The Nonparent Trap? - 4/29/02
cmfce at smartmarriages.com
Tue Apr 30 11:23:39 EDT 2002
subject: The Nonparent Trap? - 4/29/02
from: Smart Marriages
The Nonparent Trap?
By William Raspberry
Monday, April 29, 2002; Page A21
Sylvia Ann Hewlett's book on childlessness among successful women is the
rage of the talk shows these days -- particularly her poignant discovery
that these women, married and single, did not plan to remain childless. It's
something that just sneaked up on them while they were distracted by their
Well, I've been talking to Hewlett, and I'm convinced that some other things
are sneaking up on us, with implications far beyond the what-might-have-been
anguish of professional women who waited too late to get their priorities
One thing that's sneaking up is racially specific. Hewlett's book, "Creating
a Life: Professional Women and the Quest for Children," is not about
superwomen. It is about women in the 28-to-55 age bracket who earn more than
$55,000 a year and how increasing numbers of them are childless -- even
among the 60 percent of them who are married.
But here's the shocker. For African American women in the category, only 29
percent are married.
"Finding a partner is a huge, huge challenge for them," Hewlett learned.
"They are in a professional world with a goodly number of professional women
but relatively few successful black men. And they are even more
self-conscious [than their white counterparts] about how much they want
family, how they value it so centrally. On the other hand, they are quite
unenthusiastic about going the high-tech reproductive route. Some of them
turn to adoption."
Which raises other issues, including the difficulties (for parents and
children) associated with single parenting. It also raises this question,
which Hewlett doesn't particularly address: Where are the eligible black
The answer is easier to state than to explain with much confidence. It
begins as early as high school, where black girls already outnumber black
boys (who are more likely to become dropouts). By graduate school, the
gender gap is huge. Cornel West, who co-authored an earlier book with
Hewlett, recounts that when he entered Harvard in 1970, the male-female
ratio among black students was close to even. Today, he says, it's close to
That's a huge change. What isn't changing very fast is the expectation that
women will choose spouses who are at least their equal in earning,
education, power, age and prestige.
But the implications go far beyond making marriage an increasingly bleak
prospect as women become more and more successful. What, for instance, does
it mean for African Americans as a group when their most successful, most
highly educated and, arguably, brightest women are not reproducing? This
isn't about eugenics; it's about the failure to transmit to future
generations the knowledge, attitudes and habits that lead to professional
Obviously the implications go well beyond race as well. What's happening to
African Americans is merely an exaggeration of an across-the-board national
trend of more successful women becoming less attractive as marriage partners
and more likely -- married or single -- to remain childless. Successful men,
of course, go on having children as before.
Hewlett says that while in a number of countries couples are having smaller
families, America is one of just three (Australia and Britain are the
others) with a serious trend toward childless women. These, not
surprisingly, are countries that have made important strides toward gender
equity in education and career opportunities but where men often cling to
traditional male values.
What happens in such societies? What is sneaking up on us now? It's a
question Harvard Law Professor Mary Ann Glendon has been thinking about. As
she put it to Hewlett:
"We are in uncharted territory here. For the first time in history, large
numbers of women occupy leadership positions, and almost half of these new
female leaders -- unlike male leaders -- are childless. Will this affect our
goals and values? Will it affect our programmatic agenda?
"You bet it will. People without children have a much weaker stake in our
collective future . . . . America's rampant individualism is about to get a
whole lot worse."
© 2002 The Washington Post Company
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