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Overworked, Debt-Laden Gen X Opting For No Kids

I originally posted this last week at Care2.com, but wanted to have a discussion about it with my readers too. I hope you'll chime in with your thoughts.

According to a new study by the Center for Work-Life Policy, 43 percent of Gen X women and 32 percent of Gen X men do not have any children.  According to the study, Gen Xers, those born between 1965 and 1978 (currently 33 to 46 years old) should be at the stage of their lives where they are “stepping into crucial leadership roles and starting families.”  Instead, ambitious Gen Xers feel stalled in their careers and are working 60+ hour weeks trying desperately to keep their debt levels under control. The combination of huge student debts (Gen X is the most educated generation and is now paying for it) with the current financial turmoil and lack of advancement opportunities (those boomers aren’t retiring quickly enough!) leave little extra cash to pay for diapers and day care.

Opting Out or Feeling Forced Out of Parenting?

In a Washington Post article, Petula Dvorak writes:
I see them downtown, these women my age who have no haunted look of sleeplessness in their eyes. They don’t have suspicious stains on their clothes. They aren’t picking smashed Cheerio bits out from between their BlackBerry keys. (We working moms live in a world of perpetual BlackBerry outages, constantly explaining the latest apple-juice incident to the IT dude.) My first thought when I see these women in their 30s and 40s is, “Right on, sister.”

Nearly half the women who make up Generation X — 43 percent — have no children.

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.

She then goes on to talk about the issues of debt, ambition, stalled careers and long hours that were mentioned in the study and ultimately concludes that this isn’t just some contemporary trend toward being child free. Rather, despite the supposed choices that women of our generation have, as significant contributors to the family income (91% of Gen X women are part of a dual-earning couple and one third of them out-earn their spouses), many Gen Xers may feel there is simply not enough financial wiggle room to have children.

Where Are Our Choices?

If these women truly do not want to have children, then there is no problem. The earth is already overpopulated and the decision to be child free is one that people should be able to make freely. However, if the women and men of Gen X do want to have children and feel like they cannot, then there is a problem.

That problem is a multifaceted one. On the one-hand, at a macro-level there is insufficient support for parenting in the United States. The key supports that are needed to allow one parent or the other to take some time off to have and raise children are missing. Those supports include maternity and parental leave, decent affordable health care options and subsidized day care.

On the other hand, society also needs to be more accepting of men as parents. This shouldn’t simply be about women choosing not to have babies. Feminists have been pushing for more options for women, but if we want a family friendly future we need to push for more:
We need to push for a society that values family and parenthood. One that recognizes that role that parents play in raising the next generation. One that recognizes that fathers, like mothers, may need to strike a balance between their career and their family life. One where women don’t feel that they have to be an equally uninvolved parent in order to reach their goals, but where they can ask their partner to step up too.

Women also need to be willing to let go, work with their partners and accept that they cannot do it all. Parenting while having a career is challenging, requires sacrifices and necessitates an acceptance of less than perfect.

Support is Key

Parenting is hard and people need to feel supported in their choice to become a parent. That is true in the best of times, but is even more true in difficult economic times where families are having trouble making ends meet and where fear of job loss has people putting in longer hours for less money.  When societal support for parenting does not exist, it is no wonder that more people are opting out.

Why do you think a larger portion of Gen X are opting not to have kids?

Image credit: eflon on flickr
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Reader Comments (68)

Two things come to mind when reading this and they offer nothing really intelligent to the debate except to say, that first I find this sad. I'm skeptical that 43% are not having children by choice. Seems high to me. Second, I wonder if many are dealing with fertility issues, because they waited until later in life to start trying (at least the over 35 crew)? Any stats on that?

October 26, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterCandace

I completely agree, especially with the idea that society has to be more accepting of men as parents; I don't think it's possible for women to have equality in traditionally male-dominated spheres unless men also have equality in traditionally female-dominated spheres. That work still has to be done and it should be valued and accomplished by the people who can best do it, men and women.

When you say that "If these women truly do not want to have children, then there is no problem," though, I thought back to this article that mentions the Gen-X stats from Sharon Lerner (http://slate.me/pxOILF). In it, she argues that (at least in the U.S.) there are actually two separate fertility crises that are so drastic they cancel each other out in macro-level research. She says that women who are poor are having children at a higher rate (and unplanned pregnancies at an even higher rate than that) while women with higher economic status are having fewer and fewer children. She makes the point that if these two statistics cancel each other out to make our overall fertility rate seem stable, it further hinders measures that would help women on both ends of the spectrum (like by getting better maternity and paternity leave and providing better birth control services).

October 26, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterBalancingJane

Wow, 43% is high. I've read before that generally in most populations about 10-20% of women never have children. So 43% seems suspiciously high.

It feels like parenting today is much more demanding than it ever has been before. I've seen stats before about how even though now more families have both parents work (vs back when most women stayed at home), on average parents now spend MORE quality time with their kids than we did a few decades ago. I hear stories of when my mom was growing up and she and her brothers & sister were basically left to fend for themselves most of the time, vs now we need to keep an eagle's eye on our kids ALL THE TIME and do crafts and projects with them, and take them to classes, etc etc etc.... Basically, parents (and especially the mothers) are now working more and also having to spend more time/effort/money on child-rearing ,and I do wonder how many of our peers look at this and think, "um.... no thank you."

I also wonder how much of it might be couples waiting longer to marry, then waiting to have kids (partially bc of careers and the expectation of how much money & "personal fulfillment" you have to achieve before kids come along), and eventually running out of time.

October 26, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterMarcy

I have no idea as to how accurate the stats are, but at my 20 year high school reunion last summer, many of my classmates didn't have kids yet. It was only a class of 100, and lots of people didn't show up, but still I was surprised at how few had kids. Of those who had them, most had fairly young kids, so you could really see that most of us had waited.

October 27, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterStephanie

Typically there is reduced birth-rate with economic prosperity. Many of the first world nations do not have sufficient birth rate to maintain population (CIA world factbook and UN population stats). US is right on the cusp with barely more than 2 births per mother, Canada's population is falling, propped up only by immigration. These are lifestyle choices that are being made, perhaps poorly informed, but made nonetheless. Birth rate is turning around in the very recent years.

I'm sure mothers do not know why they don't have children. They'll mention their jobs and busy schedule and not finding the right guy, but that's the sequence of choices that was made. Adults find themselves at a certain point without children, but never having made the explicit decision to remain childless. It's the exploration of the new freedoms that women have nowadays. These are choices that can be made to have one thing at the expense of another.

October 27, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterAlex | Perfecting Dad

[...] site: Overworked, Debt-Laden Gen X Opting For No Kids admin posted at 2011-10-27 Category: [...]

Families were bigger 100 years ago. They included parents and others. I'm raised on a farm in Germany and we had 2 grandparents living w/ us and in the summer an aunt came always to visit. My dad had farmhand and servants, what was normal. So tehre were a lot of people on the farm, what helped w/ the small children and the bigger children had to help soon.

October 27, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterRika

I think, as with most social issues, there are multiple reasons.

From my limited observations I have met or am friends with people in their 30's without children for the following reasons;

- 31, desperate for kids, can't seem to meet a guy let alone maintain a long term relationship. Perhaps still recovering from the trauma of her mum divorcing her dad, then marrying an abusive guy who they had to live with all through her teenage years.

- 38, just starting to think about kids 'in the future' and looking at boyfriend of 2 years as a little more permanent fixture. Still thinks she has all the time in the world and thinks that she's doing great work planning for her future by saving $1K over the course of 6 mths - even though she's on a great wage, has a company car and very few expenses. Her handbag collection would actually qualify as her largest asset.

- 32, married for 6 years. Finally said to husband I want kids NOW, lets stop putting it off. He's just said a flat no, he doesn't want kids. She doesn't know whether to hope he's going to change his mind or to just cut and run.

- 33, married 9 yrs, been trying for at least 6+ years (not sure how long but a very long time), gone through many IVF cycles without success.

- 46, single, no kids. Only ever seemed to be interested in unavailable men (gay, married). Spent late 30's saying she wanted kids but not doing anything about it - used the excuse that she was 'holding out' for an ex-boyfriend who was married to someone else, even though she said she knew he had no interest in her and was happy. Has severe maturity issues, back living at home after leaving for 2 years to live along the road in her 30's.

- 31, single male, still living at home. Far too comfortable having every need attended to by mum and living rent free. Going backwards in career (started out in a good trade, now working in a video game store) and now hanging out with people 5-10 years younger. No thought about kids or meeting someone - that would interfere with gaming.

I know a few guys like this - some get girlfriends and get on with life, but a lot don't seem like they will ever leave home and get/build a career. This one particular guy is one of the funniest, sweetest, intelligent guys you could meet - he was a catch in our 20's - but now he just seems to have forgotten to grow up with the rest of us.

A lot of my peers seem a bit stuck in Neverland. Not quite sure why but an extraordinary amount of them have never had a long term relationship. A lot of them chop and change their careers just as they are getting higher up in them (avoiding responsibility?).

October 27, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterMama

So my point (before my 2 yr old demanded I breastfeed her and 3 stuffed toys...why wouldn't anyone want that kind of fun in their life! Children certainly take you places you never thought you'd go) is that not all of them are specifically choosing to not have (or delay having) children for a common reason. It seems to be an indirect result of other choices in their life (except of course for the infertility issues).

I don't know any couples in their 30's who have (both) decided not to have kids. Nearly all my friends in couples have kids, the house, the car, the career etc. It is all my single friends who can't seem to settle down for some reason or another that seem to be making up the stats. There seems to be a wide gap opening between the two groups in income, assets, lifestyle and children. It really does surprise me how many of them haven't had any significant romantic relationships at this stage in our lives.

I have never heard money cited by a friend as a reason not to have kids but we have generous maternity leave entitlements and protection for our jobs in our country (Australia) so maybe that isn't so much of an issue here as in other countries.

October 27, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterMama

Children need a stable family with a mother and father. For those who chose to not participate in parenting, they are missing out on a great opportunity.

October 27, 2011 | Unregistered Commentermollyinks

I agree that children thrive best in a stable family. That stable family, however, does not necessarily require a mother and a father - it might have one of each, only one of the two, or a pair of mothers or fathers. Or it could take some entirely different shape, and still be stable, happy, and capable of producing kids who thrive.

October 27, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterLiz

At first I'm surprised by how high the number is, but then I look at my friends my age (I was born in 1978) and yeah, about half of us don't have children. Just anecdotal evidence: a couple of friends do not want children, but another has told me that at 34 without a partner and having had to go back to school for a new career at this age, she doesn't think she will have children even though that's something she had wanted. She doesn't see herself in a committed relationship with enough financial security in the next couple of years and doesn't want to become a parent when she's nearly 40.

Definitely the lack of societal support is a big factor. I sometimes wonder where my husband and I found the gumption to have our first when he was in grad school and we couldn't even afford health insurance. This time, he's finished and just starting a career, but since he's now working (unlike with our first who he stayed home with while I went back to work) and daycare is so expensive (times 2 kids) I'm planning to quit and stay home. It's a weird (for me) choice to be sure. We finally have two full incomes for the first time in years and should have the opportunity to get ahead. But, without suitable, affordable daycare it feels almost necessary for one of us to quit and stay home for at least a year. Being able to make this choice is also a luxury many parents don't have. It's rather depressing to consider that in order to have the children we want, we will need to give up a certain amount of financial stability.

October 27, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterOlivia

Just to give European perspective. In Europe the comparison goes between South (Italy, Spain, Greece) and Scandinavia. Scandinavians are famous for their supportive social systems and policies of gender equality. And they do have the highest fertility rates in Europe. Now compare that with Italy, where children are adored, but fertility is somewhat low for a long time. The policies of gender equality and family-work support are small compared to scandinavian countries. I have a feeling, that policy decisions sort of contribute to the general attitudes about demographic desicions.
Myself being a parent, born in 1977 and living in post-soviet country with a relatively recent "baby-boom". I'm having serious doubts wheter I can afford to have a second child. I have loving and supportive husband who would like to have a baby, but unemployment and career-changes that need to be undertaken... I doubt we have necessary resources.

I like your post on this topic.

October 27, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterLiina

I'm at the very end of Gen-X, born in late 1978. My husband is 6 years older, and most of our friends and acquaintances fall somewhere in between us.

Anecdotaly, most have kids. About half have two parents working outside of the home, the others are a mix of stay-home parents and part-time workers. Those who don't have kids don't plan on having them ever. Not one set has said that money or their jobs has anything to do with that, they just don't want kids, regardless of their financial status.

Many of the people we know cite money as a reason to not have MORE kids (we are in this group, with the economy the way it is, adding a child would mean a lot more expenses that we'd rather not have), I don't know anyone who is having children AT ALL because of money. Interestingly, many of our friends who gross the least amount of money per year have the largest families. They just get by on less.

October 27, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterKayris

Candace: I don't have any specific stats, but I think it could be a contributing factor. However, I don't know anyone who suffered fertility issues and then ended up not having kids at all. Most went with IVF and if that didn't work, looked at adoption.

October 27, 2011 | Unregistered Commenterphdinparenting

BalancingJane: That is fascinating and makes complete sense.

October 27, 2011 | Unregistered Commenterphdinparenting

I forgot to mention in the post itself that I also wrote a post last year on the related topic of low birth rates in Germany: http://www.phdinparenting.com/2010/07/24/adult-privilege-is-exacerbated-when-children-are-a-minority/. It may provide some explanation for low birth rates, but is more interesting in terms of the discussion of the consequence of low birth rates.

October 27, 2011 | Unregistered Commenterphdinparenting

The question is fascinating and complex. I can also speak anecdotally to this-- I've worked with several women (Gen-Xers) who have chosen not to have children and blame job insecurity, low wages, or long hours. I also know women who wait until later, and then have some problems with fertility, but they are outweighed by those with work-related issues in the 'con' list.

Another interesting aspect to me are those who severely limit the number of children they have (ex. we wanted three, but can only afford one). I think consideration of this would bring a multitude of problems to light.

October 27, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterSarah

Is it possible that it's some sort of generational reaction to the experiences of baby boom women of the 50s, 60s & 70s where child-rearing and homemaking were the norm? Kids from that era had the benefit of growing up during an extreme cultural paradigm shift (e.g. feminist movement, deconstruction, dawn of digital age, etc) which seemed to bring a fair amount of empowerment with it, so maybe they've just been socialized to think that there supposed to be doing MORE than what they saw their mothers do. That can be a lot to handle.

I can only speculate, though, considering I'm a Gen Y. Our generation suffers from hearing the mixed messages of both generations.

October 27, 2011 | Unregistered Commentershasta

My mantra at 25 was, "No husbands, children, or pets." Now, at 35, almost 36, I have a toddler, three cats, and just caved to multiple pressures (primarily the need to get my partner health insurance) and got married this month. HA! Life changes, I guess. But my peers and I (in my opinion) were raised to be deeply pessimistic about our futures. Think about it: we're the Nirvana generation. We're too small to be heard among the Boomers and Gen Y folks, and we're the hardest hit by economic issues that began back in the 1990s. Most of us believe that it's only going to get worse. And yes, it's also true that many of us (at least those of us who are white and middle-class) are a bit self-absorbed or extremely focused on our careers (we're the "third waver" feminists, and many of us from Day One saw our lives as defined by our work. After all, that's kind of what our mothers taught us, right or wrong). I personally always felt like bringing someone into this world, given where it was going, wasn't a very nice thing to do to them, and I had a ton of nieces and nephews to enjoy, plus absolutely no "urge" to be a mom. It took a LOT to convince me to take the plunge into parenthood, and I waited until after a doctorate and until there was some financial stability (and we'd committed to a particular community) to do it. Now that I have a child, I do see a few reasons why it was the right choice for me:

1. I have never been able to love anyone the same way I love this kid. It's a whole new kind of delightful to experience that. Getting a front-row seat to someone's life is AMAZING. I'm a better person because of this experience.

2. Although I'm still deeply pessimistic about the future, for me, having a baby was an act of faith (and I'm an atheist!) that there's good in being alive and that I had something to offer another that would make their life worth living, even if it all goes to hell.

Nevertheless, I would never have done this if I hadn't been in a long-term relationship with a man I was convinced would be an equal parent (and he has been!). And we almost definitely will not have another child, for financial, ethical (my opinion--not one I expect of anyone else!), and lifestyle reasons. I may or may not be characteristic of a lot of other people my age.

October 27, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterMelissa

"Parenting while having a career is challenging, requires sacrifices and necessitates an acceptance of less than perfect."
Really hit home with me today. I spent about 15 minutes total with my 16 month old son, while he was awak anyways, over the last two days because of deadlines at work and feel so guilty because I haven't been giving my all in either arena. I strive for perfection in all parts of my life and have to remind myself that I need to make work-life choices. I call them choices because balance implies that there might be some sort of evening out, and something always has to give - and it was that way BEFORE I had kids. It's the constant pull on both sides of you that starts to wear you down. If you can't have it all, what do you want? I think that's what it boils down to for quite a few people.

October 27, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterMelissa

I live in New Zealand, a country which has similar social benefits to Australia, and I've chosen not to have another child--because I can't afford it. Even with generous maternal leave entitlements and protection for jobs. So, I do believe that there is a certain percentage of the population in our countries perhaps in the lower income brackets who feel they can not have children because of the financial burden.

October 27, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterJuli

I'm Gen X (b. 1970), two children, SAHM for the past seven years and transitioning back to work once my youngest is at school full time in 2013.

When I first read this, I thought, "Forty-three percent? Really?That high?" But then I reflected on the Gen X women I know. In my social circle, the majority of those in my birth cohort who do not have children are single (or divorced without kids). They are all highly educated professionals, everything from IT mangers to lawyers to senior governmental policy analysts and associate professors. They own their own homes. Some run their own businesses. Most had significant relationships at one point, one was married when she was in her twenties. And they have elected to forego having children rather than doing it on their own. Over the years, three of them shared their views and conflicted feelings about the option of becoming a single mother by choice. They said that even though their families would be supportive, and they felt they could probably swing it financially and professionally, they felt it was not the right path for them.

I do agree that finances and age come into play. Many of us in our late 30s and early to mid 40s are firmly in the sandwich generation now, so dealing with elderly parents and trying to raise young children. In our family, both grandmothers are in their 70s, with various health concerns that will require more attention and care over time. Two of the women I just mentioned have their elderly mothers living with them.

Some of us are indeed still paying off student loans. This is the legacy for being so highly educated. Added to mortgages and other debt, it makes the financial situation a lot less rosy.

Finally, there's the acknowledgement that if/when we do take time off to have children, then there will be a crop of twenty-somethings (who don't need days off to look after sick children or take their seventy year old mothers to doctor appointments) that we have to compete with when we go back into the workforce. That's also a sobering prospect.

October 27, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterJ.

It's true, many people don't get the support to work and to have children. Most people don't have the luxury of staying home with their kids either. Student loan debt is outrageously depressing.


October 27, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterJenna@CallHerHappy

"now we need to keep an eagle’s eye on our kids ALL THE TIME and do crafts and projects with them, and take them to classes, etc etc etc…."

Some of this is unnecessary, though, don't you think? I mean some of the "helicopter" parenting feeds into creating too much dependence and not allowing our kids the opportunities to figure stuff out on their own. Do we really have to have such an "eagle" eye on them at every single moment of the day? (Okay, yes, while they're toddlers, and young, but I think sometimes my parents had it more right when their answer to "I'm bored" was "find something to do - play, read, ride your bike, or if you're still bored in 10 minutes I have a list of chores.")

October 27, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterLisa

If you're broke and not even supporting kids, then you're doing it wrong.

October 28, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterMrs Rochester

OK and now I've read the whole post. What a bunch of whiny weakness. Why all this "support" needed for people to do what people have been doing for millennia? You work, you settle down at an age when you're not too shriveled up and old to even have kids, you save, you stick with your partner and you muddle through, being grateful. This is all just so much petulance, in my opinion. And I am not some old lady. I am w/in the "Gen X" demographic at 39. All this "education" and these people still seem to know so little....

October 28, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterMrs Rochester

"long-term relationship"?
I really hope you mean "married" by this.
It's a fool's game to have a child with a man without actually being legally married.

October 28, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterMrs Rochester

And, as far as your whole "subsidized daycare" bit, I checked out the Care2.com story, and noted this observation "the introduction of the subsidized day care system made it possible for a lot of women, who would otherwise have stayed home with the children, to continue their careers." Well, I am not worried about the cost as much as I don't agree with the idea that it is necessarily a good thing for women to NOT stay home with SMALL children (that would be, pre-K). On what planet do you really think it's better for the pre-K set to be in a group, institutional setting for 8+ hours a day. That's delusional. They're not developmentally ready for that. Sure, many kids tough it out, but it is not idea. If you're going to have a child, have a child and do right by the child. Your career comes second, and you can pick it back up later.

October 28, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterMrs Rochester

I haven't decided whether you're just mean or you like being a troll. Every time you comment on this blog you seem dedicated to stirring up as much trouble as you can. I feel sorry for you.

October 28, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterLisa

Oh, this is definitely a troll. That's why I ignore him/her. After all, ignorant statements and meanness don't deserve a response.

October 28, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterMelissa

Bored now.

October 28, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterJen

I meant with Mrs. Rochester.

October 28, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterJen

If you pretend Mrs Rochester sounds like Oscar the Grouch, it's much more entertaining.

October 28, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterCatherine

From a personal perspective I haven't had children b/c in my twenties I wasn't ready for that personal responsibility. Now at 34 I don't see that it will be a possibility. We're a two person household with no health insurance, and part time jobs. I don't see that we can take care of ourselves much less another generation.

October 28, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterJessica (@gardenJess)

Why is it that when someone says something you don't like in a direct way you label them a troll? Great debaters you are! You only want to rah rah around, "yes...it's soooo hard! woe are we...what can WE DO....so that all women can have babies, AND have glorious careers...and dump the babies right into daycare? what CAN we do???? we are so very concerned about the world!!!! wahhhhhhh...." it's really pathetic.

October 29, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterMrs Rochester

That's because marriage laws are absolutely ridiculous. The government should get out of the business of marriage and let religions have their ceremonies as desired. People who wish to protect their own interests when entering into a relationship should draw up an appropriate contract.

October 29, 2011 | Unregistered Commenterphdinparenting

Mrs Rochester:

You are entitled to your opinion on this. I also agree that it is better for small children to be at home, but I do leave it to each family to make their own decisions and realize there are a lot of factors that go into those decisions.

However, what I continue to disagree with in the way that you and others frame this is the assumption that women should be the ones staying home. I agree it makes more sense for the mother to stay home initially to facilitate breastfeeding, but there is no reason why FATHERS shouldn't be equally responsible for caring for small children at home.

People can pick up their careers later, but statistically women who take time off to stay home with their kids end up far behind career and pay wise compared with men. That is both because women are paid less in general and also because of the time that they took off. That isn't going to change until men start putting their careers second and staying home with their kids too.

October 29, 2011 | Unregistered Commenterphdinparenting

Mrs Rochester:

I think there is a big difference between being direct and insulting people. Using terms like "whiny weakness" and "petulance" and "delusional" and "pathetic" is not direct. It is rude and inflammatory, which is troll-like.

October 29, 2011 | Unregistered Commenterphdinparenting

Honestly, I think for a large number of these women and men, it comes down to the fact that being a parent and spouse wasn't a primary goal (some other people have touched on this too). My husband and I (born in mid 80's, I have a BA, he has a doctorate) knew from day 1 of our marriage that we wanted to be parents and started saving money from our then retail and casual-dining hourly wage jobs and saved enough in just a couple years that I was able to be a stay at home mom while he was still in grad school. So I guess I'm pretty skeptical of people in their 30's with "real" jobs who say they can't afford kids when I was able to do so with a crappy job in my early 20's! It's all about priorities. (I do believe that now they can't afford kids, but I think it's because of how they've chosen to spend their money and not because of the quantity of $ available to them! And of course this comment is not directed at legitimately impoverished people but people like you've mentioned with degrees and salaried jobs mostly. Totally a first world problem!)
By the same token, if you don't make it a goal to have kids, you won't spend your time looking for a guy who'd be a great dad someday. And unfortunately today a lot of guys wouldn't!
For most people, it's not just going to magically happen without some effort and planning. By the time you're 40 and single, it's probably too late in most cases.

October 29, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterCrunchy Con Mommy

Lisa, I agree with you. *However*, I was home on mat leave this past summer with my third baby and decided not to enroll my boys (aged 4 and 6) in camps/activities for over half of it. Thank goodness they had each other to play with because on our short block, with 24 kids living on it, mine were the only ones around. When I was a kid in the '70s and '80s in Ontario, our entire neighbourhood was filled with kids and we played all day. So even if you're not a helicopter parent (or strive to hover only sometimes), it's really really hard when there are no other kids around for yours to socialize with.

October 29, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterMandy G.

I really think this is an interesting post Annie. I am a 1971 baby and my husband and I have what feels like a disproportionate number of friends who are now in their mid 30s to mid 40s and childless. Almost all of them are women. I suppose it doesn't do any good to say it's "unfair" that men can have children at any age, and I do know some men who decide if they haven't had children by their 40s, then they won't -- they don't want to be older fathers. However, almost all of the childless women I know would not be so if given a choice. Interestingly, most opted not to become single moms which speaks to the difficulty of that row to hoe.

When I was 29, I made a conscious decision to move home from 6 years overseas in order to find a partner and have a family. That wasn't only reason, but a big one. I remember my friends overseas looking at me like I had two heads for making that decision, but then, most of them were also married and in the process of starting their families. I think the biggest factor that happened to my currently late 30s and childless friends is that they just always assumed that "it would happen when it happens" and, then, it never really happened. And now they have multiple competing pressures: a successful career track, an unstable partnership (if any), fertility issues, a sense that "there's still time", and a growing comfort with a childless lifestyle.

October 29, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterMandy G.

Yes Mandy, I can see that point too. As a single mom to 1 child, I routinely faced that sort of situation in the early elementary ages. Now with my triplets, I'm lucky they have each other... but truly, the neighborhood seems empty during the day. I do get it. I just think it's a little sad that we can't let them "range" a bit more, if you will. It's hard to be trend-buckers sometimes too.

October 29, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterLisa

I find myself agreeing with both of you. I strongly feel that the current "solution" of subsidized daycare (and full-day kindergarten) encourage the outsourcing of early education to professionals is not in our society's best interest. I also don't think it's likely to fix the problem of women making less after putting their careers on hold. More men are not going to suddenly choose to stay home because there is access to daycare!

Based on the parents around me, who stays at home is based on 1) breastfeeding (first few months) and 2) who has the best benefits.

October 29, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterMary @ Parenthood

My partner and I are 33 and 32 years old, respectively. We're presently a one-income family; I earn money, my partner earns credit hours toward his engineering degree.

We talk about children as a fantasy, mostly. I'd love to quit my job as an IT professional and become a stay-at-home, 'domestically inclined' mom with a baby on my hip while he brings home the bacon. Bucolia would ensue.

But I'll be 36 when he graduates. We probably won't have room to start trying to conceive until I'm 37. Will I want children by then? Will he? And bearing children hinges heavily upon on how quickly my partner can get a job in this craptastic market - neither of us is willing to just get a bun in the oven and hope everything works out okay. He's a bit more optimistic than I am about our support network since he has a lot of local family and has been able to count on their input into his life and well-being for his entire time on this planet. I, on the other hand, am far more jaded, having spent done time as a latchkey kid to a twice-divorced mother and alcoholic father, both of whom have become pretty absentee in my life as an adult.

I identify with the 'Cusp-ers' like me who may remain standing on the sidelines while others of our generation procreate, trying to fulfill our desire for children by playing the role of Auntie and Uncle to our friends' offspring. I am quickly feeling like out opportunity to have children may have already slipped through our fingers.

October 30, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterDonna

I was born in 1977 and have two children. My husband and I have decided that we are stopping at two kids for financial reasons. I am self employed and do not get EI or maternity benefits. For both kids I took 6 months off unpaid and my husband took the next 6 months of paid paternity leave. That is hard on a budget. We both have two university degrees (that is what it took to get a job) and we are still paying on out loans and likely will be for a good long time). In order to both find work, we live far from family. Daycare costs are killer. If I had paid maternity leave we would likely have another child.

Hubby and I are anomalies. We were married at age 21 (a surprise to us both to find ourselves making that decision). We had our first at age 28. We thought when we married that it might be a few years before friends started to get married too. Nope. TWO friends are married. Two. Neither couple have kids. One would desperately love to have kids and is undergoing fertility treatment. In the other couple the guy wants kids, the woman (who is training to become an obstetrician) doesn't want kids and is focused on her career). Two other girlfriends of mine are single and would like not to be single and have kids...hard to find good guys I guess. Our guy friends are all single and not really looking for a long term relationship.

I would agree with much of what you have to say Annie...we are all paying off student debt. The parents I do know of this generation are struggling with daycare costs, poor maternity/paternity leaves, living away from supports like family and friends for economic reasons.

interesting topic.

October 31, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterKelli

Well stated Annie. I couldn't agree more!

October 31, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterJennifer Ruby

I'm not personally part of the trend, being an almost 37-year-old working mother of three with a SAHD. However, among my friends who do not have children, the biggest factor is usually that they have been highly involved in a career, didn't ever meet a suitable partner, and don't want to go it alone. I also have friends who waited until their mid-30s or later to start a family and ran into serious fertility problems. Some have no children, while many of the others eventually had one child after lots of heroics but never were able to have another. I think in previous generations, people got married at 18-22 and had children right away because that's what was done. The longer you wait, the less appealing it may be to drop everything and have a child (or multiple children).

October 31, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterKatie

While it's true that parenthood is an amazing journey of personal growth, and can be fantastically fulfilling, I'm not sure those who choose not to have children are "missing out on a great opportunity" anymore than I would be missing out on a great opportunity by choosing not to join the Peace Corps or something. There are many great opportunities in life and most individuals try to choose the ones that will best fulfill them and spur their growth, and I don't think parenting fits that criteria for everyone. Also, as Liz says, a stable family does not need to be a nuclear family. It took me a long time of experiencing that to really "get" it, even though I thought I already believed it.

November 1, 2011 | Unregistered Commentermumsyjr

Daycare in Washington DC averages at $1600 a month. Add to that the insane housing prices, and who can afford children? It also makes it harder that the U.S. does not have paid maternity leave, but daycares won't (and shouldn't, let's face it) take in children under 6 weeks old. We seem to be up against impossible odds.

November 16, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterNo Drama Mama

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