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The children of their generation and ours

By Pru Goward - posted Saturday, 15 June 2002

There has been a low rumble from deep within the community about the rights of the childless. In particular, about not paying taxes to support families or women who have families. No louder than a rumble, but certainly a noise.

At first I thought this disguised a deeper concern that no one should help women "have it both ways". As if having a baby were just like having a luxury holiday! But no, there really is some concern that childless couples, and in particular those who have chosen to be childless, are unfairly supporting those who enjoy the delights and love of parenthood.

In my life time, there certainly has been a see-sawing debate about the desirability of children. Many of us would remember the ZPG (Zero Population Growth) debate of the 1970s, which anticipated an environmental apocalypse if we continued to breed up and destroy the earth’s resources.


Wagging fingers told us that two children or less was the green thing to do. China and India took dramatic steps to limit their populations; China's more draconian than dramatic.

But in the debate about environmental sustainability, something else was lost: the importance of family, of societies sustaining themselves, of generations succeeding each other, learning from each other, needing each other. We need to remember the Pied Piper will not just spirit our babies away. Family and community life often goes with it.

For childless people, paid maternity leave is a good bet. It means they enjoy the benefit of an ongoing community with minimal cost. Other measures aimed at supporting families and allowing young people to view parenthood as a free and possible choice, are also good for childless couples. It is the only way out of a seismic social shift that will leave all our lives, including those of the childless, all the poorer if we do not take steps to stop it now.

Look at the facts:

  • Conservative estimates are that a woman (and therefore a couple) foregoes $160,000 in earnings when she stops to have a child. That is Saving Number One for the childless (or childfree) couple.
  • The costs of raising a child are estimated to be between 10 per cent and 30 per cent of family income. Saving Number Two.
  • In return for this, the couple enjoys emotional fulfilment, the satisfaction of knowing they have reproduced themselves or their loved ones, and perhaps the hope that their old age will not only be supported by caring children, but filled with the happiness of grandchildren and a continuing involvement in their activities and interests.

Mind you, the childfree can often find similar levels of satisfaction in other activities.


When the childless are 25 or 35 years old, other people's babies may be an imposition and an annoyance. But by the time those babies reach maturity, they play a different role in the life of the childless older person.

There are many benefits children bring to society that are enjoyed not only by their parents and immediate family, but by the childless also.

These children, once they have finished their public education, stopped cramming the public hospital paediatric wards (the casualty ward for teenagers!), stopped school travel on public transport and no longer take up the time of the friendly policeman on the corner, become citizens.

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About the Author

Pru Goward is Australia’s Federal Sex Discrimination Commissioner.

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