Who Cares about Children Who Are Not Their Own?
Do parents have more skin in the game, or more skin in their own children’s game?
In the latest bomb thrown to inflame the culture wars, it has been suggested that people who do not have children should not be allowed to vote, because they don’t have any skin in the game. Without any kids, the argument goes, they don’t care about the future. Instead, children should get to vote, through their parents. A parent to nine children, for example, would get nine votes, while an adult with no kids would get no votes.
I’m not using names or links because the people posing and promoting these ideas are attention-seekers and lovers of divisiveness, and I’m not playing. But I do have a few serious questions.
First, is it true that only people who have children care about future generations?
When put to the test, questions like these, that seem to have self-evident answers, do not always produce the answers that were expected. My usual focus is on single people, a category that includes people who are parents as well as people who are not. Single people are often stereotyped in the same ways as people who have no children — for example, as self-centered and selfish.
Research, though, suggests something entirely different. In some important ways, single people are more generous than married or coupled people: They give more time and more money, and they are more often the people who show up when others are in need of care. For example, who is there for their aging parents? Grown children who are single step up more often than their married or coupled siblings. That’s true whether they are daughters or sons, Black or White.
Scholars interested in Erik Erikson’s stage of generativity, “the concern in establishing and guiding the next generation,” have tried to measure that concern, and then test whether people who are single, or people who do not have children, care less about the next generation than their peers who are married or have children. Along the way, they acknowledged something important, that there are ways to invest in children and future generations other than by parenting.