The Decoupling of Marriage and Children: The deeper problem


Last year, 11.2 per cent of ever-married women had no children, up from 7.1 per cent in 2004 and 4.2 per cent in 1994. Sociologists described the increase as significant and said it reflects changing values and norms.

Admittedly, the cost of raising a child in Singapore is at its highest, and there is no sign of it slowing down. The Government’s attempts to help couples who are hindered by financial constraints to procreate have been met with limited success. So, it is true, that what is driving this trend is a change in values. Establishing a lasting and successful career now trumps starting a family, which has been a rite of passage for many generations, even centuries.

Sociologists have identified three phases that constitute a proper rite of passage: separation, transition, and re-incorporation. In short, a rite of passage marks the end of one phase of life and the progression into the next. Associated with each life stage is a specific social status and a definitive set of obligations and responsibilities that the incumbent is expected to fulfill. Jewish families use the bar and bat-mitzvah to mark the coming of age of their sons and daughters respectively. Leaving the home and going to college, often in a different state, is a rite of passage for many American teenagers. Graduating from college and starting a (real) job comes next.

Then, there comes a time when a man must leave his father and mother and be joined with his wife; and when he is man enough be a father. tweet this.

The problem with many of these traditional rites of passage is that they have been put off further and further in a young man’s life. 50 years ago the average age an American man started a family was 22. Today, men (for ill or good) are getting married and having kids later in life. With these traditional rites of passage increasingly being delayed, many men are left feeling stuck between boyhood and manhood. Lacking these important markers, many young men today belabor their childhood, never sure of when they’ve really “manned up.” That is, they don’t grow up.

Procreation is as natural and logical as marriage. In the past, barrenness was the only reason a married woman do not bear children, and they would do anything to have the curse of barrenness reversed.

Procreation is also a divine mandate given to all Mankind through the first Man and Woman, Adam and Eve. “Be fruitful and multiply…” For Christians, this mandate is even more binding. But instead of seeing it as a heavy yoke, for God’s commands are never burdensome (1 John 5:3), we should embrace it as a blessing from God. After all,

Children are a gift from the Lord;
they are a reward from him.
Children born to a young man
are like arrows in a warrior’s hands.
How joyful is the man whose quiver is full of them!
He will not be put to shame when he confronts his accusers at the city gates. (Psalm 127:3-5) tweet this

My wife and I used to have two children. When asked how many children we have, I would gesture with my hand the number ‘2’ and reply, “Too (sounds like ‘two’) many”. But God insisted that we have another. 11 years later, just before my wife and I turned 40, our third child was conceived and born. Today, she is 10 years old and a joy to our hearts (except when she breaks our hearts with her mischief).

Finance was a concern when we had our first and second child and an even greater concern when we had our third child, but it never stopped us from having them anyway. It shouldn’t stop you either.

I do not pass judgment on those who choose not to have children. They probably have some personal reasons. Share them with me.


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