Tuesday, February 10, 2009

More women choosing babies over careers

Since the late '60s, women have overwhelmingly refused to accept the same fate as their '40s and '50s mothers, suckling babies and cleaning house for their 9-to-5 husbands. And what happens when they do assume the June Cleaver role? We automatically think of Terms of Endearment, when Debra Winger is having lunch with those corporate power women in Manhattan who treat her "non-career" of raising her children as a disease worse than the cancer she's been diagnosed with. Sad, but personified the sentiment of many women in the '80s.

The point to that scene, besides making us tear up for poor Debra Winger in her shabby, threadbare cardigan, was that "successful," progressive women wanted careers of their own, so they delayed having babies until they felt they had wrung all they wanted out of the proverbial employment towel. Well that all may be changing, the Wall Street Journal reports, as new data from the National Center for Health Statistics has found that the average age at which women have their first babies is falling.
"Mothers' mean age at their first childbirth fell to 25 years in 2006, the most recent figures available, from 25.2 in 2005. Women ages 20 to 24 led the shift, with a 5% increase in the rate of first births."
There are a bevy of factors as to why the age is beginning to decline for the first time, but overwhelmingly experts see a shift in attitudes. "More young women today just assume they'll have both a career and a family, and on their own timetable," one source told the WSJ. "Young women feel less compelled to spend a decade proving themselves on the job before kids." People, the feminist movement happened to give women the freedom of choice, that is, the choice to have kids, a career, and/or both. Not to choose one in lieu of the other, therefore stigmatizing you by your decision.

Historically, the paper says, recessions have reduced family size, but their impact on the age at which women start families is less clear. What we do know, within the last three years at least, is there may be a correlation with the country's current economic woes and the move toward younger child-bearing. That and we won't have to witness anymore heartbreaking Debra Winger scenes. [Wall Street Journal]


Carrie said...

Hmm. Biggest growth in the 20-24 age group? That doesn't sound like women deciding against postponing motherhood to the late 30s and moving it up a bit. If this were really about career women or women in the demographics of career women, well, they're in college at those ages. Not, usually, having babies.
I'm guessing that the shift is driven at least in part by immigration. Most immigrants from Mexico and other parts south are working class, and not going to college. Many are Catholic. All those factors would be associated with women who become mothers at younger ages.

Frugal in Virginia said...

Thank you for sharing this!

My husband and I got married right out of college. I found out I was pregnant just three months ater we got married. While the pregnancy was completely unplanned, and I was initially upset I wouldn't be spending my early to mid-twenties working on my career, I now think having a family young was best for us. (Our second is due in June.)

I know several women who decided to postpone motherhood, and now are struggling with the reality of it being more difficult to conceive at a more advanced age. (A woman's fertility typically peaks somewhere between ages 23 and 27.) And since we plan to have at least three children, it's probably best we began early so I'm not having children into my forties when the risk of disorders, like Downs syndrome, increases greatly.

After we finish having our children and they all enter school, I will return to work. I'll be in my early 30's, and will have over 30 years left in the work force, if I so choose. That is ample time to concentrate on my career. But for now, while I am taking small measures to keep a foot (or maybe just a toe?) in the professional arena, I am focusing my energy on my children- something that has the potential to positively affect the world far more than climbing the corporate ladder would.

I know this is a very personal choice women must make, and many factors are weighed and balanced in this decision. But there are many of us, in growing numbers apparently, who see the value of having children younger, as women many decades ago did. I hope that the nation's attitude does shift from that seen in Terms of Endearment to one of mutual respect for the choice made.

Sorry, this comment turned into a short novel! I just wanted to share my story, and the reasons why women are perhaps having families younger.

Crystal said...

Carrie: You bring up a good point. They do touch on the immigrant issue in the article, but I'd be interested to see how many of those in the 20-24 age bracket have babies between 22-24 (since the general age to graduate college is 22).

MrsAdams06: Thanks so much for sharing your story! I do believe that women can have both babies and careers, either at the same time, or one after the other (like you are doing). Even though I have a career right now, once my husband and I start having babies (probably when I'm 29-ish?), I plan to leave the workforce for a while to care for them, and then hop back in once they're going to school. We want three kids too. :)

I think you're spot on when you say that it's a personal choice and people should respect that. It's sad that having kids in your mid-twenties, say, is looked down upon, because it shouldn't be. It just may not be what everyone else wants. The point is to have a choice as a woman, and not be judged by the choices you make.

Anyway, thanks again for sharing, and congrats in advance on your second baby :)

Skinny on South Beach said...

I highly suggest reading "The Feminine Mistake" if you're considering dropping out of the workforce for a couple of years (with 3 kids it will be a good 10 years before you return to work) and think you're going to be able to hop back in without any problem.
The book has really opened my eyes to the impracticality of postponing work or going on a "children hiatus". Going back to the workforce may not be as easy as it seems, and you are left with a huge gap in your resume and career-building skills. Not to mention wasted years of contributing to a 401k or other retirement plan. Also, consider the fact that your husband may not always be capable (or want to) of providing for the family.
Just check it out, I haven't read it all the way through yet but it's a good one!

Crystal said...

I've heard of that book before, I'll definitely check it out. I don't plan to stop working entirely when I have babies (I plan to work from home on projects I already have lined up), but the 9-to-5 will be out for me. In fact, I don't want to return to a traditional office job after my kids go off to school, since I have small business ideas I want to pursue and start up.

I've come to the conclusion in my 20s that I need to and can be my own boss! Thanks for sharing! :)

Anonymous said...

Women have been conditioned to think it takes a white picket fence and a fancy SUV to raise children. So many woman put off having children because they can't afford it. Being the daughter of a single mom who nearly went on welfare, I can testify to the opposite. While money is important, it is possible to live on far less and still be happy and healthy.
Don't put off what comes naturally for fear that it won't be enough. Children don't need marble counter tops to be happy, they need sound loving parents. The latter of which is much harder to find.

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