Where have all the babies gone?
May 23, 2018 10:14 AM   Subscribe

Birthrate has been declining in the US since 2014, and is now at its lowest point in 30 years. The only age group having more babies is women over 40. What’s driving the decline? No one knows, but speculation includes:

- Millennials are having too much Netflix, not enough chill
- Incels are complaining online instead of dating
- Immigrant demographics are changing
- Better birth control and less teenage pregnancy
- Trump slump?

Why should we care? Population growth is linked to health of our economy and solvency of social security.
posted by Sockowocky (175 comments total) 33 users marked this as a favorite
 
- Incels are complaining online instead of dating

I'm okay with this.
posted by ocschwar at 10:17 AM on May 23 [93 favorites]


Nobody has any fucking money. That shit is expensive.
posted by Artw at 10:17 AM on May 23 [287 favorites]


Why should we care? Population growth is linked to health of our economy and solvency of social security.

One generation, perhaps ours, will have to figure out how to run a good economy with a steady state population.

It might as well be ours. And Japan seems to have figured something out already.
posted by ocschwar at 10:19 AM on May 23 [42 favorites]


There's a joke about not breeding in captivity.
posted by Nancy Lebovitz at 10:20 AM on May 23 [97 favorites]


Millennial incomes are inflation-adjusted, lower than the same age group historically. Homeownership is similarly lower. Student loan debt is much, much, higher. Healthcare and childcare costs are both at historic highs.

Gee, yeah, it's a huge mystery.
posted by Automocar at 10:21 AM on May 23 [254 favorites]


Nobody I know can afford childcare. I know a lot of people who have one kid and have decided they can't afford a second. The only people I know having second or subsequent kids right now are couples with one stay-at-home parent.
posted by ArbitraryAndCapricious at 10:23 AM on May 23 [34 favorites]


The latest episode of The Weeds covered this question. The hosts mentioned a policy idea that (studies suggest) would both halve the child poverty rate and increase birth levels in the United States to above the replacement level - an increase of about 0.5 babies per woman.

The policy is a universal $3,800 / child / year credit - sounds insanely expensive, and it would be. It would be almost as expensive as the Trump tax cuts. Almost.

So we could halve child poverty and eliminate the demographic crisis (if there is one), or we could spend even more money to cut the corporate tax rate so shareholders could get bigger dividends.

AMERICA.
posted by 0xFCAF at 10:23 AM on May 23 [50 favorites]


If I may comment seriously - I am a thirty-five year old woman who is considering having a baby. Even more than money, the biggest factor against parenting is time. I don’t want to (and can’t afford to) stop working. It’s very hard to imagine squeezing motherhood into 50-60 hour work weeks. Or squeezing 50-60 hours of work into motherhood. I am exhausted thinking about it.
posted by mai at 10:25 AM on May 23 [93 favorites]


Population growth is linked to health of our economy and solvency of social security.

That sentence definitely describes a serious problem, but the problem is not a low birthrate.

Hint: anything that depends on infinite growth forever is probably not a very good plan.
posted by Kadin2048 at 10:25 AM on May 23 [87 favorites]


No one knows!

Except women who choose not to have babies (and don't have it forced on them)!

GUYS GUYS I THINK I FOUND A WAY TO FIGURE IT OUT

A RADICAL THING CALLED "TALKING TO WOMEN AND TAKING THEIR ANSWERS SERIOUSLY"
posted by fraula at 10:25 AM on May 23 [130 favorites]


Simply having paid parental leave for the first six months (at least) would go a long way.
posted by dinty_moore at 10:26 AM on May 23 [21 favorites]


I agree with Ocschwar. The linkage of population growth to the overall health of the economy should be seriously studied and re-considered with an eye towards other more sustainable and holistic models that take into account impacts on the environment, food supply, resource depletion etc.

We must be past the point where the perils of exponential population growth far outweigh the benefits – especially given the fact that an increasing portion of the world's population is treated as superfluous and expendable, by economists no less!
posted by nikoniko at 10:26 AM on May 23 [22 favorites]


I was kind of appalled, as a Canadian, the first time I had this conversation: an American friend of mine saying they'd like to have kids, but can't afford it. It surprised me, because kids aren't cheap but they're not horrifically expensive? But they weren't talking about the care and maintenance of the kid, they were talking about the $20,000 hospital bill for going to the hospital to give birth. That's the part they couldn't afford.

Nowhere else in the developed world has this problem. The idea you go into crushing debt for _childbirth_ is completely alien. It's ridiculous.
posted by mhoye at 10:27 AM on May 23 [88 favorites]


Not just hospital bills, the disruption in work when you may get little to no time off.
posted by dilaudid at 10:28 AM on May 23 [30 favorites]


Nobody has any fucking money. That shit is expensive.

And babies are the worst. I mean, mine are generally OK because they're big enough to do most things themselves, and other people's babies are cute and all, but getting up throughout the night to feed them? All the crying? Yeah, I'll borrow your baby and give it back when it's upset, sorry (not sorry).
posted by filthy light thief at 10:29 AM on May 23 [9 favorites]


What's funny is that a lot of the policies that we're talking about that lead to an increase in birthrate also lead to a decrease in abortions, so if anti-choicers really wanted to decrease the number of abortions per year, they should get right on campaigning for that.

Increased immigration is also a solution that doesn't add to the global population boom, but good luck with that being considered popular any time soon.
posted by dinty_moore at 10:31 AM on May 23 [16 favorites]


Nobody I know can afford childcare. I know a lot of people who have one kid and have decided they can't afford a second. The only people I know having second or subsequent kids right now are couples with one stay-at-home parent.

I have friends in exactly this position. Two parents, both working full-time. With one kid, they've already struggled with regularly using up all their available time off for sick days etc, and the cost of childcare is not negligible. Though their income isn't especially high overall, they might be better off in some ways if the lower-earning parent quit working to stay home full-time, but that particular parent is not well-suited for, or interested in, full-time parenting. The irony of their life is that the one who would be happy to be a stay-at-home parent, and would be good at it, is also earning the bulk of their income. They very much want a second child, but won't be having one.

I have four kids, two biological and two adopted. For people who are concerned about bringing new babies into the world, who might consider adoption: the challenges are much the same. Adopted kids still need childcare, and they still bring an endless series of colds home from that childcare.
posted by Orlop at 10:34 AM on May 23 [11 favorites]


It's like any ecosystem, right? In times of scarcity, or high population-to-resource ratio, reproduction slows down.

Whether that will let up anytime soon is anyone's guess.
posted by supercres at 10:36 AM on May 23 [5 favorites]


neo-Marxist post-modernism ... obviously
posted by philip-random at 10:36 AM on May 23 [3 favorites]


Maybe it's the grays
posted by XMLicious at 10:37 AM on May 23


I don't know if the research it's based on has stood up over time, but I thought this Quora comment was interesting: "Why are birth rates dropping in developed countries?" The probably-obvious-to-women-making-this-decision TL;DR is: gender equality is an important differentiating factor for birth rates in developed countries.
posted by Wobbuffet at 10:40 AM on May 23 [16 favorites]


A RADICAL THING CALLED "TALKING TO WOMEN AND TAKING THEIR ANSWERS SERIOUSLY"

This is true, but it's also true that a fairly significant source of the decline in overall birthrate is because the teen birth rate has fucking plummeted - it's gone down by half just in the last decade.

If you go to 16 year olds and ask why they don't have babies, you'll get some aggressive talkings-to from their parents, and you'll also get answers that are just "Because I'm 16, duh?". But a nontrivial proportion of these teens would have been mothers if it weren't for more widely-available effective contraception or better choices around sex.

This also applies to non-teens - some proportion of women who are 25 don't have babies because they're using a more foolproof contraceptive method and would, counterfactually, have kept an accidental pregnancy. But literally no woman will tell you "I don't have a baby because I used the ring instead of the pill and would have forgotten to take one dose 15 months ago and then kept the ensuing accidental pregnancy" even though that is factually true on a population level.
posted by 0xFCAF at 10:43 AM on May 23 [101 favorites]


Nobody I know can afford childcare. I know a lot of people who have one kid and have decided they can't afford a second.

This, plus decreased responsibility of men. Like - I know this isn’t for everyone, but I would really like to have three or four kids. I have always consistently wanted this from age 20 on. But from age 20-30, I couldn’t find any man I would trust to seriously be a father, to stick around and put the children first before his own fun. And from 30-now, I can’t afford the 1000+$ cost of childcare, and I can’t afford to stay home because single incomes are not usually enough to run a household on. And my husband even makes middle class respectable money AND I’m technically retired. I do not know how people are able to make it work without an enormously robust family support structure.
posted by corb at 10:43 AM on May 23 [17 favorites]


Anyone else notice a large proportion of the kids people are having recently are girls? I can’t tell if it’s just weird odds in my peer group or a thing. I think I know at least five or six couples with a girl for every one with a boy. I’ve heard some things that correlate a large number of girls being born with a drop in general birth rates but nothing I’d trust as like Science.
posted by griphus at 10:44 AM on May 23 [3 favorites]


What’s driving the decline?

How about climate change pessimism? First, adding more people to the planet worsens anthropogenic climate change. Second, there's the grim prospect that insufficient coordinated action to address the problem will result in future generations living on a wrecked world.
posted by exogenous at 10:45 AM on May 23 [62 favorites]


Anyone else notice a large proportion of the kids people are having recently are girls?

All my friends, including me, are having boys.
posted by 0xFCAF at 10:46 AM on May 23 [11 favorites]


Population growth is linked to health of our economy

Well, that's some grade-A horseshit right there. How can people simultaneously argue that robots are going to take all our jobs and that we don't have enough workers to do the jobs?

How can people simultaneously argue that homes are too expensive and we won't have enough people to live in all those homes?

How can people simultaneously argue that traffic is terrible and that we won't have enough people to drive all those cars?

Having fewer people means less crowding, cheaper housing, and higher wages. What's not to like?
posted by JackFlash at 10:47 AM on May 23 [30 favorites]


Nowhere else in the developed world has this problem. The idea you go into crushing debt for _childbirth_ is completely alien. It's ridiculous.

In an overpopulated world, this could be a welcome deterrent. But at the same time, everywhere else in the developed world has the same “problem” of low birth rates, so maybe the cost issue is moot?

Low birth rates in the developed world are not a problem. Immigration is a thing, y’all. The only people concerned by this are racists.
posted by Sys Rq at 10:47 AM on May 23 [29 favorites]


Aren't we in danger of ruining the planet's ability to sustain life? Why would we need more humans?
posted by eustacescrubb at 10:49 AM on May 23 [47 favorites]


How about climate change pessimism?

Yep. But even before climate change was a "thing", I knew I had zero interest in bringing a child into this place. Humans in aggregate are fucking horrible.
posted by sutt at 10:50 AM on May 23 [24 favorites]


Honestly, Gen X already answered this question: your job's a joke, you're broke, your love life's DOA.
posted by uncleozzy at 10:54 AM on May 23 [95 favorites]


So...this is and has been observed across all advanced industrial nations, with 83 countries now below replacement rate in total fertility. The biggest drop-offs -- Japan, Italy, Russia -- are associated with countries where men participate less in household chores and child rearing. It is hypothesized that increasing gender equality in child care hours would raise fertility rates even in high income countries.

It's kind of a no-brainer when you think about it.
posted by PandaMomentum at 10:54 AM on May 23 [62 favorites]


Why should we care? Population growth is linked to health of our economy and solvency of social security.

Even if we take this as a definite truth I still don't understand why we should care - we gain people two ways: Birth & Immigration. We have way more people wanting to immigrate to the US than we're letting in. If we want more people in the US, we can just put more people in the US whenever we want - who cares what the birth rate is?
posted by brainmouse at 10:59 AM on May 23 [16 favorites]


You could kind of sort of kid yourself into ignoring the climate change pessimism before trump, but since then it’s been clear that we are power diving into it and any notion that things might get better before they get cataclysmic was an illusion.

Same with many things, really.

I had my moment of “we shouldn’t have had kids” on election night and it was a moment of bleak despair. Since then I’ve put it at the back of my mind because we do have kids and you just have to get on with it and not think like that. But yeah, people not wanting kids for that reason is an entirely explicable phenomena.
posted by Artw at 11:06 AM on May 23 [44 favorites]


Fewer women who see no other option than to marry male losers. I'm sure that 50 years ago I would have thought I had to get married and have babies to be a real woman, etc., and also for financial security. But marriage and childbirth have always been optional for present-day me. No man has ever really come up to scratch for marriage with me, including in terms of giving me confidence that marrying him would increase rather than jeopardize my financial security, and I didn't have to lower my standards "just to get married."
posted by praemunire at 11:10 AM on May 23 [73 favorites]


If I had a dollar for every time my friends and I said to each other "I'd totally have a kid, but I don't know if I could afford it," I would be able to afford it.
posted by showbiz_liz at 11:11 AM on May 23 [31 favorites]


I'm childfree by choice. I got all the way to the end of my childbearing years without one egg being fertilized. What enabled this? RELIABLE, WOMAN-CONTROLLED CONTRACEPTION. I'm not conventionally religious, and I didn't give a shit whether my parents wanted grandkids, so the "Where are my graaaandchildren?" and "Have kids because It's Just What You Do" never cut any ice with me. I don't think childfree people are yet the majority, but I think there have always been people who wished they had the childfree option.

Wherever women have basic human rights and access to reliable family planning, they have fewer kids. Not necessarily "none," but women, by and large, don't want big families - they want one, two or three kids, not a dozen. Nobody has to have five or six kids just to make sure two or three live to grow up anymore.

I think that the plunge in childbearing has good and bad causes. Good - women have the choice to bear or not bear children, to limit their family sizes, and to delay having kids until they are mature and settled in life. Bad - men are still not equal partners in childrearing, poor to nonexistent support for families, no good childcare, little to no family leave.

Even in Scandinavian countries where parents have government and societal support and men are much more equal participants in family life - women might have two kids instead of one, or three instead of two, but they're still not seeing a "baby boom" or an abundance of large (4+ kids) families.
posted by Rosie M. Banks at 11:12 AM on May 23 [43 favorites]


Griphus, my friend group has had 16 kids over the past five years; 12 boys, 4 girls. I wonder what large population surveys say.
posted by emkelley at 11:14 AM on May 23 [2 favorites]


I do not know how people are able to make it work without an enormously robust family support structure.

With great difficulty. Between us, Madame Naberius and I have a total of one surviving parent/grandparent for the littlest Naberius (Or as I've taken to calling her, Tiny [Lara] Croft.) And that one is elderly and lives hours away, so is not really a factor. It's basically the two of us.

Madame Naberius has been a stay-at-home mom since Tiny Croft was born while I kept working my bullshit corporate job. I'm actually quite well paid by most modern American standards. Pre-child, my wife made even more. We'd saved up a good chunk of change. We don't have a lot of debt. Really our only fixed monthly payment beyond just utilities, car insurance, and other stuff that everybody has is a pretty reasonable mortgage payment. Before Tiny Croft, we were doing just fine, thank you. She changed everything.

Even with all our advantages, the only way we can make this work is by drawing on assets inherited from the previous generation. We can almost reach break-even in a given month if nothing unusual happens. But something unusual always happens. A car needs something, or the AC goes out suddenly and needs a new motor, or Tiny Croft has to go to urgent care with the croup in the dead of night (don't get me started on that one!). It's always something, and we've gradually depleted our own savings. Now when something happens, we have to draw on my wife's inheritance, which was supposed to be for sending Tiny Croft to college and for our retirement. It's going to be a race against the clock unless something changes the game for us.

My wife is talking about sticking a toe back in the workforce, but she wants to work part time so as not to have to abandon Tiny Croft completely to day care. That's kind of a pipe dream in the modern corporate environment. As far as I can tell, part time means you work full time, we just don't have to pay you as much. If it is part-time, that tends to mean you're on-call 24/7 and we'll use your part time hours whenever we want to. That's obviously not going to work with a day care schedule where you get fined by the minute for not picking up your kid on time. So she's still looking.

We are insanely privileged. According to the Atlantic, we're part of that 9.9 percent and so it's all our fault, apparently. And even we can barely make this work. I have no idea how someone who didn't marry a doctor's daughter is supposed to do this.
posted by Naberius at 11:15 AM on May 23 [40 favorites]


I would definitely have had two kids instead of one if we had more money. My parents raised four, in reasonable comfort, and we struggle to raise one at the same level.

Shit's fucked up in this economy, and lots of potential parents look at it and say "nope."

Many of us are quite sad about it, actually. I think my kid would have made a great big brother. But it would have been irresponsible of us to make him one.

And yeah, when Clinton lost, I had a very bleak series of moments when I wondered if I had been an immoral monster for even having that kid, that I had brought him into a doomed world and a future of suffering.
posted by emjaybee at 11:16 AM on May 23 [20 favorites]


I'm about to have a second baby, and the ONLY reason we can afford it is because my mother is generously spending her retirement providing free child care for us, and we arranged our careers and living situation to live close enough to her to make that possible. My husband and I are both out of our twenties, in a happy marriage, both have college educations and professional careers, good job security, good insurance by today's standards. And still, a second child would be seriously beyond our reach financially if not for the unpaid labor of a woman who is staying home to care for our babies instead of traveling like she had dreamed of doing.

I feel guilty about it every day, and also insanely privileged. (and so, so thankful. Thanks, mom!)
posted by beandip at 11:17 AM on May 23 [24 favorites]


Oh yeah, and there's always the nagging worry that she'll live to see civilization collapse around her and die from starvation or violence. That helps.
posted by Naberius at 11:20 AM on May 23 [10 favorites]



I was kind of appalled, as a Canadian, the first time I had this conversation: an American friend of mine saying they'd like to have kids, but can't afford it. It surprised me, because kids aren't cheap but they're not horrifically expensive? But they weren't talking about the care and maintenance of the kid, they were talking about the $20,000 hospital bill for going to the hospital to give birth. That's the part they couldn't afford.


Ding ! Ding ! Ding ! We have the winner !

Marvin Harris made this point in 1982 in his book America Now: The Anthropology of a Changing Culture aka Why Nothing Works: The Anthropology of Daily Life -- it is not merely the cost of a birth in hospital but also the lifetime expense in providing food, shelter, garments, education and medical and dental treatment has risen in aggregate total.

Children are the Pearls of Great Price now and this has shaped our current culture in so many ways. We worry about too much about stranger danger and yet remain oblivious to what a functional healthcare for all would save us. Let alone a functional economy.
posted by y2karl at 11:21 AM on May 23 [11 favorites]


Take men out of the equation and I still know a lot of queer women who don't feel like they can maintain stable enough relationships and lifestyles for it. I still don't feel like I can do it. I have a lot of regrets about that, but most of them are not "I should have made different decisions" regrets so much as "I should have really been born in a different universe" regrets. Of the people I know who do have kids, there's an awful lot of them who are noticeably worse off for doing so. I can't regret not getting stuck in a bad relationship with no career, which is 100% what would have happened if I'd had children in any of my past relationships that lasted more than 12 months.

And alone--well, alone? I live in an affordable midwestern city and I can't picture being able to swing it until I start making at least six figures and probably more, because I won't have access to any non-paid child care, ever, and even if adoption or health care was free, I don't have unlimited energy or unlimited PTO.
posted by Sequence at 11:27 AM on May 23 [7 favorites]


I transitioned and didn't sperm bank because that shit is expensive and now I have a vag and my wife and I don't want to artificially inseminate because that shit is expensive too. And that's the news from Lake Queerbegon.
posted by nikaspark at 11:27 AM on May 23 [55 favorites]


Once kids are out of daycare, they aren't that expensive. It's just that full 5 year period of birth/full time daycare/baby expenses that really crushes you. I've got four more months until kid #2 is in kindergarten. I'm counting the days! And then I start saving for college....
posted by The_Vegetables at 11:27 AM on May 23 [7 favorites]




Forgot to add: Saving for college will be easy because daycare costs the same as mid-tier public university.
posted by The_Vegetables at 11:28 AM on May 23 [13 favorites]


Economics is a big reason for me. I know you can raise kids on a shoestring, but I grew up on a shoestring, and I know that's not the life I want for me or my children.
posted by Miko at 11:28 AM on May 23 [37 favorites]


Relative impecunity and living in your mom's basement never stopped anyone who really wanted to have babies from having those babies.

The main difference, I suspect, is that the women and men who never particularly wanted babies are simply saying fuck it and choosing to work on their educations and careers regardless of anything the would-be grandparents say. "Let's not have kids" is socially doable these days.

Mandatory paid maternity leave and free daycare for all should be a thing, but babies are still going to get in the way of people having full-on satisfying 40-year gung-ho careers and hobbies and vacations unless they also choose to partner up long-term with people who choose to stay home and prod the progeny along.
posted by pracowity at 11:30 AM on May 23 [15 favorites]


Where I live, day care for an infant or toddler is about the same as one month's rent for a 2 bedroom apartment in a neighborhood with the occasional shooting.

anyone without the income to afford twice their rent is screwed.
posted by zippy at 11:30 AM on May 23 [16 favorites]




it's! so! fucking! EXPENSIVE! TO HAVE CHILDREN! My cousin's wife had twins last year and they realized that the annual cost of childcare for twins plus their toddler was approximately the same as her extremely good annual salary + benefits, so now her job is Full Time Mom, and I honestly don't know how she feels about the loss of her hard-earned career because my family doesn't like to talk about Feelings.
posted by poffin boffin at 11:32 AM on May 23 [22 favorites]


I had my moment of “we shouldn’t have had kids” on election night and it was a moment of bleak despair. Since then I’ve put it at the back of my mind because we do have kids and you just have to get on with it and not think like that. But yeah, people not wanting kids for that reason is an entirely explicable phenomena.

Absolutely. I'm conflicted about bringing a small human into this [Gestures vaguely at the world] already, I honestly can't imagine seriously considering having one if we didn't have the parental leave, employment insurance, single-payer health care, and union benefits we used here in Canada, let alone white/het/cis/semi-educated privilege.
posted by Alvy Ampersand at 11:33 AM on May 23 [4 favorites]




My wife and I can afford to have kids and that's kind of also why we're not having them. We can be selfish and go on vacations and have nice dinners and our dogs are a big enough of a chore to find sitters for, finding them for tiny humans would be impossible. We choose to spoil my nieces and nephews instead, while we have a lot of fun. There's no aspect of our lives that would improved by having kids.

The health of the planet is also a concern, partially because of the problems of overpopulation and partially because we're living in a world whose best days may be behind it. I'd feel terrible having a kid that might someday struggle to obtain fresh water.

I also admit that I might be overly pessimistic about these things, being an American. If I were in Europe it'd be completely possible that I'd have a couple of perfectly happy content children right now.
posted by mikesch at 11:35 AM on May 23 [27 favorites]


The only people I know having second or subsequent kids right now are couples with one stay-at-home parent.

At least in my little flyover state, evangelical christians seem to be doing more than their part to get the birthrate up. Three, four, or more kids isn't that uncommon.
posted by Thorzdad at 11:35 AM on May 23 [12 favorites]


Is the reduction coming from more women remaining childless, or women having fewer children? It seems to me that having just two, or just one, child is becoming increasingly acceptable and desirable. The "ideal family" used to be 3 kids; now it's 2; and I bet it will be 1 in my lifetime.
posted by yarly at 11:45 AM on May 23 [2 favorites]


We have one kid, and while we're happy with just one for a variety of reasons at this point, I did really want a second, but everything is So Expensive, and I have student loans that I'll be paying for probably another two decades. Full time daycare for an infant at our local Y is $395/week (and while costs go down for older kids, it's $130/week for after-school care for our one kid... and then in the summer there's camp... he's going to one week of special Nerd Camp that costs $500 for one week, bananas). Not to mention clothes are expensive, doing fun stuff is expensive, it feels like even food is expensive now.
posted by banjo_and_the_pork at 11:46 AM on May 23 [3 favorites]


My wife (27) and I (27) both decided early on in our relationship that we wanted to have kids.

For me, (then 21), this was a new development because I had never seen myself being a dad before I met her. My whole perspective on kids changed now that I was with somebody who I could, y' know- actually see myself raising a human with. It was a huge awakening for me, and a very unsubtle sign that I had found the right person to spend my life with.

For her, it was already a forgone conclusion. She had wanted to be a mother almost more than anything else in life since she was very young, and she (miraculously) saw me as father material. In my favor, I've already got a head start on the gut and dad jokes.

While we finished up college, we daydreamed and tried to plot out where kids would fit into our plan. After graduation? Definitely. After we get married? Of course, could you imagine!? But even beyond that, we wanted at least some time to spend together enjoying each other's company and travel to other countries before we were tied down, time to save and plan to ensure our child(ren)'s future, time to establish ourselves with good jobs in a good city with lots of good things to see and do with good food to eat near good schools in a house with their own rooms (2 at most) for them to grow up in.

Right after we graduated, we were engaged. Right after we were engaged, we couldn't make enough money between the two of us to keep our apartment in Austin, so we put our stuff in storage and moved across the state to live with my in-laws. 6 months after that, we moved again after my wife was accepted to grad school. After two years and taking on ~$20k more in student loans, she graduated and we moved back to Austin. Not wanting to make the same mistakes as last time, we immediately took what jobs we could.

We have been together nearly six years. Since I graduated from college, I have not stopped working except for a few weeks in between moving or changing jobs. We stick to a budget. We don't often eat out. We go to concerts sometimes, but not often. We pay ~$1200 a month for good one bedroom apartment in a good area. It's about to go up another $100 a month, but we can move some stuff around and take it on. We pay all of our bills on time. Some months, we transfer money to the other's bank account for groceries or rent. We have savings- about $10,000 for a cataclysm. We have taken one vacation together to New York for five days for our honeymoon.

I have crunched the numbers, and unless something changes and one of us suddenly makes about $15k more per year, there is now way we could afford a house with three bedrooms in an area we want to live. Though insurance would cover a workable portion of the hospital cost of childbirth, there is no way we would be able to afford even poorly-vetted childcare. Clothes and food would probably be okay for the first couple of years, but that's predicated on both of us continuing to work and make the same amount of money, so that's not really doable either. Sometimes, the financial stability we have feel so tenuous. If one of us lost our jobs, we'd have to move again. It's not the way we want our kids to grow up: always aware of how far behind the curve they are. It's an unfair pressure to involve them in.

This doesn't even bring into account the unquantifiable apprehension I feel about bringing a child into society as it stands. I'm white passing, but I'm worried what problems my last name will confer to my kids.

So, for anyone still reading in the short-term or in the future, this has been a snapshot from Krazor- a dorky 21 year old goof that thought he would never want kids who became a 27 year old working stiff who desperately wanted them, but couldn't afford them. I've worked myself up to this place where I've been emotionally ready and the wait has worn on me. The prospect of traveling the world or living abroad my partner-in-adventure is long-since dead. Maybe we'll never be able afford the kind of house in a "cool" city with the way prices keep going up. Maybe we'll never have kids for one reason or another. It would hurt so much, but the reality of the near future is that we can do perhaps one thing, but absolutely not another. For that reason, it's hard not to feel hopeless sometimes. The feeling of two people throwing everything they've got at the world together and coming up short is indescribable. Sure, maybe one of us could take another job, but what would that cost our relationship?
posted by Krazor at 11:52 AM on May 23 [52 favorites]


Children have always been too expensive for a whole lotta people. However, it wasn't that long ago where if a woman got pregnant, that child was coming, like it or not, afford it or not. There was little control over the matter other than celibacy for mother or father for that matter.

A few years back I did a post about an interesting and unusual birth control campaign aimed at mostly third world countries. While there were some links between birth control and racism, it's interesting to note how the freedom to choose birth control, largely by women, led the trend in places populated by relatively prosperous, largely white women. Anybody who'd championed birth control to keep populations of colored foreigners down must be having a big sad realizing that white women with relative wealth and privilege were the first and most enthusiastic adopters of baby control technology, and not the brown hordes.
posted by 2N2222 at 11:52 AM on May 23 [6 favorites]


We'd have another child if we could afford the childcare for a second, but childcare for one is more than my mortgage. I'll be 42 when he goes to kindergarten, too late to have a second one. My husband and I both make the same amount- neither of us enough to allow one of us to stay home, and even together we really only make enough to cover bills. We both work in the public sector so the cost of childbirth was only my $300 deductible and I had banked leave for FMLA because I'd been fully employed for 8+ years before giving birth.
So it comes down to childcare for us. And childcare is so freaking expensive (while also not paying the teachers a living wage most of the time).
posted by aabbbiee at 11:53 AM on May 23 [5 favorites]


I guess in general I could sum everything up with one word: "stability", or lack thereof. Housing/renting prices go up, steady jobs are becoming more scarce, social support nets are under attack, every day it feels we're one tweet away from the next big war and sooner or later the planet will have its payback and make life miserable for most of us.
posted by lmfsilva at 11:53 AM on May 23 [3 favorites]


Browsing the replies to the "You should have twice your income saved by age 35" tweet would also be illuminating.

Given that real wages haven't risen since the Carter administration and all of the economic gains are going to an ever-smaller number of people, combined with the massive increase in health care and complete lack of affordable childcare... Gosh, it is a mystery.
posted by fifteen schnitzengruben is my limit at 11:54 AM on May 23 [14 favorites]


I never wanted children so I feel I've sort of dodged the bullet of having to make this choice. people are bringing up all these great points and observations from studies etc., its a pretty compelling argument in the aggregate:

1) I have reliable access to birth control so I will only have baby(s) if and when I want
2) wow I cannot afford this at all
3) I feel a lack of security for present and future
4) omg war! climate change! disaster!!
5) etc.,

by the time I was personally in a position to consider family makin' (married, stable career, not living paycheck to paycheck, med insurance) I was in my 40s. and I get that you can make it work at that age if you really want to (plenty do) but UGH. my body is falling apart and I barely make it though my 5-6 hour work day without a nap. I just cannot imagine...

also, we have LOTS of friends poppin' out the babies and it seems close to 75% are boys.
posted by supermedusa at 12:13 PM on May 23 [4 favorites]


mikesch: "We can be selfish"

Having kids is the MOST selfish thing a person can do. You're literally making a miniature copy of yourself. Who is benefiting from the single most carbon intensive thing you can do? Hint: It's not the rest of the planet.
posted by Grither at 12:14 PM on May 23 [47 favorites]


Anybody who'd championed birth control to keep populations of colored foreigners down must be having a big sad realizing that white women with relative wealth and privilege were the first and most enthusiastic adopters of baby control technology, and not the brown hordes.

Yeah, luckily most US antichoicers don't seem to know much about what Fujimori got away with as recently as 20 years ago.
posted by poffin boffin at 12:15 PM on May 23 [6 favorites]


My office seems like a baby boom in the last few years but my co-workers are all reasonably paid engineers, we work for a hospital and Pittsburgh is cheap to live in. I can't imagine trying to raise kids in more expensive cities.
posted by octothorpe at 12:22 PM on May 23 [1 favorite]


Having kids is the MOST selfish thing a person can do.

Nah. Having a kid is just fine. Having lots of kids is selfish, but wishing everyone would stop having any kids would be perverse.

Who is benefiting from the single most carbon intensive thing you can do?

The kid, for starters. The pleasure of living is worth having, and worth giving someone else to have when you're gone. Humanity is worth continuing, participating in, and contributing to.
posted by pracowity at 12:30 PM on May 23 [41 favorites]


We're in a really good place compared to a lot of millennials, and thus, I'm pregnant at the moment.

But we're still freaking out about day care costs. Full day, 5 days a week would be about a quarter of our take-home income. Luckily, I'll have flexibility in my schedule, so we'll likely be able to get that down to about a fifth, but my flexibility is that I can work from home some days. So, we're going to need to balance costs with me advancing in my career--"sleep when the baby sleeps" is going to become at least partially "write/do research/lesson plan when the baby sleeps!". Which should be, um, fun.
posted by damayanti at 12:31 PM on May 23 [4 favorites]


Yeah, I can work from home as needed, but as I'm reminded every time I take advantage of that, working from home is still working. Most days I use my home office I barely have time to go downstairs and make myself a lunch, much less care for a hypothetical infant. A toddler would be right out.
posted by Holy Zarquon's Singing Fish at 12:37 PM on May 23 [5 favorites]


Fair enough, pracowity, and fighting hundreds of thousands of years of evolution telling you to procreate is pretty tough. And I love my nieces/nephews/friend's kids to death!

I just wish people would stop pretending like *not* having a child is somehow selfish.
posted by Grither at 12:39 PM on May 23 [37 favorites]


Fewer women who see no other option than to marry male losers.

Likewise I see few benefits to getting married, outside a tax break. There is still pressure to get married, sure, but not an overwhelming social more to do so. The religious aspect? We are less religious nowadays than before. Stability? Sure, it would bring some sense of stability and settling-down to my life but life and jobs are incredibly unstable as it is. Divorce rates are higher too. If a divorce comes down the line, I have a lot to lose. And I think not having a kid is one of the best things you can do for the environment. It has the exponential effect of saving the planet from one more person, and their kids, and so on.

Life is so unstable I can barely take care of and afford myself, let alone a kid. I think in the past there was just some sort of certainty and quality of life you could plan for if you had a kid. Today you have to majorly plan for these commitments. So I choose to-at most- have romantic relationships but will not marry and thus not have kids. You can have a similar emotional closeness with someone without marrying them.
posted by hexaflexagon at 12:41 PM on May 23 [5 favorites]


The pleasure of living is worth having, and worth giving someone else to have when you're gone. Humanity is worth continuing, participating in, and contributing to.

You say this as if it is somehow true a priori or something, but it's not. And in fact I think it's sort of a dangerous assumption.

I've always been a bit ambivalent on kids myself, and having seen so many people who have them without ever questioning it for a second makes me think that my ambivalence probably means I ought to not have them.

I grew up in a small, poor town where most people were not particularly career driven. Most of the people I knew in high school now have 2+ kids. I went to a competitive college with a lot of very career driven people and, at 33, almost no one I knew in college has kids. I chalk it up to part career focus, part student loans, part weltschmerz and anxiety, and part living too far away from parents to take advantage of free child care.

My feeling now is that I will regret not having children someday, but I will also regret having them. It's a precarious position.
posted by Lutoslawski at 12:43 PM on May 23 [16 favorites]


At the rate things are going, contraception and women having careers are two factors that future generations probably won't need to worry about depressing the birth rate, what with conservatives worldwide trying desperately to move Gilead out of fiction and into mainstream reality.
posted by aramaic at 12:44 PM on May 23 [2 favorites]


We aren't going to run out of people anytime soon. With the rise of automation we don't need as many workers to maintain production and honestly the environment could use a break. Wasn't there a thread just a little while ago freaking out about the world becoming overpopulated? I would much rather have a cooling down of the birth rate across the globe than rapid population "corrections" caused by catastrophes like famine, plague, or pollution from overcrowding.
posted by domo at 12:47 PM on May 23 [19 favorites]


Aren't we in danger of ruining the planet's ability to sustain life

No. Human life, maybe. Life in general will be just fine. It's seen much worse.
posted by BungaDunga at 12:48 PM on May 23 [12 favorites]


Recall that, according to Malthus (and Harris), our ability to produce children is always greater than our ability to produce energy for their survival. Because necessary checks to population growth are always present, and because until relatively recent times, these checks tend to be violent toward women, fetus, and children, sociocultural systems use increases in productivity to allow population to expand. Because of this reciprocal relationship between population and production, over the course of sociocultural evolution, both population and food production have grown. Periods of increase in food productivity, whether it be because of the application of new technology or the expansion of cultivated land, have been met with expansions of population. Periods of stability in food production, or contraction in productivity, have been marked by the same phenomena in population level. Over the course of sociocultural evolution, however, the long-term tendency has been for both productivity and population to intensify. This intensification, according to CM, has great impact on other parts of the sociocultural system.

The effects of our vast numbers and powerful technology (including the technology of reproduction) have made it increasingly obvious that infrastructural factors play a key role in sociocultural stability and change. World population and industrial technology, both infrastructural factors, are now massive. Both are presently growing at an exponential rate. It is a sociocultural system. You can't do one thing. This tremendous size as well as its recent exponential growth (or intensification) has had tremendous impact on the environment (depletion and pollution) and has caused tremendous change in human organizations, beliefs and values. Cultural materialism is a research strategy uniquely suited to exploring both short-term sociocultural stability and change, or the long-term social evolutionary process itself.

The Cultural Materialist Research Strategy
posted by y2karl at 12:48 PM on May 23 [3 favorites]


Compounding the cost is that we're a much more mobile society. A massive part of the relative ease with which we are raising our one (1) child is that we didn't have to move away from our hometown to get work (and my mom was able to retire young-enough and remain able-bodied enough to help provide some free care). In a lot of segments of American society it's still fairly common to live with parents or live near enough parents and grandparents and extended family that childrearing duties can be spread around, but in white collar middle-class coastal-ish segments it's pretty rare. Getting and keeping a white collar job has the presumption of mobility baked in. Nearly everyone I know who is raising kid/s in a mostly-not-drowning kind of way is doing so with the help of an extended family.

Anyway, human babies are born at a developmental stage that presumes some sort of band or clan or multigenerational family unit to provide care. It is in no way irrational to decide "nope" if you are not living in that kind of circumstance.

I'm happy keeping my family's birth rate below replacement.
posted by soren_lorensen at 12:48 PM on May 23 [13 favorites]


This ties into a bunch of posts on the blue and a couple on the green.

The biggest generational divide in worldview between my parents generation and mine is that mine can't guarantee that our wages are going to go up consistently. Or that we're going to be employed consistently. Or that our housing situation isn't going to change rapidly in quick succession. My folks and my in-laws (both of wildly different worldviews themselves) still can't comprehend the lack of upward trajectory in a career path. It's alien to them. They do not understand it. Like, in the span of 5 years my wife and I have both had the worst jobs we've ever had (in terms of pay) and the best; not in any particular order mind you. We're temporarily upper middle class, but we were on foodstamps a couple years ago. It's not that we aren't doing well for ourselves, but there's zero security and predictability there. Why would we have more kids if we're not always even sure we can take care of the one we have? Yeah wages are low, but they're also inconsistent.

I mean, our family has decided to only have one kid for a couple of different reasons, but a huge HUGE factor is cost. When my son was little, 80% of my paycheck went to childcare, but we needed that other 20% to eat. So I worked 40 hours a week for the equivalent of like $3/hr We can (maybe, hopefully, fingers crossed, with some luck) provide a good life and education for one kid, but we certainly can't for two, not without banking on being a burden on them later in life. If our wages were at least to stay the same or slightly grow, we might've look at having a second kid (probably not, but those reasons wouldn't be economic), but there's absolutely no assurance of that; it's far more likely that our wages as a family will decrease instead of increase, and that's the same reality that most of my generation is facing.

I didn't realize this until I became a parent, but the entire US working system is stacked against you when you become a parent. Being a parent and being a worker are completely incompatible and diametrically opposed forces in our society. Before a kid gets into public school, the childcare cost is pretty bleeding, but you're like 'oh rad, perfect, only a few more years of this hot garbage' but then once the kid hits grade school you find out that public schools don't line up with working times at all, and because you bought a house in a neighborhood you could afford, there's only school-based after school care one day a week (WTF?). So if you work a 'regular' schedule, you can be forced into paying for before and after school care, which is little more than a few adults monitoring children for bloodshed, so super stressful for the kid. If your workplace would let you flex your hours so you pick my kid up from school OR drop him off at school and just eliminate one of those blocks of daycare it would be an instant raise (for me it would be a full 10%) at no cost to your employer (not to mention my commute would be drastically shorter, but whatever...). Instead, that money goes into a void, and by the time my whole family gets home in the evening, you have like an hour or two to spend together, hustling to try and feed everyone and hold everything together with spit and baling wire before the kid goes to bed; everyone's stressed, and pissed because it's always been a long day and now you need to figure out how to schedule family therapy.

Cool cool cool, seems like a great plan to have more kids, sign me up.
posted by furnace.heart at 12:48 PM on May 23 [35 favorites]


Yeah, I can work from home as needed, but as I'm reminded every time I take advantage of that, working from home is still working.

I work from home most Mondays. This week my wife was also home, but basically incapacitated by illness, and our daughter was "not feeling good" and nobody wanted to argue the point, so she also stayed home. I accomplished almost nothing. I have "worked" from home with my daughter a few times when she was younger, and it was even less productive, if that's possible.
posted by uncleozzy at 12:48 PM on May 23 [6 favorites]


Relative impecunity and living in your mom's basement never stopped anyone who really wanted to have babies from having those babies

This feels unkind, given people are sharing here how income precarity has stopped them from having more children. It feels like you’re saying they don’t really want them, which is far from accurate.
posted by corb at 12:56 PM on May 23 [16 favorites]


0xFCAF: If you go to 16 year olds and ask why they don't have babies, you'll get some aggressive talkings-to from their parents

Did you... did you do this?
posted by clawsoon at 12:58 PM on May 23 [11 favorites]


> Nobody has any fucking money. That shit is expensive.

My wife and I are getting by just fine (in part because we've been very fortunate in some regards). We live in Toronto, where being in the top 10% or so, household income-wise for Canada, as we apparently are, doesn't go as far as it might elsewhere. But, like I said, we're fine. However, if we had chosen to have kids we...well, we sure as shit wouldn't be saving much for retirement, I can say that. I have no idea how some of my peers can afford their houses and their children, and in some cases I can only assume that they're being kept afloat by their parents. Which is fine, but what happens society-wide when the Boomer money spigot runs dry?
posted by The Card Cheat at 1:01 PM on May 23 [5 favorites]


Another half-baked theory to add to the pile: The rural-to-urban movement of jobs and, following them, people.

People who live on farms have the most babies.

People who live in the suburbs have some babies.

People who live in the city have the least babies.

This might not be true.
posted by clawsoon at 1:07 PM on May 23 [3 favorites]


...they weren't talking about the care and maintenance of the kid, they were talking about the $20,000 hospital bill for going to the hospital to give birth. That's the part they couldn't afford.

I don't want to sound like I'm defending the ridiculous US health care system, which I despise. But: My wife and I had a child six years ago; the hospital billed us $25,000, but the insurance "adjusted" this to about $4,000, of which we paid only $700 ourselves. After we paid $700, the hospital sicced a bill-collecting lawyer on us to try to get us to pay it again.

That's a pretty typical American medical story. There is a gigantic price tag to talk about, but it has almost no connection to the financial impact on the patient. The actual financial impact is difficult to figure out ahead of time, and depends, even beyond the vagaries of human bodies, on one's specific policy and its morass of ever-changing rules. It feels like there's about one billing/accounting error for every two correct transactions. And one visit to the doctor can produce 2-3 separate bills, each from a different organization with a different mailing list, different contact information, etc., so errors are omnipresent.

Certainly, nothing about that story would inspire anyone to start a family. Plenty of families would have trouble coming up with the $700 we spent. But it's my understanding that hospital bills are settled for around 15% of "face value," on average. Although I can say "We had a baby and the hospital bill was $25K," I can't honestly say "We had a baby and it cost us $25K." I know perfectly well that there are true stories about medical bills hounding Americans into bankruptcy, but I suspect many more mundane "medical care is so expensive in the US" stories fail to make this important distinction. And no wonder: it's very confusing!
posted by Western Infidels at 1:07 PM on May 23 [5 favorites]


I think that the assumptions around having children have changed, at least as regards the number.

When I was a kid, multi-child families were the norm (2.5 kids and a dog, good Catholic families) and families with 4 or 5 children were not unusual.

These days, a slight majority of the people we know have only one child, with 2 kids a close second.
The family with 3 boys is an outlier and I'm not sure we know anyone with more than that (unless they are adopted or blended).

This probably has to with a mix of things, access to birth control, more women in the workforce, cost of child rearing.
In our particular social circle, age of the mother is a huge factor. Many of our friends were mid thirties when they had their first child, and if you've ever had an infant when you were 39, you probably aren't eager to repeat the experience.
posted by madajb at 1:09 PM on May 23 [3 favorites]


madajb: In our particular social circle, age of the mother is a huge factor. Many of our friends were mid thirties when they had their first child

One thing I learned from E.A. Wrigley is that this was a common cultural practise in medieval/early modern England and some other parts of Europe. When times were tight, the age of marriage, homeownership and childbearing all went up, and that was a major brake on population growth. Culture practises frowning on/punishing people who had babies before they owned a house or were married were part of this.
posted by clawsoon at 1:15 PM on May 23 [9 favorites]


I think in the past there was just some sort of certainty and quality of life you could plan for if you had a kid.

My dad is one of six and grew up in the 50s and 60s in a slowly dying mill town in western MA with a handyman and a maid for parents. There was a modest belief that things were gradually getting better, but it was by no means an easy or especially secure life.

If anything has changed, it's the level of expectation of stability, control, and well-being that postwar prosperity delivered (albeit unevenly, and in a racist way) to the working and middle classes. This is not the historical norm at all, though.
posted by ryanshepard at 1:15 PM on May 23 [6 favorites]


if you've ever had an infant when you were 39, you probably aren't eager to repeat the experience.


Can confirm. And not soon after we had our son people started asking whether we were going to have more. I was 40 by that time (but I look a good deal younger than I actually am) and I'd just look at people dead in the eye so they could see the full extent of my exhaustion and say, "I'm 40."
posted by soren_lorensen at 1:21 PM on May 23 [11 favorites]


The biggest generational divide in worldview between my parents generation and mine is that mine can't guarantee that our wages are going to go up consistently. Or that we're going to be employed consistently. Or that our housing situation isn't going to change rapidly in quick succession. My folks and my in-laws (both of wildly different worldviews themselves) still can't comprehend the lack of upward trajectory in a career path.

Some millennials were born to working-class parents who never had these assumptions, don't personally know anyone whose life course followed those assumptions, and are frankly pretty hostile to the idea that things get better for most people.

Middle-class children of working-class or poor Boomers are in an awkward situation because our parents not only don't understand our challenges but they also can't relate to (or might resent) our goals. These conversations are a lot easier to have when there's a shared assumption that you're aspiring to something close to the quality of life in which you were raised.
posted by blerghamot at 1:24 PM on May 23 [7 favorites]


I know a LOT of women in their thirties who are heartbroken that they never got to have children, but had their time wasted by trash jerkface men who “weren’t ready to settle down” or just because most men only want to date women of very specific body types, especially men in NYC, and finding the ones who aren’t like that can be like an extra full time job most women don’t have time for. You know, the women incels like to pretend don’t exist.

Also, check out how many dudes on AskMe are like “should I stay with my 29 year old girlfriend for the next six years even though I know she wants to have kids and I definitely don’t want them but I keep telling her I might change my mind??? I don't want to hurt her feelings and she makes me lunch sometimes so probably I should keep leading her on during her prime childbearing years right???”

My cohort also has a lot of people who chose grad school over kids or viable careers, only to realize too late that the trade probably wasn’t worth it.

My rich friends with rich parents all seem to have kids, so hey: at least the oligarchy is going to have heirs for their plunder.
posted by a fiendish thingy at 1:35 PM on May 23 [27 favorites]


My cohort also has a lot of people who chose grad school over kids or viable careers, only to realize too late that the trade probably wasn’t worth it.

I think we know all the same people. If you want kids/money/happiness, don't go to graduate school!
posted by Lutoslawski at 1:38 PM on May 23 [8 favorites]


When times were tight, the age of marriage, homeownership and childbearing all went up, and that was a major brake on population growth

Not to first childbirth in the mid-30s, though! I don't think that's achievable without actual scientific birth control.
posted by praemunire at 1:40 PM on May 23 [1 favorite]


Who cares about maintaining a healthy economy if they aren't reaping the rewards? Adding more people to upkeep the economy only benefits the Trump and up classes.
posted by WeekendJen at 1:48 PM on May 23 [4 favorites]


This is just spitballing here, and it's probably a very minimal effect if any, but I wonder if the increased tolerance of same-gender relationships and marriage equality has had an impact. Some proportion of gays and lesbians would have stayed in the closet and ended up in heterosexual marriages which may have included having children.

Yes, same-gender couples adopt kids, but... they're adopted, not made by the couple (turkey basters excepted). Recent legislation may make adoption more difficult, in any case.

The increased acceptance of transgender folks is probably more complicated, as many have children before they come out, but more young people are coming out and having surgeries/taking hormones that affect their ability to biologically reproduce.

Anyway, like I said, I think this is a very small effect, but I'd be interested in the numbers anyway.
posted by AFABulous at 1:51 PM on May 23 [7 favorites]


It doesn't seem to be *just* money to me, as many of the people I work with (including myself) are not having kids despite incomes that can easily afford them.

Some of it is career focus, some might be pessimism about the world, etc. But for myself at least I think its just that its no longer a required expectation? My wife and I are both in the "if my spouse _really_ wanted kids, I'd be OK with it" camp. But that means, of course, neither of us do. We don't get excited about the idea (or reality) of children [unlike how we react to almost literally any cat or dog, which generates immense excitement].

Even the discussion here seems to assume that having less kids is due to primarily negative factors? Insufficient childcare, climate change, etc. But isn't some of it just that its much more acceptable to (and you see far more portrayals of) not have kids? Lots of people don't really want kids --- and I think fewer are forcing themselves to have them than in the past. It seems to me that the historical rate may have been more a function of (a) pressure and (b) less access to birth control methods and/or knowledge.

[Now --- I do not mean there is no longer social pressure to have kids! Of course there is. But it certainly feels like _less_ than before. But this is probably subcultural --- more common in liberal urban areas than in the Bible Belt, for example]

I don't think that's achievable without actual scientific birth control.

Well, condoms can do this too, and they've been around for quite a while.
posted by thefoxgod at 2:06 PM on May 23 [4 favorites]


If I'm remembering Amartya Sen's multi-province comparative study of India correctly, the largest factors in lower birthrates were more education and jobs for women.

This may or may not be applicable to the U.S.
posted by clawsoon at 2:18 PM on May 23 [3 favorites]


Yeah, there’s still a ton of social pressure to have kids, but we’re in our 30s and our parents have mostly stopped putting insane pressure on us. Mostly. We’re still at the stage where people like to do the “well iffff you change your minnnnd... wink wink” thing, but I’ve been making a point of telling my family to knock it off and respect our decisions. At least my girlfriend no longer gets packages of multivitamins and books about childrearing in the mail. Girlfriend is an only child, and I feel terrible that her parents aren’t going to be grandparents, but this is our life too.

I don’t know if we’re able to say no because it’s a generational thing, or what. I’ve never wanted kids, so I don’t know if that’s just me, or what. The only argument in favor has been a worry that we’ll someday regret the decision, which isn’t exactly a slam-dunk. And the social pressure is still there. I certainly wish we knew more middle-aged and older couples like us who never had kids. Everyone we know above a certain age is either single, queer, or has kids. It would be nice to see what our future as a childless hetero couple could be like, given what the expectations still are. That seems to be changing, and it does seem like my generation is the one driving that.
posted by shapes that haunt the dusk at 2:18 PM on May 23


Population growth is linked to health of our economy the degradation of ecosystems.
posted by JoeXIII007 at 2:26 PM on May 23 [8 favorites]


Sorry, my last comment was much more about me than the FPP. Parents were just in town.

I did have an interesting conversation with my mom. One of the factors in our non-kids inclination is that the climate is changing and we don’t want to bring someone into this world. My mom said she knew a couple in the 70s who felt more or less the same way, although less about climate change and more about pollution. They never had kids. I wonder if that must have seemed totally out there at the time, like a crazy overreaction. It certainly seems much more reasonable nowadays, although maybe that’s just the circles I’m in.

What I’m really interested in is why I know so many people who hedge and say “yeah, I know it’s selfish not to want kids...” because that’s 100% a cultural thing. Even I feel kind of guilty about it. Why is that? That’s something I’d be curious to read more about.
posted by shapes that haunt the dusk at 2:34 PM on May 23


Having kids is the MOST selfish thing a person can do.

I think most people don't think their parents are selfish for having them. It's more like they think their parents' generation is selfish for, well, all the problems that they end up being saddled with. Some of which have already been mentioned in this topic, like climate change.

And of course the children will have the last word, because we'll all be gone by then.
posted by FJT at 2:37 PM on May 23


What I’m really interested in is why I know so many people who hedge and say “yeah, I know it’s selfish not to want kids...”

That is so interesting to me. I feel exactly the opposite. I want kids so bad! And I feel terrible for wanting them because it seems so selfish. But all the things people have pointed out - climate change, our nascent authoritarian state in the US, cost of childcare making it hard to provide them with a good quality of life - make me 2nd guess. I honestly wonder if I should just be committing my life to political activism rather than providing for my own happiness by raising a family.

My impression of the "I'm too selfish for kids" attitude was that people usually mean they think they are too selfish to make a good parent, not that not having kids is selfish but maybe that is just my read and no what they meant.
posted by Emmy Rae at 2:41 PM on May 23 [1 favorite]


I certainly wish we knew more middle-aged and older couples like us who never had kids.

I guess this is a big difference for me. Of the couples I know / am friends with around my age (so early 40's), the majority do not have kids (and are not really likely to, given the whole "early 40s" thing). I'd say about 25% have kids. Most of these are friends from my STEM university days, the rest from various tech jobs.

Of my friends from high school (Bible Belt suburbia), probably 95% have kids.
posted by thefoxgod at 2:44 PM on May 23 [4 favorites]


I really wish these conversations wouldn't devolve into whether it's selfish or not to have kids or not to have kids. We're all pretty much mostly selfish, whether we have kids or don't have kids. We all do things or don't do things for different reasons. Having a child is selfish in certain ways and unselfish in others. Not having kids is selfish in certain ways and unselfish in others. Trying to frame the whole thing into an "it's selfish" slogan is reductive and also manages to insult lots of people no matter where you land.
posted by vunder at 2:49 PM on May 23 [22 favorites]


Eh, it's a complicated moral question. I was an accident, so I think that choosing to raise me was an unselfish act by my parents. I grew up with a few kids who were struggling under the pressure to accomplish their parent's failed dreams, and that seems selfish. It's really circumstantial, just like anyone's reasons for doing anything. People didn't always get to choose to have kids, for most of human existence they came whether you wanted them or not. I feel like we're still grappling with the reality that we have a choice in the matter, and the "selfish" label comes out of that.
posted by domo at 2:54 PM on May 23 [2 favorites]


[Couple of comments deleted. Sorry, I'm gonna ask that we not open a discussion into whether living at all is selfish; it's just not a great place to take things from a mental-health standpoint.]
posted by LobsterMitten (staff) at 3:01 PM on May 23 [16 favorites]


Malaise! Economic anxiety is a significant factor in why my wife and I haven't had kid number 3. Not just cost of childcare, but because of the perceived instability of our financial future. Right now, on paper, we could afford a third. But what if another 2008-style recession hits? What if my industry collapses? What if we hit retirement age and discover that the social safety net is gone, and wouldn't it have been nice to have used that extra $18,000/year childcare money for retirement savings? I don't feel great about the future, especially given that we have a government led by people determined to steer into all the icebergs.
posted by qxntpqbbbqxl at 3:05 PM on May 23 [4 favorites]


I really wish these conversations wouldn't devolve into whether it's selfish or not to have kids or not to have kids.

I brought it up because i think the conversation itself is part of changing attitudes towards childrearing. I have zero interest in trying to prove that one thing is selfish and one thing isn’t, because it’s not an objective truth at all. What I’m interested in is where and why there’s this cultural expectation that my decision could be seen as selfish. I’m not looking to convince anyone, I just want to know what contributes to me sometimes feeling guilty for prioritizing lifestyle over reproduction, when I was never even interested in having kids in the first place. Constantly being told that your decision is selfish, or being allowed to think it isn’t, are cultural factors that can influence what you decide to do.
posted by shapes that haunt the dusk at 3:06 PM on May 23 [4 favorites]


I don't think it's selfish to have kids or to not have kids. American society has reached a point where individuals are generally free to choose whether or not they have kids. There are sensible reasons to have at least one kid, and sensible reasons not to.

As for why more people aren't having children, it doesn't need to be speculation. Are researchers not asking those people who have chosen not to have any kids how they came to that decision? I personally just don't want them. Never have. Briefly considered it and decided, nah. It's not for me. I do not wish to be a parent. Married someone who agrees.
posted by wondermouse at 3:07 PM on May 23 [1 favorite]


It would be nice to see what our future as a childless hetero couple could be like, given what the expectations still are.

If this helps...
I'm in my early 50's, never wanted kids and managed, somehow, to resist the pressure and scare tactics ("You'll wake one day and want a baby so bad and it will be too late!")so remained childfree. I'm in a very happy marriage of 8 years (been together 16). We freakin' Love our kid-free life and I've never once regretted not having children, nor has my husband. We have friends, travel, hobbies, careers AND we managed to pay all our student loan debt, though that took until I was 49. I didn't own a house until I was 40. I think that when I die, not having a kid despite the pressure to do so will be in the top 5 things in my life I'm most proud of.
posted by WalkerWestridge at 3:11 PM on May 23 [19 favorites]


My impression of the "I'm too selfish for kids" attitude was that people usually mean they think they are too selfish to make a good parent, not that not having kids is selfish but maybe that is just my read and no what they meant.

It's certainly not what I mean. I absolutely don't want kids, but I do know that I would be a great parent if I had kids. I also am well aware that parenting requires a great deal of sacrifice, and I choose not to put myself in the situation of having to make those sacrifices. That often feels selfish when I see what parents have to go through.

I have quite a few luxuries in my life, such as the following:
+ I can arrange my life to work well with my natural sleep cycle (and have done so). My work days generally start around noon and run pretty late. I love it, but this would not be sustainable with kids.
+ I can spend my disposable income on whatever I want. I don't have to spend money on diapers or childcare or anything like that. I have an income that is comfortable for just me, but it would be very tight with kids. This is a stress I don't have in my life.
+ Speaking of stress, keeping children alive and well is STRESSFUL. Maybe parents get used to it, but wow. I've done full time childcare stints of a week or two, and that's plenty for me.
+ Parts of parenting are extremely repetitive and tedious. For example, just *thinking* of having to prepare healthy food 3-5 times per day is exhausting.
+ Home is an oasis in which things just work the grownup way I want them to.
+ And many more...

That said, the fact that I don't have my own kids leaves me in better shape to deal with the kids I do have in my life (and probably makes me more generous in general). I work with students from 3rd grade through college, and I am well-rested and have a seemingly infinite amount of patience with them. Partly because I don't "spend" any of my patience at home. I can fund extra-curricular activities and help pay for other stuff my niece and nephew otherwise wouldn't have. I can be part of the village, with plenty of extra attention for kids around me.
posted by ktkt at 3:12 PM on May 23 [13 favorites]


Divorce rates are higher too.

I know this comment was a while ago, and kind of tangential to the discussion, but divorce rates (in the US) are lower than they have been in 40 years.
posted by Literaryhero at 3:47 PM on May 23 [4 favorites]


If I may comment seriously - I am a thirty-five year old woman who is considering having a baby. Even more than money, the biggest factor against parenting is time. I don’t want to (and can’t afford to) stop working. It’s very hard to imagine squeezing motherhood into 50-60 hour work weeks. Or squeezing 50-60 hours of work into motherhood. I am exhausted thinking about it.

That's kind of related to money, though, isn't it? I mean, when I was working 50-60 hour weeks, it was because pay was so lousy and expenses so high that I had to work every hour the day sent just to afford a living.
posted by The Underpants Monster at 3:47 PM on May 23 [4 favorites]


When I saw all of the articles about the birthrate report I thought immediately about this and this and of course the POTUS trashfire, and I just thought “who’s optimistic about bringing more children into the world right now?” It seemed pretty obvious to me, but after reading a bit it seems like reliable birth control and the incredible decline in teenage pregnancy are probably the crux of it. (And those are definitely positives!)

In the US we have dealt with the past several years of the decline in birthrate through immigration, but given the current state of the government I’m not optimistic immigration will offset the decline in the future. Japan and Russia are not really models for what I hope the US becomes in the future.

I do think the US will need to address the lack of a social safety net, expensive housing, inflexible jobs, and the expense of healthcare if this is an issue the government cares to address. Unfortunately, the current horrible people in power are more likely to try forced monogamy.

In my own social circle many gay couples have had their own children, most actually, and a lot of my friends also had kids after 40. Including some “surprises.” I might have had more kids if I had started younger, felt more financially secure (and I’m better off financially than most), didn’t worry about more of a career penalty (especially after all of these articles) or had any energy. Also, I’ve been ridiculously pessimistic since November 2016, and not so happy with men due to #metoo, so, maybe a lot is going on.
posted by Sockowocky at 4:06 PM on May 23 [1 favorite]


I think most people don't think their parents are selfish for having them.

There were only 4.1 billion humans on the planet when I was born in 1976, and there was far less information on Climate Change at the time. The discovery that we're in the midst of what appears to be a sixth extinction event and that human activity is the primary cause happened after I was born. Monoculture crops, battery farms, access to fresh water, pesticides killing off bees and other insects in astonishing numbers, and worries about nitrogen depletion of soil thanks to the synthetic fertilizers needed to feed us all are fairly new. Moore's Law and the increased efficiency that came with it, the rapid advances in automation of labor, and the increased cost of education to get the more advanced and specialized jobs of today weren't known. The rising costs of housing and health care would have been a surprise to them as well. I don't think they were selfish, but through no fault of their own, they were ignorant.
posted by Thoughtcrime at 4:29 PM on May 23 [9 favorites]


If this helps...

It does, thanks!
posted by shapes that haunt the dusk at 4:46 PM on May 23 [1 favorite]


One thing I learned from E.A. Wrigley is that this was a common cultural practise in medieval/early modern England and some other parts of Europe. When times were tight, the age of marriage, homeownership and childbearing all went up, and that was a major brake on population growth. Culture practises frowning on/punishing people who had babies before they owned a house or were married were part of this.

I learned this from Silvia Federici, who stressed women's struggles to control their fertility and the commonality's regulation of reproduction as political responses to economic conditions - in a way sort of like being on strike.

A couple of years ago - still in the Obama administration, actually - my dad said to me that he was glad I hadn't had kids because the world was going in too alarming a direction. This was a real volte face for him, because he's very much on the "being able to make sacrifices for your children is one, though not the only, of the primary ways of forming an adult character" train. Even though I've never wanted kids ever since I realized I didn't have to have any, it made me feel sad to hear him say that. I think the only time I've ever actually sort of vaguely wanted children was when I regretted that he wouldn't have grandkids, but I think I'd be a rotten parent.
posted by Frowner at 4:51 PM on May 23 [2 favorites]


The reality is that the 2 parent family with 2.2 kids and a dog living in a suburban single family detached home with 2 cars is probably going to be seen as a historical aberration. During most of the 20th century this was facilitated by the ability of single income families to pay for most of life's necessities. By the 70s dual income families became much more common and child care started to become a major requirement but based upon my experience growing up in those times parents could generally manage child care for multiple kids and with older children having them be latchkey kids weren't seen as incredibly risky. I suspect cheap labor in the child care industry during that time period also kept prices somewhat reasonable.

These days there seems to be a huge disparity between child care options. Many people seem to get by with the unlicensed provider in a family home but if you want licensed childcare particular in high cost of living urban areas options are limited.

At this point most of the people that I know that have 2 or more kids either have a stay at home parent, or they have a live in nanny (or nanny share) or they have a multigeneration home where grandparents handle a portion of the child care role. Obviously in all 3 of those cases you need to have either substantial financial resources or have made life choices that facilitate having multiple kids.
posted by vuron at 5:03 PM on May 23 [6 favorites]


Am I the only one finding some of the actual numbers not all that convincing? There's a lot of stats to consolidate but let's look at some:

* Birth rates falling since 2014. It's only 2018. The number linked in the first artist are from 2016. A whole 2-3 years?

* Birth rates lowest in 30 years: Ok, but it also looks like the VAST majority of that is lower birthrates for 15-19 year olds. Is the serious drop in teen pregnancy the main news here and the rest is modest?

* Only above 40s are higher: The birth rates by age of mother charts show that mothers above 40 are up since 1990, but so are both early 30s and late 30s. The late 20s are down very slightly, and then the early 20s are down just a bit more than than. So women are waiting longer, and probably the number over the lifetime may go down a little during that time. But again, the big news here is teenagers.

* The Netflix and chill thing? Is that a bit of flimsy nonsense? There's been TV for a long time.

I mean, I think it's all fine and good for us to talk and suppose about economic reasons and cultural decision making but the facts here show a pretty modest change other than the teenagers.
posted by vunder at 5:11 PM on May 23 [7 favorites]


Well, condoms can do this too, and they've been around for quite a while.

Er, such items were not available for routine and widespread use throughout premodern Western populations. (And condoms have a typical-use failure rate of 18%.)

Given that people do like to have them some sex, outside straight-up social collapse situations, genuinely effective birth control in the hands of women is a sine qua non for bringing the birth rate down significantly.
posted by praemunire at 5:55 PM on May 23 [3 favorites]


What I’m really interested in is why I know so many people who hedge and say “yeah, I know it’s selfish not to want kids...” because that’s 100% a cultural thing. Even I feel kind of guilty about it. Why is that? That’s something I’d be curious to read more about.

You do not fit in with humanity and society if you don't have kids. Period. Everyone had kids because they were inevitable, and even though now they're not, there's still that social construct and historical precedent and cultural expectation that Adults Have Kids, Its What They Do, You Are Not Adult Without Them.
posted by jenfullmoon at 6:50 PM on May 23 [3 favorites]


condoms have a typical-use failure rate of 18%

The gap between the correct-use rate of 98% and the typical-use rate of 82% effectiveness is pretty high, yeah. I've either been (a) using them very well, (b) very lucky, or (c) did not need them after all, given my own history...

In Japan, though, condoms are the primary birth control (80% of married couples rely on them for birth control, only 2% of women take the pill). They still manage a very low birth rate.
posted by thefoxgod at 6:51 PM on May 23


(Although abortion is comparatively un-stigmatized in Japan and has been legal since 1949, whereas the birth control pill only became legal in 1999, so condoms with abortion as a backup is really the reason for the success of family planning / birth control)
posted by thefoxgod at 6:55 PM on May 23 [2 favorites]


I think most people don't think their parents are selfish for having them.

"Selfish" may be a BIT of a strong word? But not UN-selfish.
posted by The Underpants Monster at 7:57 PM on May 23 [1 favorite]


I keep phrasing it to myself as “I wish it felt like a good idea to have kids. I wish it felt hopeful and exciting instead of terrifying and bleak.”

A lot of my feelings here are fallout from the experience of caregiving for a severely disabled family member. It made the lack of safety net in the US very, very real to me. Even with a good family network in that situation, it drained all of us. Marriages and family relationships took major hits; finances took even bigger hits, and everyone’s physical health went straight to hell, as did mental health. We all felt trapped all the time. I’m terrified that parenting might be like that. No matter how much I would love my child. We loved our ill family member, and although it might be hard to explain, I never resented or felt angry at that person at all. Yet the situation itself was crushing. There was no solution other than everyone working themselves into total exhaustion just to keep things somewhat patched together. Not unless we all somehow tripled our salaries; then we might have been able to afford to hire help.

Seems like most of my friends who are loving having kids are the ones who were born rich or married rich and can afford to stay home and/or hire a nanny. Or they have multiple grandparents, aunts, uncles, etc. nearby, plus happen to work at a job that offers gold-plated health insurance, on-site childcare, and loads of time off. I get 15 days of PTO a year, live 1400 miles from family, and my insurance is OK at best. The resources just aren’t there.

I’m getting too old now anyway. I’m grieving that that life just doesn’t look like it can ever happen. I wish it could have. I wish I felt safer and more hopeful, enough to take that kind of leap.
posted by snowmentality at 8:54 PM on May 23 [17 favorites]


As a childless middle aged type observing my (upper middle class) friends & colleagues, I think the demands parents put on themselves (and have put on them) are *way* higher than when I was growing up. Unremarkable things I was doing have literally gotten protective services involved.

Some of this is a vicious cycle--if no other eight year olds are biking to school on their own, not only is it more frowned upon but it's objectively more dangerous since there are dozens of SUVs competing with the kid on the tiny bike around the school entrance. If all the other kids have formal after school activities and tutoring to get a college spot it's not easy to opt out. But still I have trouble imagining anyone managing five kids, as my parents did, giving the "expected" amount of supervision and activities without a nanny. It's more time consuming and more expensive now.

I don't think a lower population is a bad thing but it shouldn't be caused by bleeding parents dry.
posted by mark k at 10:10 PM on May 23 [8 favorites]


my 2 cents; until we drop below 1 live birth per four adults, we should be doing what we can, particularly in the high consumption developed world to reduce unwanted births and to eliminate pressures and incentives to have children. We should provide social infrastructure to support those who become parents (child care, medicine, work leave etc) and we should plan on having an elderly population cared for by paid professionals not coerced relatives. i'd like to add my voice to those saying that in a world where per capita arable land is declining, and climate change threatens our food security, we should not be debating what is or isn't "selfish" we should be determining what is or isn't sustainable. We are devouring the planet and it is not a morally neutral choice as to whether we add another mouth. Our urge to procreate is natural and good, we can use it to bring joy to others and ourselves, we can foster or adopt, work or volunteer in child care for friends and our communities, we can support those who have children.
posted by Anchorite_of_Palgrave at 12:14 AM on May 24 [7 favorites]


When I was little, it seemed like everyone was talking about Zero Population Growth. Even the lay leaders of our Baptist church were fans. It really seemed to me at the time like something everybody was going to just gradually accept, like unleaded gasoline, beer can tabs that didn't pull off, and plastic grocery bags. And then I just stopped hearing about it. Sometime during the Reagan years, I'm pretty sure.
posted by The Underpants Monster at 12:40 AM on May 24 [3 favorites]


Compulsory mass sterilization programs, which often had gotten their start in eugenics projects earlier in the last century and hence unsurprisingly had difficulty breaking the habit of most heavily targeting marginalized "undesirable" populations, didn't do much to help the good name of the ZPG cause.
posted by XMLicious at 1:30 AM on May 24 [5 favorites]


Yikes!
posted by The Underpants Monster at 1:37 AM on May 24


Maybe, like, women throughout history didn't actually want to have so many babies but were forced to by various circumstances? And now that women finally have some reproductive choice and personal autonomy for the first time, they are choosing not to have so many babies? Like maybe most of history is what was actually aberrant, and what's happening now is normal?

Crazy.
posted by supercrayon at 1:40 AM on May 24 [21 favorites]


But a nontrivial proportion of these teens would have been mothers if it weren't for more widely-available effective contraception or better choices around sex.

This also applies to non-teens - some proportion of women who are 25 don't have babies because they're using a more foolproof contraceptive method and would, counterfactually, have kept an accidental pregnancy.


After many family discussions and comparing of notes, my first cousins and I came to the realization that every single one of us was concieved and born as a result of contraceptive failure. Including the one set of five siblings and the other set of four.
posted by The Underpants Monster at 1:44 AM on May 24 [4 favorites]


Couple of notes on mass sterilizations in the U.S.: it appears to have been far less frequent than in my above first link about the Indian Emergency but we did have a SCOTUS ruling in the 1930s that established involuntary sterilization as constitutional, which according to Wikipedia has never been explicitly overturned.

There was a recent documentary No Más Bebés (No More Babies) about Mexican immigrant mothers who were sterilized while giving birth at Los Angeles County-USC Medical Center during the late 60s and 70s and the consequent unsuccessful Madrigal v. Quilligan class-action lawsuit.
posted by XMLicious at 1:57 AM on May 24 [1 favorite]


This feels unkind, given people are sharing here how income precarity has stopped them from having more children.

Yeah, I'm overstating the case with the easy "never stopped anyone" language. More carefully, I would say that of course everyone's case is different, and of course some people who truly want babies are stopped only by real financial considerations, but other considerations also come into play, such as the relative lack of social pressure now. It takes a lot less financial pressure now to make someone decide they aren't going to have kids. Generally. YMMV. Patent pending.
posted by pracowity at 1:59 AM on May 24 [1 favorite]


For me, the change seems to be cultural. While not American (Australian, born 1967) it never occurred to me not to have children. Of course I love my (now adult) children and recognise what having them has brought to my life, but I was expected to have kids, my mother very much wanted grandchildren. As each of my children have passed the age I was when I had them, I have thought "wow, at your age, I had made the decision (a poor one, it turns out) as to my life partner, and I was stuck in the responsibilities of being a parent in my early 20s, missing out on both career and travel opportunities." But I had never considered anything else. Now, one of my kid's is fulfilling her (our) intellectual and creative potential, on track to be awarded her PhD before turning 26, with experience in running an artists' co-operative and working at relatively-high levels in government run art galleries. She's applied for and been awarded grants close to 100k. My other kid is one of the new demographic of failure-to-launch gameplaying non-income earning, parental basement-dwelling (not me, anymore) young disenfranchised men (but with a leftist/feminist bent). Neither of those were options when I was young. I NEVER harass them about producing children because I don't want to be free daycare, because I don't really like interacting with very young people, because it's none of my business, because they can follow their goals more easily without kids, because they should be in a long-term stable relationship because they procreate, because if they don't feel driven to have kids - why should they? And yet, at the time I fell pregnant (unplanned) with the first baby, the ex and I assumed it was a biological drive, we said it at the time. I like that now people choose whether to have children and when, and it's no longer a socially-expected stage.
posted by b33j at 3:14 AM on May 24 [5 favorites]


Another Australian - 6 children. Age range 13 to 26. All have been given to understand that I want at least another 5 years before I come into contact with another nappy/diaper to change - a decade and a half break seems only fair to me.

I am an only child (parents split up more than half a century ago) as is my cousin (parents married for more than half a century). He asked his parents how come he was an only child, "we did not DARE to have any children after you were born; you were so demanding."

Which is why I had more children. They were demanding, but nothing I could not handle. I had my own business, so I hired staff who were comfortable with a baby in a pram in the reception area. I had clients who loved being able to bring two or three children with them when they came to see me - no need for a babysitter, she has children, puzzles and a changing table!

A few years ago, I was talking to other FEMALE professionals with children and they all complained about how hard it was during school holidays - what to arrange for the children, etc. I said, "I LOVE the holidays - no lunches to get ready; no books to pack; no homework! I head to the office early and don't have to worry that someone has not left the house and when they are hungry, the children meet me at the office and I can take them to lunch or come home and we cook together." They were employed - I was the boss. So the business did not make huge profits, but it paid our wages, covered its costs and paid for the occasional lunch.

The moral of the story: If you are independent, financially and professionally, as a female, you will be able to consider having more children. If you can not carve out your own niche, others will set limits to your expectations.
posted by Barbara Spitzer at 4:29 AM on May 24 [5 favorites]


This is just spitballing here, and it's probably a very minimal effect if any, but I wonder if the increased tolerance of same-gender relationships and marriage equality has had an impact. Some proportion of gays and lesbians would have stayed in the closet and ended up in heterosexual marriages which may have included having children.

Are you kidding? Prior to meeting my partner, I spent the last several years trying to meet women I could date and encountering tons and tons of queer women who had or desperately wanted kids, which was a dealbreaker for me. Plenty of the women I've encountered were bi and had kids with a male partner, but tons of lesbians also wanted kids, or had been desperately trying to prove that they weren't queer when they were younger and ended up pregnant for it. Lots of lesbians use sperm banks or quietly ask a male friend (often a partner's brother, if she has a brother). It's not even a safe space to dislike children.
posted by bile and syntax at 5:45 AM on May 24 [3 favorites]


I've never wanted kids, but even if I had, it wouldn't have been possible. I spent the first five years after law school not able to afford an apartment with a bedroom. Hell, for the first two I couldn't have both a cat and my medication, so I didn't have a cat. I spend most of my money on student loans and medical bills, because I also have rheumatoid arthritis (and would not want to pass it along). I have no idea how people afford babies, and I am a fully-employed attorney.

Also, see the emotional labor thread from a few years back and read about all the women on there whose partners don't throw in on childcare at home even when having a kid is technically affordable. It's some appalling business.
posted by bile and syntax at 5:50 AM on May 24 [3 favorites]


(and would not want to pass it along)

This has been significant for me, too. Even before I knew that my medical conditions made it impossible for me to have children, I knew I would never risk passing them along to some innocent kid. It has been a real struggle to keep from blaming my mother for choosing differently. She doesn't have as many autoimmune conditions as I do, but with our family's history and her own, she knew the odds were against having healthy children. And her own health was affected by each subsequent pregnancy and childbirth. When I found out it had been suggested that she terminate her last pregnancy instead of having me, my deep-down honest reaction was, "Yeah, that probably would have been best for everybody." But in the end, it always comes back to the fact that it was her call to make, whether I'd do the same or not.
posted by The Underpants Monster at 6:45 AM on May 24 [1 favorite]


To be fair, my folks didn’t have autoimmune disease (I’m a freak in that regard) but they sure had plenty of mental health dysfunction that they didn’t hesitate to pass on. I know that for me having grown up in a dysfunctional environment has made me aware that I have no idea what functional parenting looks like. People I know who grew up in the same kinds of spaces either have the same concerns, or are really sure it’s going to be just fine. I have no idea if this has any impact on birthrates.

I’d say it was a factor for me in choosing against having kids, but that’s mostly because I’m so used to having to justify it to people that I automatically think about the reasons it’s not practical, but the fact is - I don’t want kids, and I wish that were enough for other people to accept.
posted by bile and syntax at 6:57 AM on May 24 [6 favorites]


I'm late to the thread, but yeah this doesn't seem like a mystery to me. My wife and I are college educated and have worked white collar jobs. However, neither of us works in a high paying STEM field, so we couldn't afford to have a child until our mid 30s, which included moving from Seattle to lower cost of living Atlanta. Add in a few lost years to miscarriages and diagnosing a blood clotting disorder that was the cause of said miscarriages, and our son wasn't born until my wife was almost 39 years old.

We had the chat about whether to have another child when my son was around 9 months old, and we agreed that financially, we didn't want to incur the extra costs. Also, the risk factors for pregnancies for women over 40 influenced the decision.

Of our friends who have children, most have had them later in their 30s, and many have only 1 or 2. For most of us, it's financial. Health insurance is my single largest monthly cost. Daycare was also hugely expensive, although fortunately my son is now in public kindergarten. Summer care fortunately isn't an issue right now because my wife recently lost her job. We are ok, but money is tight on my single income. If she manages to get a job again, we'll be back to summer child care being an issue.

Which is a long way of saying what Artw said at the beginning of this thread: "Nobody has any fucking money. That shit is expensive."
posted by Fleebnork at 7:10 AM on May 24 [5 favorites]


This idea of maybe not having kids because of health issues reminds me of this Dear Prudie, in which THE OUTRAGE that a guy might not be 100% down about having kids with someone with addiction issues. Uh...you can't see why he might be concerned, at least?
posted by jenfullmoon at 7:38 AM on May 24 [5 favorites]


However, neither of us works in a high paying STEM field, so we couldn't afford to have a child until our mid 30s

Both of us work in STEM, but in academia, so we only managed to find jobs in the same city/country/continent in the last year. I know people who have had children in multicontinent relationships but I was definitely not up for that.


As a woman in her late thirties who has never been pregnant, I was concerned there would be judgment when I went to get my IUD replaced last year. There was none.

So, yeah, everything from effective birth control, change in societal judgment, career, and job finding challenges have combined to explain why I don’t have kids.

Although I feel like there is still plenty of societal judgment/expectation; otherwise everyone would instead be asking “why DID you have kids” to those that do (thanks to those posters here who have answered that very question).
posted by nat at 8:28 AM on May 24


Which is fine, but what happens society-wide when the Boomer money spigot runs dry?

I don't think it will- the ones with money will die and leave the leftovers to their kids, continuing the cycle.
posted by ThePinkSuperhero at 9:38 AM on May 24


I have typed and erased a bunch of stuff but really what it comes down to for me is that children are yet another thing women are expected to provide for free out of the goodness of our hearts "to keep the economy/society/nation/whatever" going. And I hope there is someday a day where a big enough quorum of women is able to say "The nation can give us subsidized childcare and parental leave and equal pay and a decent path to college or the nation can go fuck itself and never mention the sadface birth rate again"

*not this particular FPP, just the general timbre of this genre of "I guess government support might help but that would be welfare! Why don't women just WANT to make babies?"
posted by nakedmolerats at 11:22 AM on May 24 [33 favorites]


"Having kids is the MOST selfish thing a person can do. You're literally making a miniature copy of yourself. Who is benefiting from the single most carbon intensive thing you can do? Hint: It's not the rest of the planet."

HARD wrong. Having a child is literally the closest thing to an objective "point of life" I can think of. Everything in earth life's history revolves around survival and reproduction. Humans also do not produce clones of themselves, they reproduce sexually and offspring are a combination of genes from parents. The most selfish thing a person can do is never have children, never contribute the greater well being of their species or family, and leaving the world with less available resources than before. The earth is just a wet rock in a universe of infinity wet rocks, the only worthwhile thing about Earth are the lifeforms. There's a big mass extinction event going on right now that's very scary but also routine, it's a thing that happens here for many different reasons over the eons.
posted by GoblinHoney at 11:54 AM on May 24


The most selfish thing a person can do is never have children

oops you're 100% wrong, the most selfish thing a person can do is judge the reproductive choices of others, bye
posted by poffin boffin at 11:58 AM on May 24 [35 favorites]


The most selfish thing a person can do is never have children, never contribute the greater well being of their species or family, and leaving the world with less available resources than before.

Huh? How is creating more resource-suckers, who create more resource-suckers, lather, rinse, repeat, less resource-sucking than not doing that, and how could all that additional resource-sucking possibly be construed as helpful to the species? Yeesh.

Also, adoption is a thing. Gonadal narcissism helps no one.
posted by Sys Rq at 12:04 PM on May 24 [10 favorites]


Anyone else notice a large proportion of the kids people are having recently are girls?

My wife and I had three boys and a girl, but all three of my grandkids are girls, so yeah maybe something to that.
posted by e1c at 12:06 PM on May 24


This idea of maybe not having kids because of health issues reminds me of this Dear Prudie, in which THE OUTRAGE that a guy might not be 100% down about having kids with someone with addiction issues. Uh...you can't see why he might be concerned, at least?

That’s because having children is supposed to be like falling in love. You’re not supposed to make rational calculated decisions you’re supposed to be swept away by emotion and not, you know, think about practcal stuff. Which is why so many marriages are successful and why people never regret having children.
posted by supercrayon at 12:14 PM on May 24 [8 favorites]


Or not.

Griphus, my friend group has had 16 kids over the past five years; 12 boys, 4 girls. I wonder what large population surveys say.

Probably 50/50.
posted by e1c at 12:14 PM on May 24 [3 favorites]


The most selfish thing a person can do is never have children, never contribute the greater well being of their species or family, and leaving the world with less available resources than before.

Besides how hateful this is towards your fellow Mefites who don't have kids, it's simply wrong - but I am impressed that you came up with the idea that you can't contribute to the greater well being of humanity or family without having kids, which...makes absolutely zero sense.
posted by agregoli at 12:46 PM on May 24 [18 favorites]


There's a big mass extinction event going on right now that's very scary but also routine, it's a thing that happens here for many different reasons over the eons.

(The mass extinction we are in is also far from routine - humans caused it. It will destroy all of humanity, and likely all or most of the life currently on the Earth. Things are going to get very desperate and sad over the next few hundred years, and it's not at all insane to think about your potential future offspring and their offspring's go of it during that time.)
posted by agregoli at 12:54 PM on May 24 [9 favorites]


the idea that more children will somehow CREATE more resources instead of consuming more resources is also hilariously foolish unless the modest proposal is to eat these children.
posted by poffin boffin at 1:00 PM on May 24 [20 favorites]


All these people talking about most selfish this and most selfish that clearly have never known the heartbreak of discovering that someone took the last Cherry Dr. Pepper from the fridge.
posted by Alvy Ampersand at 1:03 PM on May 24 [6 favorites]


I was thinking mass-murder, but yours is good too.
posted by Holy Zarquon's Singing Fish at 1:04 PM on May 24 [3 favorites]


poffin boffin: the idea that more children will somehow CREATE more resources instead of consuming more resources is also hilariously foolish unless the modest proposal is to eat these children.

I see that you're from the Department of Human Resources.
posted by clawsoon at 1:28 PM on May 24 [5 favorites]


All these people talking about most selfish this and most selfish that clearly have never known the heartbreak of discovering that someone took the last Cherry Dr. Pepper from the fridge.

Oh fuck. Growing up I was the very cause of this heartbreak. Now I have my own kid - I will have my heart broken.
posted by supercrayon at 2:29 PM on May 24 [2 favorites]


Probably 50/50.

Those are also the odds that the kid is named Liam or Emma.
posted by pracowity at 2:49 PM on May 24 [3 favorites]


All these people talking about most selfish this and most selfish that clearly have never known the heartbreak of discovering that someone took the last Cherry Dr. Pepper from the fridge.

I pose no threat to you whatsoever in this regard.
posted by y2karl at 4:43 PM on May 24


The most selfish thing a person can do is never have children, never contribute the greater well being of their species or family, and leaving the world with less available resources than before.

This reads like the bitterness of the parent of a small child on hearing about how I have time to read for pleasure or do other things I like. Usually what follows is "Oh, the baby likes you! Don't you like them? don't you want one of your own?" and a whole lot of not very subtle homophobia and ableism.
posted by bile and syntax at 4:49 PM on May 24 [5 favorites]


The choice to reproduce or not (and by golly, that it should be a choice should be enshrined in law, supported by culture and technology) to have children is both extremely personal and extremely public. Public in that new children compete with all existing humans and animals for all the physical stuff it needs and wants... it reduces humanities per-capita share, and for all finite/zero-sum cultural/legal/political things it likewise. Survival and reproduction are what shape life, our success in surviving now depends on our succes in reducing reproduction (and reducing consumption, and pollution and inequality, and poverty).

Also, award for most selfish goes to bitcoin, literally wasting all improvements in sustainable energy so you can have a windfall by instantiating digital, invisible, faberge eggs. They should eat the death nut.
posted by Anchorite_of_Palgrave at 5:36 PM on May 24 [3 favorites]


As vunder notes above, based on Figure 2 in the CDC report, by far the biggest change since 2008 is in the 15-19 year olds, with the second steepest decline in the 20-24 year olds. Both had been steadily declining since 1990 as people generally have kids at older ages, but what's odd is the sudden fall after the economic downturn for the teenagers.

If you look here you can see that fertility and discretionary income track each other pretty well, and if you look at the third figure here you can see that discretionary income as a percentage of total income has gone from something like 20% to 15% since the 80s, a pretty steep decline in the actual money people have to spend on luxury goods like children.

But while those latter two charts tell a pretty tidy economic story that echoes what everyone here has been saying, it's still odd that this economic downturn effect seems to be strongest with the youngest women. Why would teen pregnancy be hit by the economic crisis so disproportionately? On the one hand, we do have to be careful with Figure 2 in the CDC report, since it's on a log scale. It may be that the total decline in fertility is actually being driven mainly by the 20-24 and 25-29 groups, since even though their slopes are less steep than for the teens, the actual total number of births due to these age groups is much higher. But even if the aggregate story is being driven by everyone under 30 suddenly finding themselves too poor to procreate until they pass 30, it's still a bit odd how the great recession affects the youngest the most, if indeed that is what happened.
posted by chortly at 9:34 PM on May 24 [1 favorite]


The most selfish thing a person can do is never have children, never contribute the greater well being of their species or family, and leaving the world with less available resources than before

I think - oh man, it’s complicated.

I do think that people who never are willing to take responsibility for someone else in their life, to put their well being before their own, /are/ kind of selfish, by virtue of they just haven’t had the opportunity not to be. Caring only about yourself is the definition of selfish.

But also, there are So. Many. Ways. that you can do selfless things. You can have babies, sure, that’s like the fastest and easiest accidental cheat sheet to selflessness. But you can also care for an aging relative, hide a refugee from ICE, go house the homeless, or make your partner the best and most loving family they could ever have even if it drives you up the wall. There are so many ways to love someone else more than yourself. So many. The world is full of opportunities for love. We can grab them with both hands always.

So yeah, people without kids can be selfish, just like people who have kids but won’t sacrifice for them can be selfish, just like anyone can be selfish. But I’m not going to judge them until I see what else they do with their beautiful precious lives.
posted by corb at 11:41 PM on May 24 [3 favorites]


Clamming up is the most shellfish thing a person can do.
posted by pracowity at 1:34 AM on May 25 [6 favorites]


I must Conchientiously object to that.
posted by y2karl at 3:07 AM on May 25 [7 favorites]


There's been a generational shift in my large extended family, which is still mostly conservative, rural, and religious. In the 90s, we were definitely scared of the stigma of a teen pregnancy, but our parents weren't about to provide birth control, since that would be worse (in their eyes) than keeping and raising an accidental baby.

My siblings and cousins who now have teenage kids are still pushing abstinence for religious reasons, but they are willing to provide hormonal birth control and condoms, because they see that as better than bringing about a baby no one is prepared to afford.
posted by Former Congressional Representative Lenny Lemming at 8:40 AM on May 25


My daughter and her partner were on the fence about kids until 45 was installed. Then it became a hard no.

I understand and support them, but they would have been amazing parents. Fuck everything about that not being a freely made choice.
posted by Space Kitty at 10:04 AM on May 25 [1 favorite]


Probably 50/50.

Those are also the odds that the kid is named Liam or Emma.


I just got a mental image of a trendy restaurant, circa 2040, with rest room doors marked "LIAMS" and "EMMAS."
posted by The Underpants Monster at 6:19 PM on May 25 [2 favorites]


I am so grateful that 2/3 of my aunts and uncles never had kids (and the one uncle who did, had his daughter when he was 50 and I was 20, so growing up it was all of 3 of my aunts and uncles who were childless). They've all taken really different routes in life, from the career-focused expert to the freewheeling vegan musician, and they all seem pretty damn satisfied with that. It is so awesome for kids like me to grow up with so many different role models and absorb many different ideas of what adulthood can look like. I hope the next generation gets that view more often and that they benefit from it as much as I did.
posted by mosst at 9:40 AM on May 30 [2 favorites]


At the same time, since the last thread about how isolated parents can feel - as a childless young adult who quite likes kids and has a reasonable amount of free time, I often think about how few kids there are in my day-to-day life, and how much I'd love to have a more intergenerational community where I could be a part of a kid's village/support network/life, in a casual way. But I don't really know how to do that. My friends don't have kids, I don't know any of the families in my area, and big volunteer commitments like big brothers big sisters seem a little too daunting. I've literally considered pursuing paid babysitting just for the fun of it. I know I could do more to support families, and I want to, but finding the opening is tough!
posted by mosst at 9:47 AM on May 30


The most selfish thing a person can do is never have children

I rather think it'd be more selfish to assume one's personal experience applies to every other person and that one's perspective is somehow a universal truth, but that's just me.
posted by eustacescrubb at 12:10 PM on May 30 [6 favorites]




Of course people should be free to go childless. But they should also be free to raise as many kids as they choose. (from the above article)

I feel like this privileges one reason Americans don't have as many children as they might like (money) at the expense of all the other ones. I have several friends who are in their mid-thirties and are currently single and contemplating single motherhood. I have other friends with fertility problems. I know a number of people who wouldn't have children due to genetic issues.

Fundamentally, the right to have as many children as you might like (but no more) has never existed in any meaningful sense. Until recently, birth control was extremely unreliable. These days, the right combination of factors that people feel are needed to raise children -- financial well-being, a stable relationship, etc. -- may not exist. But I feel like that doesn't necessarily represent coercion. In part, it represents the ways in which the ability to choose whether or not to have children has raised the threshold for what people see as respectable parenting.
posted by steady-state strawberry at 8:35 PM on May 31 [1 favorite]


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