Oh yes…Our good o’l biological clock, deeply ingrained…or is it?
New data is providing us some juicy facts. More women than ever are opting out of having children. In a survey carried out in the U.S., results showed that half of women between the ages of 15 and 44 did not have children in 2014. This trend saw an increase from 46.5% in 2012, to 47.6% in 2014. Furthermore, according to the New York Times, the general fertility rate in the U.S., as measured by the number of babies women between the ages of 15 and 44 have throughout their lives, has been falling for six years in a row. This phenomenon is also directly correlated to birth control advances. The “pill” has been around for quite some time now, which means women can now freely choose when they want to get pregnant.
Having said that, it is also true that career pressures also play an important role on the urge for a child-free life. Census statistics also showed that women from 40 to 50 were more likely to not have kids if they were in managerial or professional occupations (It should be noted that women over 44 aren’t officially counted in the general fertility rate, since births at that age are still rare).
The growing trend is to get married later and delay childbirth. However, the economy may also be a potential instigator. It is definitely easier to afford one child, than two or more. According to the Census stats, women who did have children were more likely to stop at one; the number of women from 40 to 44 who only had one child doubled between 1976 and 2014.
The women from the Millennial generation are just…not that into motherhood. The Sheryl Sandberg model of balancing career and family life has made a lot of sense for a lot of moms but may resonate less for younger women who are simply not interested in juggling soccer practice with a boardroom meeting. For most women, working is not an option- it is essential. Careers in this economy are not about choices. We are talking about structural constraints here, regardless of economic position. Some data even shows that young women today are more career-focused compared to their male counterparts. Consequently, that shift has had a significant impact on women’s family decisions; because young women today feel their career weighs more on the demographic scale than ever before. Having children has therefore become an option rather than a prerequisite for a fulfilling adulthood.
Unfortunately, socially, women always seem to lose. Despite the fact that having children remains a substantial strain in today’s society, women- employed or unemployed- are often thought of as selfish or strange for choosing not to raise a family. Does it make us selfish? I mean, I think it’s more selfish to have children knowing that you couldn’t devote proper attention to them.
The decision makes sense to me. Opportunities for women, though still limited by ongoing cultural biases, are more far-reaching than ever. There are many ways to lead a fulfilling and productive life without necessarily being a parent. The more educated we are, the more opportunities we have in the labor market. Motherhood is no longer a woman’s destiny, so it seems. Now we can choose for motherhood, and more and more women simply don’t.
I strongly believe that the lack of enthusiasm for motherhood also has to do with women looking around and not liking what they see happening to women once they become mothers. Choosing a life without children could be a potential impeachment against our workplace culture. Regardless of the reasons, most mothers who stay at home with children are penalized later on in their lives by the perception that they “chose” to neglect their career. Furthermore, when they attempt to get back on the horse (euphemism for workforce), their years at home are held against them, often considered a “blank spot” on the resume.
The reality is that women are spending more hours at work, but research also shows that we are spending as much time with our kids as back in the 1970s. Time has become a scarce resource in our lives. We always seem to have less and less of it. A recent study showed that in the U.S., fathers, on average, have about three hours more leisure time per week than mothers. The study coined the term “leisure gap” to highlight this gendered incongruity.
It might sound like I’m gender hating right now. But far from it. It is a perennial truth that men who don’t want children are not necessarily shamed for that choice. However, for young men, having children has become a rational choice. There is no workplace penalty involved. In fact, male workers sometimes get rewarded when they choose to have kids (ever heard of the “daddy bonus”, uh-huh). This so-called “daddy bonus” is based on data showing that male workers actually earn more respect, promotions and salary once they become fathers.
So, based on all this evidence, why are people still shocked that women are opting out of motherhood? Sure, the benefits of parenthood- like the feelings of love from family- are fathomless. Also, raising children is an important part of life for many people. Nevertheless, government and work-related policies make it often pricey for women to have children. Thus, it is not unreasonable for some to question parenthood.
The issue of declining birthrates should not be limited to women only. Birthrates have everything to do with a nation’s well-being, and it is critical for policy makers to know who is, or is not, having children, when and how many. The “why” being particularly important. The effect of this growing trend will be felt by everyone. Fewer babies being born means less human capital, a smaller national economy, and real problems with payments like Social Security, revenue for investment in infrastructure, and national defense.
Even if you are in the minority of women who don’t grow up internalizing the idea that you were put in this earth for motherhood, the mommy parasite doesn’t quiet, it’s all over social media. Luckily, childless individuals are finding more and more support on the internet, with community networking sites like meetup.com (over 20,000 child-free members).
So to wrap up my ranting. Millennials aversion will likely continue to grow. Rather than shun women who make an arguably rational decision not to have children, we should reserve our judgment for policymakers who are still stuck in 20th century policies when it comes to family planning and act as if they are held hostages to inflexible policies and market forces, thereby neglecting the incompetence and corporate wrongdoing that is encouraging this trend.
What are your thoughts on this topic?