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The Strangest Bias Against Adults Who Are Not Parents

“Come on, Sarah, you’re a parent! Don’t you have any empathy for what these people are going through?”

That question was aimed at Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders at a White House press briefing on the matter of little children getting ripped from their parents’ arms at the border and housed in cages.

My Twitter and Facebook feeds are filled with expressions of outrage that begin with “As a mother,” or “As a father.”

The parental theme is also spelled out in opinion pieces that are the product of greater reflection and thoughtfulness than a random tweet or a question shouted out at a briefing. Consider, for example, this excerpt from Kathleen Parker’s column:

“Maybe some hardcore Trump supporters, who elected him president on a promise to get tough on immigration, can swallow this collateral cruelty as a necessary unpleasantness. But I can’t imagine that many of them are parents. As a mother, my heart breaks at the thought of a frightened and confused child being taken away from his or her parents and stashed like an orphaned animal in what amounts to a holding pen.”

I don’t doubt that most parents are horrified by what’s happening to those children. As Parker suggests, the children are being treated more like animals than humans. When President Trump refers to the children and their parents as trying to “infest” the country, it is even worse — he is characterizing them as vermin.

Like Parker and so many others, I’m also appalled by the dehumanization of the immigrants. In fact, when any group of humans gets relegated to a subhuman category, I worry.

Have you noticed that there is another category of people who, to a much lesser extent, are also being cast as less than fully human? Kathleen Parker seems to think that accepting the cruelty of stashing kids in cages is something that people who are not parents would do.

And that reporter who reminded Sarah Huckabee Sanders that she is a mother, and therefore should have empathy – does he think that only mothers have that very basic human quality of empathy?

I’ve seen this parental prejudice perpetrated by all sorts of people, including those who rail against other forms of stereotyping, stigma, and discrimination. But the bashing of adults who are not parents, like the demeaning of single people that I call singlism, is often practiced without apology or even awareness.

I like what Christina Patterson said about this, in her new book, The Art of Not Falling Apart:

“I once heard a film star say that he hadn’t been able to look at pictures of starving children since he had children of his own.  It does make you wonder what he thinks the rest of us are doing. Giggling at the way their ribs stick out?”

[Thanks to Karen Elliott for suggesting this topic and for the heads-up about Kathleen Parker’s column.]

The Strangest Bias Against Adults Who Are Not Parents

Bella DePaulo, Ph.D

Bella DePaulo (Ph.D., Harvard; Academic Affiliate, Psychological and Brain Sciences, UC Santa Barbara), an expert on single life, is the author of several books, including "Singled Out: How Singles Are Stereotyped, Stigmatized, and Ignored, and Still Live Happily Ever After" and "How We Live Now: Redefining Home and Family in the 21st Century." Her TEDx talk is "What no one ever told you about people who are single," Dr. DePaulo has discussed singles and single life on radio and television, including NPR and CNN, and her work has been described in newspapers such as the New York Times, the Washington Post, the Wall Street Journal, and USA Today, and magazines such as Time, Atlantic, the Week, More, the Nation, Business Week, AARP Magazine, and Newsweek. Dr. DePaulo is in her sixties. She has always been single and always will be. She is "single at heart" -- single is how she lives her best and most meaningful life. Visit her website at

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APA Reference
DePaulo, B. (2018). The Strangest Bias Against Adults Who Are Not Parents. Psych Central. Retrieved on July 12, 2020, from


Last updated: 24 Jun 2018
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