Generation Baby Buster


Reviewed by: Jennie Kermode

Generation Baby Buster
"The idea that women might choose to be childfree for reasons other than fun or financial gain is entirely elided."

In 2012 - the most recent year for which we have data - the average US woman was mother to 1.88 children. The idea of having 88% of a child makes many people laugh, but there is a serious side to this, given the economic difficulties that can be presented by an ageing population. It's also a curious phenomenon from an academic perspective. Why is it happening? Why are almost half of US women of childbearing age choosing not to have children at all? In this documentary, Terra Renton, herself a young woman trying to decide her path in life, tries to find the answer to that latter question.

There are a lot of theories. Naturally, some people are just unlucky and are biologically unable to fulfill their maternal ambitions; this is not really a film about them. Others are subject to intense financial pressures, though this film doesn't really seem to cover the more severe side of that (or touch upon the fact that a million US children are homeless). The film looks at the landscape of capitalism, the ways in which it mitigates against parenting and how it nevertheless functions due to the constant supply of new people. It also looks at the ongoing exclusion of men from active parenting and the damage this can do to relationships.

Copy picture

This might sound pretty comprehensive, but it's skewed in a number of ways that Renton doesn't seem alert to. One speaker pits the traditional American approach to motherhood against a modern life where pleasure, apparently, comes from cocktail parties, and the film keeps coming back to this motif, as if the only alternative women could really pursue in life is alcohol and partying. The pursuit of a career is rolled into this almost as an afterthought. Motherhood is a strong precursor for poverty, Renton notes, identifying a real problem, but there's no attempt to look at the wider social impact of women being excluded from certain career paths, or at ways society might adapt to make these choices less drastic. The idea that women might choose to be childfree for reasons other than fun or financial gain is entirely elided, and there's a heavy emphasis on the "having children makes you care more about the future of humanity" cliché which is entirely unsupported by evidence.

Other 'facts' presented here are just flat out wrong. A man who turns up at the end to promote his book claims that the global population is already falling whereas in actuality the most recent data shows that the average woman has 2.36 children, still above the replacement rate of 2.33 (which accounts for early mortality and so on). It's fair enough if a documentary wants to make a particular case, but it's problematic that no attempt is made to balance his subsequent assertions that we're all doomed due to the burden of caring for the elderly with any hint at the work that has been done on managing such situations. Sure, there's only so much room in any one documentary, but acknowledging other arguments is important in building credibility, and there's a fair bit of material included here that feels like padding - how many images of babies cooing are really needed to make the point that they might be quite nice?

This isn't to say that there's nothing of value in the film. On the contrary, parts of it are done very well and some of the interviews are intriguing. It just feels under-researched as a whole and too willing to buy into the pitch made by the first available 'expert' in each area. There's little effort made to distinguish informed opinion from proselytising. For a film aiming to be incisive and uncover hidden things, it's also very conservative at heart, lapsing back into notions like never really feeling deep love until you have a child of your own (which is not only unverifiable but is a pretty grim line to throw at adoptees). Whilst a fair collection of ideas are assembled, it's unlikely that many viewers will encounter anything new.

Reviewed on: 07 Jun 2015
Share this with others on...
Generation Baby Buster packshot
A documentary investigating the falling birth rate in North America.

Director: Terra Renton

Writer: Terra Renton

Year: 2012

Runtime: 91 minutes

Country: Canada, Belgium, USA, Australia, France


Search database: