First, Post columnist Petula Dvorak says that 43 percent of Gen X women (the cohort of folks ages 33-46) didn’t have babies because they chose not to have babies:
Attribute it to more opportunities in the workforce, relaxing social pressure, advances in contraception or watching women such as myself slip into an increasingly disheveled state of hysteria for years after childbirth and vowing not to follow suit.
We represent the first generation of women who truly, honestly have a choice about whether to be society’s incubators. No longer are we expected to pop out 10 young’uns so the odds are good one or two will survive to help till the fields.
But wait! What’s the economic state of Gen X?
Gen X is the first American generation that has not matched its parents’ living standards, according to the study.
Last year, just 4 million babies were born in the United States.
The Pew Research Center’s Gretchen Livingston broke it down state by state, and sure enough, the states in the least financial distress (North Dakota, with its low 3.1 percent unemployment rate, for example), had no evidence of a drop-off. The states hit hardest had the sharpest decline.
That trend held true for race and ethnicity, too. The nation’s Latino population, which has been hit hard in this recession, saw the sharpest decline in birthrates, Livingston wrote.
Is it a contemporary trend? Not really, according the Pew report; America saw the same plunge in births during the Great Depression and the 1970s oil bust.
Any way you slice it, statistically, kids and cash go hand in hand.
In the District, annual per capita income went up, and so did the birthrate. In Virginia and Maryland, per capita income held steady, but births dropped as the economy went south. Cautious suburbanites.
Choices? I thought. Maybe not so many after all.
So, to review, a story that allegedly explains why women make choices about parenthood eventually boils down to the same old trope: All women want babies, all of the time. Instead of looking at childlessness as a sign that women prioritize their personal happiness (for some women, struggling financially with a bunch of kids would likely drive down happiness considerably), Dvorak implies that these women are merely trapped in a childless existence by the economy.
One stat Dvorak fails to note in her post: “Among non-parents, 60 percent of women and 36 percent of men feel their personal commitments are perceived as less important than those of colleagues with children.”
With arguments like hers, that’s not really a surprise.
Photo by Darrow Montgomery