I was accused once of being rather selfish in my attitude to having children. An ex-boyfriend, who had held the ex prefix for a number of years, told me that it was selfish of me, a woman, not to have kids. He implied that it was my duty in life, my raison d’etre. And, what’s more, he said, it was unfathomable not to want them.
While I don’t ever remember making a conscious decision not to have children, it’s something that simply never happened. Had it happened, I’m sure I’d have been happy. But it didn’t. And there’s no corresponding unhappiness. It’s just the way it is.
I have memories of a conversation I had many years ago when, over a few pints one night, I asserted rather righteously that there were too many children in the world without parents to justify birthing any more. Why didn’t we, collectively, just look after the ones already born? It didn’t go down very well and one friend, who was adopted, took issue with it – and my selfishness. I never quite figured that one out.
But be it circumstance or be it a subconscious choice, the fact is that I am without issue – I have no children. And while I might occasionally envy a friend their precociously cute two-year-old, or their old-man seven-year-old, or their bright and savvy teenager, a life without issue suits me.
Of course, I’ve had the conversation – with myself and with others – about who is going to look after me when I’m old and infirm. The fleeting moment of panic that sets in, quickly dissipates when I remind myself there are plenty of old people who have kids and grandkids and yet live in homes and institutions anyway. I have it sorted, though. I have a few single friends of a similar vantage and vintage and we’ve agreed to pool our resources and set up house, should we ever find we can no longer manage on our own.
But recent rumblings in Hungary suggest that a life without issue might involve issues of a more monetary kind.
It’s a given that those paying taxes (i.e., those currently working for a wage) support those sectors of society that are retired and pensioned off. Of course, they also support those who are unable to work, for health, legal, or other reasons; but this isn’t what the focus is on. Apparently, there’s a school of thought that if you are a pensioner who doesn’t have children paying into the system that pays your pension, then you are, in effect, freeloading. And these people reckon that it would take two children to make this self-supporting pension plan viable (the baseline), with additional points being given for additional children and points being deducted for fewer or no children at all. The final tally would determine the amount of pension paid.
The holes in this grand scheme are gaping. What about those who can’t have children? Never marry? Or have children who die before they start work? Or have children who can’t find a job, or don’t want a job, or have a job abroad? What then?
Recently, these same people, the Demographic Roundtable (Népesedési Kerekasztal), a group of experts charged with finding a solution to Hungary’s declining birth rate and depleting state pension fund, have put this idea back on the table, albeit in a slightly improved form compared to what was mooted in 2012. But no matter how improved it is, the thought of men or women who remain childless for whatever reason being monetarily penalised for not having kids beggars belief.
First published in the Budapest Times 5 September 2014.