THE BABY BOON: How Family-Friendly America Cheats the Childless

THE BABY BOON: How Family-Friendly America Cheats the Childless

Florence King

By Elinor Burkett. Free Press.256 pp. $25

Read Time:
2m 48sec

America has always cast a cold eye on the childless. Let it be known that the seen, heard, nasty, brutish, and short are missing from your life and you will be pitied, censured, called "abnormal," and referred to a wonderful doctor who will find out what’s wrong with you. 

This prejudice is flourishing in today’s "family-friendly" workplaces. Childless employees are being turned into a servant class for an aristocracy of parents who invoke the privilege of flextime to come in late, leave early, and beg off Saturday work in the arrogant belief that their unblessed coworkers are happy to fill in for them.

The childless also bear the brunt of the tax burden, while parents get a $500 tax credit per child, a $1,500 tax credit for college tuition, a child-care tax credit, and extended unemployment insurance to stay home with a newborn. Moreover, companies skimp on benefits to the childless while lavishing on parents such perks as 12 weeks of unpaid maternity/paternity leave, adoption and foster care leave, on-site day care, breast-feeding rooms, paid absences for school plays and PTA conferences, and even "bonding time."

In short, writes Burkett, the childless subsidize the fecund in "the most massive redistribution of wealth since the War on Poverty." Burkett, a history professor turned journalist, approaches her subject with the shrinking timidity of Carry Nation. She calls family "the F-word" and thinks family-friendly policies are a "welfare program for baby boomers" and "affirmative action based on reproductive choice." She also considers them profoundly reactionary. Rewarding parents at the expense of nonparents, she maintains, is no different from the old practice of paying men more than women because they had families to support.

"Parents," of course, is a euphemism for frazzled working mothers. With a fine impartiality, Burkett blames the family policy rip-off on conservatives obsessed with motherhood and liberals obsessed with women’s rights. They have met their common enemy, and it is the childless. Feminists, who used to rail against the family as a patriarchal institution, must now support profamily legislation or else admit they were wrong when they told women they could have it all. "Feminism has become the ladies’ auxiliary of the parents’ rights movement," Burkett writes acidly, "and the words woman and mother have become synonymous once again."

This no-holds-barred book will upset many, but it marshals a wickedly funny compendium of evidence of America’s child fixation: the 1988 presidential election, when George Bush and Michael Dukakis both campaigned in daycare centers; the peanut butter-free zones established in daycare centers when parents panicked over the allergy scare; the trial lawyer who found a right to breastfeed in the Constitution; and the $375 breast pump that plugs into a car’s cigarette lighter, allowing lactating careerists to milk themselves while driving to work.

Burkett’s most controversial point is her suspicion that the real impetus behind the baby boon is the demographic forecast that minorities will be in the majority in the near future. Showering tax breaks and benefits on affluent whites rewards fertility and encourages "birth by bribery," a ploy not unlike the Nazi practice of awarding the Mutterkreuz to Aryan supermoms.

—Florence King


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