Don’t listen to proudly and deliberately childless Double-Income, No Kids (DINK) couples: Children are good for marriage and for society.
Several TikTok videos about DINKs have gone viral recently. They feature self-described DINK (double-income, no kids) couples, proudly talking about their child-free and carefree life, which includes spontaneous vacations and “snobby hobbies like skiing and golfing.”
While we respect their personal choices, the underlining message these types of videos are sending is troubling. Essentially, the message is that marriages are better without children and children are a big time drain and financial burden.
This is misleading. Among Americans ages 18 to 55 (the group who are most likely to have young children at home), married adults with children are the happiest. Nearly four in ten married parents (37 percent) say they are very happy with their lives, compared with 27 percent of married, childless adults (the happiness level among unmarried adults is much lower), according to the 2022 General Social Survey. When it comes to marital quality, married parents also have an advantage over their childless peers: 63 percent of married parents are very happy about their marriage, compared with 57 percent of married and childless couples.
Even in the 18-to-34 age group, to which the featured TikTok couples appear to belong, married couples with children are far more likely than their childless peers to say they are very happy with their lives (43 percent vs. 30 percent).
It is true that children require a considerable amount of care, and married parents have less free time compared with their childless peers and single adults, but research shows that more free time doesn’t always translate to more happiness. Even though they have less free time, married parents tend to spend more of the free time they do have socializing with others and less time in front of screens, and these factors contribute to their higher levels of happiness.
However, it is important to acknowledge that DINK couples tend to accumulate more wealth as compared with married couples with children over time. For example, at ages 51 to 60, married mothers have a median family wealth of $322,000, compared with $435,000 for married women without children, and the gap remains even after adjusting for education and race.
This wealth gap reveals how costly it is to raise children in America. In 2015, the estimate for child-rearing expenses was $233,610 from birth through age 17 in a two-child, middle-income, married-couple family. As a result of inflation and other factors in the post-Covid era, the average cost has now risen to $310,605.
Working moms with young children also face a motherhood penalty. Mothers in general are paying a hefty price in the workplace, earning lower salaries and being less likely to get promoted compared with non-mothers. This penalty drives mothers out of the workplace and also deters many young women from considering motherhood.
Over the past decade, the U.S. has joined the club of developed countries with a below-replacement fertility rate. Currently, the U.S. fertility rate stands at 1.7 children per woman, lagging even behind France (1.8 children per woman), and one in six American women reaching the end of their childbearing years remain childless. While other countries have implemented policies to support families, the U.S. has fared poorly among developed countries on rankings of family-friendly policies.
It is about time for the U.S. to adopt family-friendly policies to boost fertility rates. A society with a declining population is not sustainable, and the cost of raising children should not solely fall on families and parents. By implementing supportive measures such as paid parental leave, a generous child tax credit, and flexible work arrangements, the government and businesses can contribute to a more family-friendly environment for working families.
In addition to federal-government subsidies, policies at the state and local level can also help. The best pro-family policies, according to parents themselves in a new IFS/YouGov poll of Sunbelt states, point to expanding choices for parents and allowing them to raise their children in the way that best fits their values.
There is a reason why videos such as those by DINK couples can go viral today. Addressing the needs of working parents can not only help counter the trend of declining fertility rates but also foster a healthier and more resilient society in the long run. Prioritizing family-friendly policies is a pivotal step toward a sustainable demographic future for the United States.