The Baby Boon: How Family-Friendly America Cheats the Childless by Elinor Burkett

childless, non-fiction

My thoughts about The Baby Boon are a little scattered, and reviewing non-fiction is always a little hard, so I apologize if I end up making no sense.

I feel like I need a bit of an intro here… I don’t have kids, and really don’t want any. I just… don’t.  Also, this book was published in 2000, so it’s almost 15 years old at this point.

Okay so the book is about how basically in an effort for politicians and lawmakers to look “family-friendly” and hence get more votes, they’ve created a lot of policies that end up discriminating against people who don’t have kids. People with kids get a crap ton of extra tax deductions and tax credits (for each kid they have), which means the childless are getting stuck paying more than their fair share in taxes. It’s mandatory that companies offer maternity leave (I think the average is about 12 weeks) for women who have babies, but there is no comparable benefit available to people without kids AND the employees without kids often pick up the slack while a woman is out on maternity leave, which violates the “equal pay for equal work” laws. And society as a whole has also picked up this weird trend of catering to people with kids – some companies offer reduced rates on day-care services, some offer to help pay your kid’s tuition, etc. Stores now have “Expectant Mother” and “Women with small children” parking spaces next to the handicapped ones. All of this is SO frustrating for people who don’t have kids – whether they want kids but can’t have them, don’t have kids yet, don’t want kids, aren’t allowed to adopt kids (this mostly refers to same-sex couples), older people who had kids that are grown now, etc.

So, let’s talk about some of the things I enjoyed about this book.

  • Burkett talks a bit about how and why exactly this family-friendly craze came about.
  • She pointed out that feminist organizations were also a part of the family-friendly movement and they supported a lot of the laws we have now that favor families and ignore the childless. It’s something I hadn’t really thought of before, but these organizations were trying to gain more followers by supporting women with children who were trying to get into the workforce – but by doing this, they have essentially pitted mothers against childless women, which contradicts the point of being feminist and supporting ALL women.
  • She discussed how shortly after the family-friendly trend started, the “for the children” trend came along glorifying children and proclaiming that they were the most important thing and have the be protected from everything. And from that, we now have laws that increase the penalties of spousal abuse if it’s witnessed by a child. THIS IS SO STUPID. Way to devalue the life and health of the woman being beaten by her husband.
  • Burkett also mentioned that the childless even get discriminated against in other basic areas, such as medical care. It’s not uncommon for doctors to refuse to perform voluntary sterilization on child-bearing aged women who haven’t had kids yet, and some doctors insist men without kids go through counselling before performing a vasectomy on them. Yet there’s no counselling required to have kids…

I could go on and on about the many issues that Burkett touches on in this book that I appreciated, or that are just SO UNJUST, but let’s move on to the things I didn’t like about this book.

  • The beginning and end of The Baby Boon were most enjoyable and readable because those were the parts that focused on the issues above. The middle got bogged down by a lot of politics. The author went back and forth with “and then Clinton did that” and “Republicans did this” and it got confusing as well as boring. I appreciated her trying to point out how exactly the family-friendly craze started, but she didn’t do it in a clear and concise way. It muddled the point she was trying to get at.
  • She tried to tie class issues into this, and it was a mess. Yes, I agree that the poor deserve a little more help than the middle class people making a lot more money. But this distracted from the overall message of not discriminating against the childless.
  • I wish there had been a section on what you can do to fight this inequality, or a list of organizations to support for that cause, but there wasn’t. However after looking online, maybe that’s because short of childless people starting to sue their employers for discrimination, there’s not a whole lot we CAN do yet. That’s really sad, because I would totally join that organization. We need a lobbyist group for childless people.
  • She ended the book on a hopeful note, saying that in the future years the childless people would start to be more outspoken and try to fight this discrimination. And it just made me sad, because 15-years later the situation is possibly even worse than when she wrote this.

SO. The Baby Boon was pretty interesting and had a lot of good information and made a lot of good points, but I didn’t love it because of that big political section in the middle. Finger-pointing at whether this is all the fault of Republicans or Democrats isn’t helping anything. I did really enjoy reading something that matched my general outrage at a lot of these things though, and I think I’m going to search out more books about being childfree.

Sarah Says: 3.5 stars



  1. I think this is a very interesting post and one that is likely to get a lot of divergent view comments. LIke you, I’m childless by choice. There has never been a time in my adult life when I wanted children, and I’ve felt many of the same frustrations you mention about adding to my workload when coworkers, either pregnant or already with children, have to miss work for whatever child-related reason. I actually had one coworker who, during the last few months of her pregnancy, claim that she couldn’t move folding chairs because her doctor told her not to move furniture around. So I had to work late 2-3 nights a week to put up folding chairs for the audience for our author events.

    All that being said, I think it’s a good thing to have these laws in place for pregnant mothers and families with children and I actually think the US is woefully behind in promoting the welfare of mothers and children compared to many other first world countries. No, I don’t have children, but that doesn’t mean I don’t want laws in place to protect them and give them the best start possible (i.e. maternity and paternity leave) and keep them going down that road for life. I don’t use the library, either, but that doesn’t mean I don’t want it around for other people to use. And by that same token, I don’t mind paying taxes towards public schools because I don’t want future Americans to be uneducated. Or at least less educated than we already are. 😉

    I work for a small business and always have worked for small businesses, and our rules are a little different from those of the corporate world. I may have mild resentments over having to do things while my coworkers are off being pregnant or taking care of theirs kids, but mostly I just don’t mind pitching in; after all, the time may be just around the corner when I’ll have to be away caring for aging parents and they’ll have to pitch in to cover for me. It’s what we do. We give maternity or paternity leave, unpaid, for up to 12 weeks, but we also give unpaid leaves of absence for any employee. i wish our store were in a position to give paid leave for both cases.


    1. It’s true, I don’t REALLY mind maternity leave, but it bugs me that if I wanted 12 unpaid weeks off to go travel or something my job would probably deny me. I’m fine with them having that time off, but I wish my job (most jobs) would offer something comparable to people without children.

      And I don’t mind paying school/property taxes, but the tax deductions and credits parents get just for having kids bugs me. Those don’t definitely benefit the kids, it benefits the parents and middle-class parents especially don’t really need that 500 bucks per kid back in their refund.

      I think that as a country, we actually do a TON for mothers and children in general, but the book pointed out that a lot of that support is going to middle-class families who don’t really need it, while we’re still ignoring the poor mothers and children, all because politicians don’t cater to poor people who are less likely to vote.


      1. I see what you mean about not having the equal time off. It’s like people who smoke can take a cigarette break, but what about non-smokers? If they took a random break they’d be called out for being lazy. Kind of a double standard, isn’t it?


      2. Yes, despite Americans’ general pride in not being snobby like other countries where the monarchy has informed their class structure, we’re still a very classist society and the people living below poverty level in our country get the shit end of the stick every time. Unfortunately I cannot think of a good way to get politicians to pay attention to those particular echelons.


      3. Me neither. Sadly I think that when people as a whole finally start caring about the poor more than themselves and voting that way, THAT’s when politicans will start to do something more for the poor. We have some help and systems in place, but they really need a makeover and boost.


  2. This sounds really interesting. I probably won’t pick it up because it’s so old and you didn’t love it, but I’ve got a few childfree books on my TBR that I haven’t read yet. There’s also a Goodreads list called “Childfree Books” you could check out. Like you I don’t think I want kids and am not that educated on ways that childless people are discriminated against, other than social stigmas or people constantly asking you and your partner when you’ll have kids. Not sure if you read Reddit but there’s a subreddit there called childfree or something similar that might be interesting.


    1. I don’t always mind when people ask when/if I’m having kids, but when I say no they just won’t drop it – they dismiss it by saying “Oh you’ll change you’re mind.” As if it’s impossible to actively not want to procreate.

      I’m going to check out the childfree list and the Reddit thing that you mentioned, thanks!


  3. I don’t have kids, but that’s more of a “yet” thing for me… I think. I hope that once I DO have kids, I don’t forget how frustrating it can be to be childless in a child-centric society. I get enough scorn for having been married and not popped out a bunch of kids before 30. I don’t think I’ll ever regret that. I spent my 20s getting a lot of sleep and doing whatever I wanted. Now that the big 3-0 is around the corner, I’m giving procreation more consideration, but I never want to be the mom that tells someone they can’t possibly understand life until they have a kid. It’s a lifestyle choice, not a mandate, people! (I love you for reviewing a lightening rod topic.)


    1. I like that you’re aware of it and trying to prepare yourself for keeping the childless in mind if/when you have kids. And likewise, I’m really trying not to get TOO bitter and resentful towards mothers/families just because they get all this special treatment. I just want everything to be more balanced, you know? It’s weird that people DON’T really think of having kids as a lifestyle choice you do or don’t make. It’s just the social norm that at some point, if you’re a woman you’ll have kids. And I think part of the problem is thatso many people DON’T really think about whether or not they want to have kids – they either take it as a given and just do it without giving thought as to if they really want it, or it’s an accident. I’m generalizing a bit here, but you know what I mean?

      And I admit, I kind of knew that this might be a controversial topic to read/review about, but I think part of the problem IS that no one talks about it because know one wants to be seen as that person who “hates kids”. I think it’s important to try to get this topic out in the open, so you know, expect more reviews like this eventually.


      1. You are so awesome. It also irritates me that people treat pregnancy as something that “happens” to them. Yes, there are accidents, sometimes things don’t go as planned. Most of the time though? Own up to your own part it in. It annoys me when people don’t take responsibility for their actions (or inactions.)


      2. Right?!? That’s why it kind of bugs me that they think all of these extra little perks like tax credits and “Expectant Mother” parking spaces are critical – having kids these days is a CHOICE. Why are we treating it like a disability or handicap?


    1. Yeah, reading about 80s to 90s politics was boring – I get that she put it in there to kind of show how this became a major issue, but I really didn’t need the political back-and-forth between who was more responsible, Democrats or Republicans.

      Overall though, most of the politics/laws haven’t changed since the book came out, and I think the general mood of the country is still overwhelming “people with kids are more important than those without”.


  4. I’m with you on the time off parts. I don’t mind paying school taxes either (as a non parent) because I fully support living in an educated society.

    I’m kind of torn on how I feel about parents getting more tax breaks for having children. It sucks for those of us that would love more deductions, but on the other hand, parents have to use more of their income for their children’s needs. Baby food diapers are mad expensive. As is health insurance for a larger family. I can kind of see both sides when it comes to tax breaks.


    1. I think my issue is that yeah food, diapers, etc are really expensive – but by choosing to become a parent, you kind of knew that having kids costs a lot of money. It’s almost like buying a Hummer, but then wanting someone to help you so that you can afford the gas for it. If we took away just one of the deductions or credits, we could probably start providing major national funding for birth control and pregnancy prevention – it’s INSANE to me that people still accidentally get pregnant. Sure here and there the pill fails or a condom breaks, but I think the number of people who just don’t use either is way higher.


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