Millennials get a lot of heat for being irresponsible and self-absorbed, which always cracks me up when they’re simultaneously questioned (sometimes berated) for deciding against having children.
Starting a family in America isn’t as common as it used to be. While some analysts have a few explanations for why couples are either holding off or choosing not to have kids all together, what they seem to miss is that the financial burden is more than enough reason to opt for contraception over conception.
New federal data indicates that in the first quarter of 2016 there were only 59.8 babies born for every 1,000 women ages 15 to 44, which is nearly half the rate at the peak of the late 1950s.
First off, let’s all applaud the fact that teen pregnancy has decreased considerably since Obama took office. The teen mother decline isn’t due to luck, it’s due to Obama’s focus on comprehensive sex ed rather than the failed abstinence-only approach of the Bush Administration. We don’t want 15 year olds having babies, and simply wagging our fingers and urging them to hold off on sex until marriage isn’t enough. Teens needed information on how to protect themselves from getting pregnant, and now that more students get that education we’re seeing less babies having babies.
After the 50s, women had more options in protecting themselves from unwanted pregnancies, and more contraception meant less babies. Couple that with the fact that women began to have more career opportunities and you’ll find more women holding off on starting a family.
But to have a better understanding of the current fertility trend in full context, consider that the U.S. Department of Agriculture found that the average family will spend close to $304,500 on a kid from the moment he or she is born to when the child turns 18. That means that a middle class family will pay $17,000 a year for one child, and it doesn’t even include private school or a college education.
The U.S. doesn’t offer a single day of mandatory paid maternity or paternity leave, so often times couples either rely on outrageously expensive daycare or they have to put their careers on the back-burner to start their families. The Economic Policy Institute found that a whopping 30 percent of a minimum wage earner’s income would go toward childcare alone. For those living in New York, that number jumps to 80 percent.
Keep in mind that the moment a couple decides to have one child, they’re immediately pressured to have another so the first kid isn’t “deprived” of a sibling. How are people affording all this madness?
What researchers do know through at least 30 years of research is that the financial burden and stress associated with having kids usually strains relationships. It surprisingly decreases a couple’s chance of getting a divorce, but my guess is that parents feel more pressure to stay together for the sake of the kids.
Right now the country is burdened with $1.4 trillion in student loan debt, stagnant wages, an impossible housing market, astronomical rent and two incredibly unpopular and questionable candidates for president who Americans don’t believe will do much to change our current predicaments.
Maybe this isn’t a common thought that goes through one’s mind when considering children, but I think about the ramifications of climate change, and how the extreme weather conditions will only get worse as we keep drilling for oil and fracking for natural gas. Do I want to bring a little human into that mix?
Conventional wisdom regarding children has been to just have them despite all these red flags that indicate it’s a terrible idea. “You’ll make it work” is the common answer I get when I ask a struggling mother how she’s keeping it together when she’s about to explode with stress and anxiety.
But some people, including a huge number of millennials, don’t want to “make it work.” I’m not saying that I’ll never have kids. I’m also not judging those who chose to regardless of all the challenges that come along with it. In fact, I’m always in awe of how incredible these parents are. They’re better people than I am. But I am saying that I won’t have kids until I feel like being a mom won’t destroy any and all sanity and financial stability I have left.
Yes, I know having a child is magical. I know I’d be a good mom. I know that nothing compares to the love you have for your kids. I know my partner is fine as hell and gracing this planet with the presence of his baby would be a real treat. That doesn’t put half a million dollars in my bank account so I can experience the wonder of raising a human while also giving that person the foundation for a successful life.
Income inequality has made having kids, much like getting a quality college education, a rich person’s privilege. If the federal government is so concerned with why people are deciding against having kids, maybe they should consider how little support and protection the middle class gets when it comes to being parents. Paid leave would be a good start and increasing wages would also help.
We can’t keep making it increasingly difficult to raise a family and then judge those who decide not to.