A Pew Research Center survey of non-parents between the ages of 18 and 49 years in the United States found that 44% answered that it is unlikely they will have children, up from 37% in Photo: Pixabay / Mabel Amber

The paradoxical answer to the question posed in a May 18 Wall Street Journal article titled “How Much Money Do You Really Save by Not Having Kids?” is that as much as you may save, you may end up with – nothing. Here is why.

There a saying attributed to the 1st-century Jewish sage Hillel:

“If I am not for myself, who will be for me?

“If I am for myself only, what am I?”

William Shakespeare’s Macbeth gives the likely accurate nihilistic answer to the second question, fitting information given in the WSJ article.

Childless, fueled by his and his wife’s ambition, Macbeth says this after having killed the king; his friend Macduff’s wife and children; his guilt-ridden wife having committed suicide, and having reduced the kingdom to poverty: “Life’s but a walking shadow, a poor player/ That struts and frets his hour upon the stage/ And then is heard no more: it is a tale/ Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury,/ Signifying nothing.”

Without kids, Macbeth ends up alone, defeated in a nihilistic violence he brought about.

Indeed, with no kids, a society has no future, no hope. The WSJ article notes that a Pew Research Center survey of non-parents between the ages of 18 and 49 years in the United States found that 44% answered that it is unlikely they will have children, up from 37% in 2018. If indeed this generation will do what they are saying, the outcome does not bode well for the US.  

As the older generation dies out, the idea – noted both in the article and in comments on it on the Wall Street Journal website – “Well, let young immigrants come in and pay for sustaining the old in their retirement” – is naive. These strangers will give their priority to their own kids and not the selfish dying-out generation.

Even if the latter saved money and do not expect to be “free riders,” if push comes to shove, the “strangers” will have the power to confiscate. And if these young, even peaceful, “strangers” do not come, will the increasingly smaller young domestic generations support their elderly?

Remember two of King Lear’s “loving” daughters? As soon as they get the power, they throw their father to the dogs. “Necessities,” as the old saying goes, are not only mothers of innovations, but stepmothers of deceptions too.  

Already Macbeth-type violent events are becoming frequent around us in the US; the House of Representatives discusses UFOs, these days’ witches; Macbeth-like too, the House listens to Aimee Arrambide, executive director of the abortion-rights non-profit organization Avow Texas, answering “Yes” to the question, “Do you believe that men can become pregnant and have abortions?” (Remember the witches’ warning that Macbeth will be killed by someone not by woman born?)

And advocates at the Nonhuman Rights Project just brought before New York’s highest court a case where they want an elephant to have the right reserved in law for “a person” – a reminder of medieval times when pigs, cows, horses and dogs who allegedly broke the law were routinely subjected to the same legal proceedings as humans. What’s next? Appointing a horse as counsel to the House, as Caligula did? 

Mind you, that may serve a good purpose: As historian Aloys Winterling, author of Caligula: A Biography (2011), suggests, insanity would not be the only logical explanation for Caligula’s choice of having done just that.

Winterling points out that Caligula did so to insult and humiliate senators and other elites. By appointing a horse to high public office, Caligula showed them that their work had become so meaningless an animal could do it.

We Americans are fast-forwarding to the past very quickly – let’s hope before burning down the Republic.

Briefly: Considering the numbers revealed in the survey and events above, the paradoxical answer to the question “How much money you save by not having kids?” is “You may save as much as you want. If a large fraction of society decides not to have kids – meaning not raising a family, not transferring traditions and customs that shaped US institutions and culture (not perfect – but what and who is?) they may end up with nothing, no matter how much they saved.“

In an increasingly childless society, violence and strangers will take care of that.

Reuven Brenner is the author of History: The Human Gamble (University of Chicago Press), Betting on Ideas (University of Chicago Press); and World of Chance (Cambridge University Press).

Reuven Brenner is a governor at IEDM (Institut Économique de Montréal). He is professor emeritus at McGill University. He was the recipient of a Fulbright Fellowship, was awarded the Canada Council's prestigious Killam Fellowship Award in 1991, and is a member of the Royal Society.