as enhancing education and child welfare system, bringing in more overseas workers, simplifying international adoption and raising the retirement age can all help sustain the economy without adding additional pressure to the environment.
Marriage or children should not call for entitlements or special social status. The federal provisions that exclusively benefit couples and parents need to be reformed; government should invest in universal programs instead. Companies must be mandated to provide equal perks to all employees regardless of domestic status.
Siraj, my Pakistani friend, once told me he’d “expired” since his early 20s because he didn’t get married. He is great at his job, supports his parents and siblings and is a dependable friend. I, too, never aspired to marriage and kids (I’m 40). Sometimes I think it would be nice to want a family, since everyone else seems to be in on it. But I don’t and it’s no biggie.
The global trend toward delaying or forgoing marriage and kids is not a sign of coming apocalypse. It means people — especially women — have more choices and freedom to lead the life they want. That’s a good thing.
Individual freedom has never destroyed nations; wars do that. Stop targeting single people for living their lives, and don’t go gaga over babies. It’s dangerous.
© Katrin Park and Ex Nemo, 2014. Unauthorized use or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author is strictly prohibited.