The most famous person of 2013 hasn’t even been born yet. I’m talking, of course, about the royal baby – the future heir to the British throne who will be the most photographed, tweeted and talked-about newborn of the early 21st century.
For me, it’s beginning to feel like 1982 all over again. From my then baby-view-vantage in rainy Manchester, England, I watched the nation’s unemployment rate soar, while the Tories introduced austerity measures to try to reign in spending. Then the announcement of Charles and Diana’s pregnancy, suddenly gave ordinary people a reason to “keep calm and carry on.”
As bad as things were back then, at least the government of the day didn’t stoop as low as the current resident of No. 10 Downing Street, who just placed a tax on Cornish pasties and other lowly staples of British cuisine (such as it is.) I dearly hope a tax on tea won’t be next; I hear they tend to end badly.
However, a sharper contrast exists between yesterday’s royal couple, and today’s. Diana was engaged at 19, a bride at 20 and a mother to William before her 21st birthday. Kate Middleton, on the other hand, was married at 29 and will be a 31-year-old mother. That puts her in perfect step with the times: in the 1960s, the median age for marriage in the United States was 22 for men and 20 for women. Today it is 29 and 27, respectively.
Kate also personifies the typical contemporary young woman, in that she has more formal education than Diana. Today, 55 percent of college graduates aged twenty-five to twenty-nine are female. Women earned 60 percent of all master’s degrees in 2010.
Obviously, that’s where many of the parallels end. Unlike most newlyweds today, the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge don’t have to worry about personal finances. With every imaginable career – or no career at all – open to him, William trained as an RAF search and rescue helicopter pilot without having to concern himself with the fine print of the Royal Air Forces’ benefits package or its rules about paternity leave.
Kate and William are part of a fortunate minority who graduated from college with zero student debt. (The percentage of college grads, male and female, citing educational debt as their reason for delaying marriage and children has nearly doubled in the last decade.)
That doesn’t mean the rest of us can’t learn a thing or two from the royal couple, however.
Recently released U.S. population census data shows population growth at its lowest level since the Great Depression. Without a sizable, stable tax base to fund them, many of America’s entitlement programs will crumble, along with a decaying infrastructure. The America we all treasure can only thrive when our young people decide to welcome children into their lives.
“Welcome” is the operative word: I confront hostility to my family’s very existence almost every day, and not just in the form of disapproving stares. Progressive Brooklynites don’t hesitate to inform me that I’m being selfish for having so many children. They seem awfully concerned about “saving the planet” – but for whose future enjoyment, exactly?
The word “selfish” always makes me think about another famous “princess Kate” of sorts, from a previous generation.
“I would make a terrible mother,” actress Katharine Hepburn liked to tell reporters. “I’m basically too selfish.”
We’re accustomed to hearing such sentiments expressed today. However, back in the 1940s, when Hepburn was a superstar, they were revolutionary–and to many ears, revolting. Men and women who dared to declare they were childless by choice were commonly denounced with a single word: selfish. In her own way, Hepburn embraced the word, preempting that criticism and making it almost a point of pride.
Since then, the word, and the world, has turned upside down. In the twenty-first century, we’re far more likely to hear those who do have children described as selfish, especially if they have “too many.”
Katharine Hepburn was considered radical in her time, but that was seven decades ago, and nothing is as stale and old-fashioned as yesterday’s daring, outrageous fad.
In the twenty-first century, parents have become the new counterculture. Having children makes me one of today’s radicals. What’s even odder is that I count among my fellow “radicals” a future king or queen.
Rabbi Simcha Weinstein is a best-selling author who recently was voted “New York’s Hippest Rabbi” by PBS Channel 13. He chairs the religious affairs committee at Pratt Institute and recently published his latest book, The Case for Children: Why Parenthood Makes Your World Better.