What would Australia look like where childless couples are the norm?

Kinderling News & Features

Shevonne Hunt hosts Kinderling Conversation every weekday at 12pm.

Most of us can’t imagine what life would be like without children any more, but in the future, this could be the reality for most couples.

The Australian Bureau of Statistics has just released its latest report, which predicts that between 2023 and 2029 couples without children will be the most common family type in Australia.

Stephen Collett from the ABS said that this was due to a number of factors, “including age of family members as well as decisions about delaying childbearing or not having children.”

The results confirm what we’ve known for a long time, that the idea of a ‘nuclear family’ - Mum, Dad and two plus kids - is not the norm. You wouldn’t know it from the way politicians speak about “working families” all the time, or the way advertisers market to mothers who seemingly spend all their days washing and keeping their house clean (ha!)

Neer Korn is a social researcher who advises advertising companies on what the buying audience looks and sounds like. He says he doesn’t really know why advertisers are still not reflecting what real families look like.

“The nuclear family is hailed as the ideal, while it’s no longer truly representative. Consider last week’s debacle the Labor party ad featuring an all Anglo cast. How did no one notice it’s not representative? I tell my clients to, in the very least, be ambiguous, and thereby inclusive. Change will come when politicians view non-nuclear families as a voter block worthy of pursuing and advertisers view them as a consumer segment."

Families come in all shapes and sizes. There are single-parent families (currently the second largest family group at 14% of the population), blended families, families where grandparents are looking after kids. The ABS found that 43% of children under the age of 13 were living in non-traditional households in 2016. That’s almost half of all the children in Australia.

But here’s the thing. Whether children are living in non-nuclear families or not, currently, we’re still having kids.

Listen to Kinderling Conversation:

The alarming picture the ABS stats paint for me is that more and more couples are choosing not to have kids.

Don’t get me wrong, I think everyone has the right to choose to have kids or not. I completely believe that there are many choices you can make in life, and not having kids is obviously one of them. But why are more couples choosing not to have kids? I’m sure there are a myriad of reasons, but one thing is clear to most parents today, and that is having children can be hard work, it can be expensive, and it can be stressful trying to balance the needs of your family and your working life. All things that have become more challenging as society and technology changes around us.

A declining population is a problem for the whole country. It means less of a tax base to support the needs of an aging population. Paradoxically, over-population is also a problem. I don’t know the answers. But I do know this: a world with fewer children would be a sad place, and not just because we’ll be lacking funds to support an aging population.

As a mum of two young children I know that I’m biased. But once you are a part of a child’s world – whether that’s as a parent, an educator, or an aunt/uncle or beloved family friend - you can see the truism that children literally are our future.

They have incredible untapped potential… to solve some of the world’s problems that we’re currently unable to solve. The creativity to make the world a more beautiful, livable place. But even before they realise that potential, they have the ability to ground us all in the moment. To develop patience and empathy in a way that without children, I think would be harder to achieve.

If the reasons people are choosing not to have children are due to the difficulty in cost; financial, emotional, and social - that’s a problem we can fix. We can invest in our early learning institutions, and the training of our educators. We can look at the way our working lives are structured, and try to build in more family-friendly workplaces. We can support parents instead of telling them “if you can’t afford children you shouldn’t have them”. We can offer a sympathetic smile to a Mum in the shopping centre whose child is losing his proverbial on the floor.

Some of these things are big changes, some are very small. But if we’re looking at a future with fewer children, something has to change. Because we need children, all of us, for a variety of reasons.

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