Generation Me

Words by Hannah Rabbitt
March 2014

They’re young, fiscally fruitful and have big plans for the future. Children, however, just don’t make the cut.

Generation Y is making a name for itself as the faction that don’t want to spend their hard earned cash on settling down and having kids. Careers, travelling and sporting lush clothes are the fresh dream and the new gen certainly aren’t afraid to go for it.

Bree Lars*, a 22 year old student, says it’s the more freedom the better for her age group.

“I just think people of my generation want to be able to do things with our early years of life, and some of us just feel that kids will be a drag down; they’ll be a bit in the way of independent goals that we want to reach,” she said.

“Travelling is a big one. That is just so hard to do with a child; new born, toddler, and financially it’s just another whole person to be looking after. And if you’re looking to do something big in your career, it’s impossible to do with a new born baby as well.

“You have to be a family oriented person if you want to have a child at this age. You have to be willing to base your life around the family because there’s not much else you could possibly do. It limits you.”

Money, however, doesn’t seem to be the major drawcard. Although there seems to be a stigma of laziness and a negative desire to work attached to the new gen, it appears it isn’t the working for the money part that they aren’t all down with. The latest social trends census done by the Australian Bureau of Statistics finds 74 per cent of young adults are employed; an increase on previous years. Many more of them have educational qualifications and work part-time.

The same census showed that despite the increased access to disposable income, when compared to young adults 35 years ago, today’s cohort of Gen Y’ers were less likely to get married and also less likely to make the big (and exxy) move out of mum and dad’s place, let alone consider popping out babies.

It’s a trend that is prompting concern in many places around the world. In Japan, the population is suffering due to the lack of desire for children and sex paired with an obsession of expensive clothes in young men. Italy’s birth rates have dropped so low that the Government now offers financial benefits to young couples that have children, and are considering increasing the retirement age.

In Hong Kong many women literally do not eat so that every last cent they’ve earned can be used on the latest Chanel bag and Prada heels. Unlike many Chinese cities, Hong Kong does not enforce the one child policy, however its population growth has decreased significantly. It now possesses one of the lowest birth rates in the world.

Irish expat Orla Thomas has lived in Hong Kong for 16 years and has experienced first hand how the lust for designer goods has become paramount to any want for a family.

“I think the younger generation here are very materialistic. They’ll always have the latest phone or gadget and are very into how they look,” she says.

“When I worked at [husband] Gareth’s office 10 years ago, the vast majority of the secretaries I worked with spent all their wages on the latest fashion; big label brands like LV, Gucci and Jimmy Choo…. they definitely always had the latest handbag and shoes and it would change every season.

“I think people are having just one kid so they can keep up these expensive lifestyles.”

Mrs Thomas isn’t wrong; shopping is a big player in terms of priorities. In 2012, Gen Y’s buying power was $US200 billion, and it is only set to increase. By 2017, they will have more buying power than any other generation.

In the US, Professor Stewart Friedman interviewed the 496 undergraduate students of The Wharton School in 1992 and the 307 in 2012 for his book Baby Bust. He discovered that only 42 per cent of the latter cohort, todays Gen Y, wanted to have children. The consequence? Birth rates in that country have fallen for the fifth year in a row with the birth per 1000 women dropping to 63.

Post-Doctoral Research Fellow at the University of Queensland, Elin Charles-Edwards, says the Gen Y baby drop is linked to a trend called Demographic Transition Theory.

“Once mortality starts to decline, particularly in young ages (amongst infants) people no longer feel the need to have lots of children because they know that there will be children surviving into adulthood,” she says.

“Another reason for the decline is that the nature of the economy has changed quite markedly. In a lot of traditional, agricultural societies, children are viewed as a source of labour so they like to have lots of children. But as societies have modernised, children start costing people.”

Dr Charles-Edwards says it can also be attributed an overall shift in cultural values.

“Women are becoming much more educated, much more interested in pursuing careers, and much more focused on individual values, and individual self-actualisation. And given that context, the window in which women have children is reduced because we are at university for a very long time; we’re trying to get our careers established up to our mid- thirties. So that sort of ‘window’ is shrinking and that reduces the number of kids we have. But also, since we have so many other opportunities, having a child is perhaps sort of not as desirable and important as it once was.”

Miss Lars certainly feels so.

“What I do know is that if I never do get to have kids, I won’t be upset about it. I’d feel like I got to live my life, and not for someone else. Perhaps that sounds selfish, or is selfish, but that’s just the way our generation thinks.”

Maybe it’s selfish; but maybe it’s simply a reflection of the new society’s values and economy. You can be the judge.

*names have been changed to protect the privacy of individuals