Fewer Women in the US Becoming Mothers
In the 1970s, 1 in 10 American women ended her childbearing years without having borne a child. In 2008, that figure is now 1 in 5, according to a just-published study from the Pew Research Center‘s Social and Demographic Trends Project. The study is based on data from the June fertility supplement of the Census Bureau’s Current Population Survey.
What’s more, in 2008, 24% of women between the ages of 40-44 with a master’s, doctoral or professional degree had not had children. (That’s almost a quarter of women between the ages of 40-44.) In 1994, 31% of women with such advanced degrees had not had a child. In comparison, women who had less than a high school diploma had a childless rate of 15%; women who had graduated from high school had a childless rate of 17%. Women with some college education had a childless rate of 18%.
A few more figures: 20% of white women between the ages of 40-44 had never borne a child. 17% of black and of Hispanic women were childless in 2008, while 16% of Asian women were childless.
I can’t help considering my own situation. I’m 41 years old, Asian American, with a doctoral degree. And, I have a child, a teenager (gawd!) to be exact, Charlie now being 13 years old as he was born in 1997.
More than a few of the women whom I went to graduate school with are childless and not married. And, more than a few (as in the majority) had their children when they were in their mid-30s, when they felt that they were far enough in long in their careers to be able to devote less time to those.
That said, motherhood and the better part of my professional life as a Classics professor have overlapped. I have had to make decisions that have meant my professional career has not been quite what I had envisioned it to be. But for me, motherhood always comes first. Charlie (who’s on the moderate to severe end of the autism spectrum) has had a great, great many needs and many times the question of ‘how should I prioritize’ doesn’t even arise. There are very few (very, very few) people who can take care of Charlie and understand his communications and needs. A recent study indeed notes that mothers of autistic children who work ‘pay’ at their jobs, due to the extra demands of raising their kids. While I do feel a tug when I read about their latest book or award, I really do feel it’s all more than worth it.
Women in the US have choices today that they didn’t in the past; it’s not assumed that the only way a woman can feel ‘fulfilled’ is by having children and being a mother. Will this mean a change in how our society sees women’s roles?
Photo by Eden Pictures.