Are Babies Just a Trend?
By Esther Karpets
“I have no time or money and I just can’t imagine ever finding myself with such a surplus of either that I can afford to spare it on one or more children.” This is a response of a millennial on a discussion website to the question of having children. This is a voice from the generation ranging from 21 to 37 years old– the same generation that is currently at its prime childbearing age.
Every coming generation is molded by different environments and is shaped by unique perspectives. The millennials aren’t far behind. They are emerging with a questionable view on children and are visibly changing the fertility rate of the country.
The fertility rate is the number of births per every 1,000 women in childbearing age, which is 15 to 44 years of age. According to the National Center for Health Statistics, the general fertility rate in 2016 was at its lowest with 62 births. This current rate is an 11 percent decrease from 2007, which was the most recent high.
Not only is there a trend of a decreasing number of births in the US, but there is a shift in the age of new mothers. Recent national data shows that birth rates decreased among women below 30 and increased among women who were 30 and above. Usually, the women in the middle of their childbearing years, ages 24 to 29, have the highest number of births. However, 2016 was recorded as the first year that women 30 to 34 had the higher number of births. In correspondence to this data, the birth rate among teens, ages 15 to 19, shows a 51 percent drop since 2007. The bottom line is that women are waiting to have children (if they choose to have children at all) later in life and as a result, are having fewer children in the span of their lifetime.
Is There a Correlation?
Sometimes numbers lie. So one may ask the question: should we be worried about this “record low” and what is the cause of it? The way Fact Tank puts it is, “It’s complicated.”
According to Our World In Data, the decreasing fertility rate is directly correlated with the empowerment of women.
In the most recent decades, women are striving for a higher education and dedicating an extended amount of years towards building a career. As a result, women have a smaller chance of having children, since they are already committed to time, finances and energy outside the home. Since this period overlaps with the prime of a woman’s most fertile childbearing years, many are choosing to have children after they received a higher education and have a stable career.
Another major factor in the decreasing fertility rate is the decrease in unplanned pregnancies and teen pregnancies. Today, millennials in the US have easier access to sex education, contraceptives, family planning, counseling, and the legal option of abortion, whereas these resources weren’t as available to the older generations.
It is no surprise, then, that as women are receiving resources, higher education and gaining more opportunities outside the home, they are simultaneously changing their role in society. Instead of the option to stay at home and raise children, women are choosing to put in more hours of work outside the home. This, however, is a two-way relationship. Close analysis of data reveals “As women decide to have fewer children and are increasingly participating in the labor market they have yet more reason to have fewer children.”
Ultimately, the empowerment of women has given rise to gender equality as women move towards education and increased labor force participation, resulting in the choice towards a lower fertility rate.
Is There a Problem?
A significant change in the renewing of the population can have serious repercussion in the society’s future. In 2017, the total fertility rate dropped to 1.76– a level below the optimal rate of 2.1 needed for a stable replacement of the older generation.
The trend of lowered fertility rates in rich, developed countries is old news- many have been at lower replacement fertility rates for decades. According to the words of Vox Media, “It may not be time to panic, but it is a time to prepare.”
The view that many millennials hold is that the world is overpopulated and having more babies will only put a greater limit on resources. However, the opposing side of a lowered fertility rate can create a deficiency in young workers to keep up the country’s economy and productivity levels in the long run. An article by The Hill mentions the US is already showing signs of an “aging society”– “where the proportion of the population over 65 is greater than the proportion under age 15.” As seen, the current downsize in the “replacement generation” has the potential to create lasting implications on the future social structure of the US.
Millennials can say that they have a deficiency in time and money as the reason for waiting to have children or choosing to not have them at all. But the result of that decision– a decreasing fertility rate– may cause these same millennials to experience a greater deficiency in the future with an unstable economy and a shifting society.
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