A common fear among human beings is of growing old destitute and alone. After all, we enter the world nurtured and cared for until we are able to tend to ourselves; it only makes sense that when we lose that ability late in life, we desire someone to once more provide for us. This is one of the motivations behind procreation. Many parents use their livelihoods to rear their children, fund their college educations, and assist with their future needs, such as baby sitting. When these kids finally leave the nest—to establish a career, marry, purchase a home, and perhaps even have children of their own—where do their aging parents fall in their hierarchy of priorities?
Unfortunately, many adults are expected to work long hours, handle daily chores, and devote their remaining time to their children’s needs. What’s more, in today’s economic climate, individuals are often forced to seek employment in other states and even other countries to support their families. The fact is, many parents do not financially plan for their own future needs because they expect their children to care for them in return. The dream of being surrounded by one’s children in one’s twilight years is rapidly vanishing for many people.
We can find a perfect example of this by turning to China. Recently, the Law of Protection of Rights and Interest of the Aged was enacted due to the changing values of Chinese society; many of the nation’s elderly were suffering from neglect, forcing government to pick up their financial slack. The law requires adult children to visit their parents regularly or provide their parents with monthly support if they are in financial strain. The law even recommends companies to provide employees with time off so they can visit their parents regularly. With the baby-boomer population now entering their senior years, elderly neglect may become an issue baby-boomers worldwide experience firsthand.
In the United States in particular, women suffer the consequences of poverty during their childbearing years and again in old age. Historically, this result was fueled by a wide range of factors, among them unequal pay compared to men, unexpected pregnancy, a dearth of educational opportunities, domestic violence, the absence of a good childcare system, and inflexible work schedules that forced women into limited career paths. Even today, many women rely on Social Security for their future nest eggs. The Social Security system was originally constructed in the 1930s to encourage women to stay at home and raise children. So it is no surprise that most married women receive greater benefits based on their husbands’ historical earnings rather than their own earnings because they have spent time bearing and raising children. Every woman must realize that whether she is married or divorced, once she begins drawing Social Security she is entitled only to half of her spouse’s benefits until he is deceased. Will that sum be enough to ensure a comfortable livelihood?
Often the childfree are ridiculed by parents as selfish for using their time to establish a career, build up wealth, and live a life of leisure. These critics overlook one major factor: the childfree must work hard to ensure their futures are financially secure because they cannot count on offspring to eventually take care of their financial needs. Securing one’s financial future is not a selfish act; in today’s global economic environment, it is a responsible course of action.