While the women's movement is often cited for encouraging women to delay motherhood, new data suggests there may now be another culprit: the economic recession.
The U.S. government recently released data that shows a record low birth rate for women under 25 (63.2 births per 1,000 women ages 15-44) in 2011. Interestingly, though, the rates remained steady for women in their 30s and actually rose amongst women ages 40-44. The Pew Research Center notes that, at both ends of the spectrum, these rates are bucking traditional standards, stating in a recent report that these rates are at an "all-time low among women in their teens and early 20s, while rising to the highest level in four decades among women in their early 40s."
Why such significant changes? It turns out the recession may have not only impacted how women make ends meet, but their reproductive timelines as well. ScienceDaily noted in April that "economic changes have the greatest impact on reducing family size, and thus slowing population growth, compared to other factors." Today.com's Allison Linn agreed with this assessment. "It’s common for people to have fewer kids when a recession hits, because they worry that they will lose their job or their home, or just not be able to afford another mouth to feed," she wrote.
But while economic concerns can explain part of the picture, they don't necessarily account for why birth rates have increased for older women. Linn also noted in the same Today.com article that it's "difficult to parse out the crisis of the recession from longer term changes in how American women are thinking about parenthood."
Jezebel's Erin Gloria Ryan agreed that other factors are at play, pointing out that raising a child today costs anywhere from "a quarter of a million dollars to north of half a million dollars," which is a substantial personal sacrifice -- one that many women aren't willing to make, especially at a young age. She wrote:
[The money it would cost to raise a child is] a chunk of change that for someone like me could mean the difference between a scrimp/save lower middle class adulthood and a small luxuries upper middle class adulthood. Having a child would be essentially punting the possibility of upward class mobility to the next generation.
Considering that women have fought tirelessly for a seat at the professional table, and the right to control their bodies and choose when to have kids, it makes sense that some women would want to enjoy their 20s without the responsibility of motherhood. While cost may very well be the primary and/or only reason many women put off having children (or forgo parenthood altogether), for some it may simply be a matter of unapologetically putting themselves first. Sorry, but we're not sorry for that.