Marriage is commonly believed as natural process and a crucial stage of our life. People think that marriage and having children are inextricable matter to get the happiness. However, in the article “The Future of Marriage”, Jessie Bernard, a famous American sociologist, introduces a controversial issue focusing on the happy childless marriage. The purpose of this writing is to ensure people that having children is not the only answer for a couple to enjoy their life. In spite of some limitation of evidence, this writing presents a wealth of information related to psychological situation of childless couple. Perhaps, people will easily follow her arguments promoting a small family with one or two children as alternative choice besides childfree decision.
The first point she offers in this article is childless marriage is really acceptable. Following this line of reasoning, Bernard argues against John Donne who says that agreement to have no children after marriage is kind of adultery. She believes that the meaning of adultery in Donne’s statement is only cynical for people who do not have children by choice. Moreover, childfree trend was not popular in 17th century when Donne lived. Bernard also quotes Paul C Glick’s research that there is a significant increase in number of childlessness today. Unfortunately, Bernard cannot provide enough evidence properly since she honestly acknowledges that there is no statistical document to back up this view.
When discussing about the positive impact of marriage, Bernard, who died in 1996 when she was 93 years old, compares folk cliché and the current reality in terms of children position in family. She clearly explains that old belief saying that children can prevent the parents from divorce. It is often said that the main function of children in marriage is to help succeed the marriage relationship and to promote the happiness of family. On the other hand, she states that childless marriages are happier than the couple with children. She supports her viewpoint saying that mothers and fathers have smaller proportion of happiness than the childless men and women. However, to this point, I question the validity of data she bases on. Besides unavailability of any figures illustrating the percentages, she just takes an old evidence gathered in 1950 as her basic argument whereas her article was published in 1972, after more than two decades. I am afraid there is a significant change during that period. Why does she not try to conduct her own research to make her opinion more reliable rather than take the unclear out-dated data? Therefore, it is very hard for readers to get the strong impression from this point of view.
Another contentious aspect of this article is Bernard’s statement that having children is less fashionable and the presence of children has adverse impact for marriage. Some people are of opinion that childless marriage may give more satisfactory for the couple than others. However, this idea is not popular for the developing countries which are facing the problem of population explosion. People in such countries still intend to have more and more children. And for the future, the childlessness will threaten the human existence because there will be significant decrease in number of young people which may lead, in long terms, to human extinction. I suspect that Bernard does not try to be balance. She just sees from one side without considering the other situation in other societies. In my opinion, this trend is only suitable for westerners especially Americans because in Easterners such as Indonesians, having children is still the aim of marriage. If they do not have children, they tend to adopt children from other families. Bernard seems to be overgeneralization because she just analyses the data of American cases, therefore it is impossible to make it general for all the countries.
Interestingly, in the end of her writing, Bernard admits that in the future, childlessness is not--or maybe not only--the right choice for a couple because there some motives encouraging women to have babies. She apparently acknowledges that smaller families is still the promising alternative to answer the intrinsic need for parents especially women. By having small family, women who are claimed suffering from marriage will be able to utilize the rest time for enjoying their time (MSNBC.com/ 9 June 2003)
Despite these criticisms, I believe that the article still has a value for people who are concerned with the women liberalism because Bernard is an activist of women’s right. For further information, I strongly suggest the readers to read the complete book of Bernard with the same title “The future of Marriage” which was firstly published in 1972.