We get it. We knew it. The birth rate is declining.
There have been a number of articles that have come out recently about the birth rate declining.
Here are a few:
New York Times: The US birth rate has dropped again
What’s funny is that these apparent facts and figures are shocking to the general (non-female, non-parent) public, but women (and parents) have been dealing with a number of challenges for years. Let’s break a few of them down on why women would opt-out of birthing children:
The United States is the only first-world country that has no government paid family leave program
Maternity leave, Family & Medical Leave Act (FMLA), Short Term Disability (STD). If you’re a working parent, these are terms you have probably heard when you were preparing to take time off. They’re all related, but they’re not the same. The Family & Medical Leave Act ensures that you can take up to 12 weeks off without the fear of you losing your job for taking that time off to spend with your newborn. It does not guarantee pay.
Paid maternity leave is often lumped under short term disability and you receive those benefits through your employer if you have short term disability insurance coverage. If you have a c-section, it’s 8 weeks of paid time off. If you have a “natural birth” it’s 6 weeks of paid time off.
This also only applies to caregivers who have “given birth,” which means fathers and adoptive parents are not always guaranteed this benefit. According to the PL+US: Paid Leave for the US, 1 in 4 women return to work just 10 days after birth. Personally, after my first c-section, I could barely stand after 5 days. I couldn’t imagine returning to work just 10 days after a doctor pulled a human out of my uterus.
If something isn’t accessible, is likely to impact livelihood, is it crazy to believe that women would opt-out of having children?
Childcare is expensive
The average cost of childcare in the U.S. is approximately $11,165. This is just a little over $900 a month. It is also more expensive than college for most public universities. According to the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services, childcare is considered affordable if it costs less than 7% of family household income. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, the average household wage was $51,000 in the U.S., which means the average american can’t actually afford childcare.
Let’s also not forget that there are qualitative factors being omitted from the stats and figures. There might be affordable daycares being captured in the childcare cost averages, but not all daycares are created equally. Sure, there might be a daycare down the street that is more affordable than the others in your area, but it may not have availability when you need it and it may not have great reviews and standards.
If something is so expensive (plus compounded with a gender pay gap), if a woman is paying a significant portion of her salary just for the ability to work, is it crazy to believe that women would opt out of having children?
The modern American workplace doesn’t really allow women to feel successful as an employee
But what about Google, Facebook, Netflix, and other pioneering tech companies that have been adapting their workplaces to be more flexible? Well, not everyone works for Google, Facebook and Netflix. They are a small subset of the number of employers in America. Until it becomes government mandated and subsidized, small businesses cannot afford it and therefore will not be able to support it, even if they wanted to.
According to the PL+US, Women were twice as likely to say that becoming a parent negatively impacts their career growth opportunities. The traditional American work day is 9 to 5. While daycares for children under the age of 5 operate until 6:00 PM (at an additional cost to daycare tuition), the day ends at 3:30PM for most public schools. In less progressive workplaces parents have to deal with the stigma of “leaving early” for pick up. If they opt for after-hours childcare, it’s at their own expense.
With the lack of flexibility in the workplace and a school system that doesn’t support the same structure, is it crazy to believe that women would opt-out of having children?
What could improve the declining birth rate?
It’s interesting to see how the media has deemed it unlikely that the birth rate will bounce back after the pandemic. It’s clear that if the current state of the female and parental experience continues, then yes, the birth rate is unlikely to bounce back. However, if we address the root causes instead of pointing fingers at women for choosing their livelihoods over that of an imaginary world and incentivize and support women, is it crazy to think that women would opt-in to have children?