Why are we having less children?

Why are we having less children?

Women now are reportedly ‘having less children than at any point in history’, the question is, why?

There can be multiple answers for this question; logically it makes sense, as sexual contraception is more easily available now than ever in the UK, so it easier to prevent pregnancy in the first place. We have more freedom now than ever in the choice of whether or not we want to have a child, so we may choose not to have one, or to have less. We do not need to restrict sexuality to prevent children anymore.

Furthermore, historically, infant mortality was much higher so couples would intentionally have more children as less were likely to survive. It makes sense to have fewer children, as it is easier, and financially less strenuous.

It is also arguable that in the past women who did not have children could be perceived as failures, and fertility was a huge priority when wives were treated like an investment. Now women have far more equal rights and choice in terms of how to spend their lives, we can find purpose in more than marriage and children.

It would seem that now, given a choice of purposes, motherhood is no longer our first choice. It’s not necessarily that we don’t want children, it’s just that it’s no longer always a priority.

Fulfillment can be found in any number of roles in life, when we now have more career freedom than ever before. So, when we are put in a position where having children can hurt a woman’s career in a way it will not hurt a man’s it is understandable that we may not choose to have them.

We could do all the same work, all the same studying, have all the same ambition, but when we have children we are no longer given the same chances. Yes, this perpetuates the stereotype of the heartless ‘career woman’, but it is this attitude which causes us to have to live up to the stereotype.

It is an example of the different attitudes to mothers and fathers in the workplace. Michel Budig studied this difference in attitudes; she found that “Employers read fathers as more stable and committed to their work; they have a family to provide for, so they’re less likely to be flaky,” whereas with parenthood by women “The conventional story is they work less and they’re more distractible when on the job.” She found, based on data from the National Longitudinal Survey of Youth from 1979 to 2006, that upon having children a man’s earnings increased 6%, whereas a woman’s decreased by 4% per child. Similarly, in the UK the IPPR showed mothers suffering a ‘pay penalty with incomes up to 14% less than childless women, whereas fathers were likely to earn up to 19% more. Furthermore, men with more than one child earned 9% more than men with only one.

We can even see this irony in the original statement itself; logic dictates that if less women are having children, less men must also be. Yet do we ever hear it reported that ‘men are having less children than ever’?

No. We don’t perceive it as their duty in the same way, so we are not reporting that in fact ‘men are having less children than ever’, because this does not worry our innate sense of gender roles half so much.

Making this statement about women, and not men, gives it the implication that it is somehow a woman’s role or responsibility to have children, and not men’s. This is of course illogical as children have two parents, and so it becomes a biased report.

Therefore, maybe we should stop doing studies on how many children a woman does or does not choose to have, when we are not giving men the same treatment.