The pandemic is breaking women
January 27, 2021 12:43 PM   Subscribe

(Source link: Men Yell at Me) Women, America’s only real social safety net, have broken. A declining birth rate in conjunction with the devastating loss of life with a pandemic will further erode America’s social safety net. After all, who is going to pay into Social Security if we don’t have a tax base? But it’s exactly that lack of a social safety net that means women do not want to have children.

Let me spell it out for you clearly. The gender pay gap is real. And it’s worse for women of color. Women who take time off from work for children find themselves at even more of a loss of income. America also has the worst maternal mortality rate among developed nations because of deep institutional bias and a lack of standardized protocols. And this was before the pandemic. Now, with no schools, no daycare, no social support, and probably no job, since this recession is hurting women specifically, plus all of this stress and living in a house with a partner who statistically isn’t doing his share of the housework or Zoom school, now women are supposed to just suddenly feel in the mood to have babies because America’s tax base is eroding? Go to hell.
posted by Bella Donna (31 comments total) 60 users marked this as a favorite
Yes I was very confused by NYT reporting on the rising demand for sperm donations and particularly quotes like this, “ Michelle Ottey, director of operations at Fairfax Cryobank, another large sperm bank, said demand was up for access to its catalog for online sperm shopping because “people are seeing that there is the possibility of more flexibility in their lives and work.””

I assume it’s super wealthy people who see this time period as introducing “more flexibility.” Still, my partner and I are financially stable and would probably be considered wealthy. We have a child. This time period has made it clear to both of us that we cannot count on public systems to help us. We literally don’t know if there will BE public school for our child’s whole life. So yeah, count me out on a second child right now and possible forever as I am aging out of child bearing years.
posted by CMcG at 12:54 PM on January 27 [13 favorites]

I feel you, CMcG. It turns out, as someone who lives in Sweden, that only some of the public systems here can be counted on and only some of the time. Still looks like paradise compared to the US but that doesn't make it good.

BTW, I encourage folks to go ahead and read the essay if y'all have time. It is not that long. Moreover, it is well-written, well-sourced, and validating–if depressing–reading. I subscribe to the non-paid version of Men Yell at Me. Dunno who Lyz is, exactly, but I appreciate her work.
posted by Bella Donna at 1:01 PM on January 27 [6 favorites]

I would guess that demand for sperm donations are up because there are people who have spent the last year alone in their apartment who would like to be parents but realize that the likelihood of meeting a partner with whom to have children In These Times is slim to none.

This was good. It resonates!
posted by ChuraChura at 1:13 PM on January 27 [8 favorites]

"...about as sexy as a bed of nails, and each nail has been personally sneezed on by Mitch McConnell" is now one of my short duration personal favorite quotes.
posted by Drastic at 1:15 PM on January 27 [37 favorites]

I’m bracing for a performance review coming where my boss is going to suggest I quit managing my team... because he expects me to function during a pandemic as though I don’t have children (toddler and kindergarten — online!!) OR as though I have a full time wife like he does. Corporate America can suck it.
posted by St. Peepsburg at 1:16 PM on January 27 [28 favorites]

From the NBCLX article linked to:

Confounding experts, the pandemic plunge in birth rates actually began shortly after social distancing restrictions went into place, even though those babies would have been conceived in 2019.

I don't know who these "experts" are, but this kind of sentiment seems to me to be a different manifestation of the sort of anxiety expressed by people who a) don't want to pay taxes but b) are worried about the potential collapse of their civilization (money quote: "Even financiers who supported Trump for President, hoping that he would cut taxes and regulations, have been unnerved at the ways his insurgent campaign seems to have hastened a collapse of respect for established institutions").
posted by The Card Cheat at 1:23 PM on January 27 [14 favorites]

Well, I think there definitely a silver lining to this cloud...
posted by WalkerWestridge at 1:29 PM on January 27 [1 favorite]

Dunno who Lyz is, exactly, but I appreciate her work.

It's Lyz Lenz, known for writing about being homeschooled, politics, feminism, religious leftism, etc. You can find her Twitter here and her personal website here
posted by JauntyFedora at 1:41 PM on January 27 [10 favorites]

I've touched on this before but for me personally (not a woman, but y'know, one-half of the baby-making calculus) -- if you have been paying attention to what the climate science and the political reaction to it has been for the last 20-30 years, there's definitely an argument to be made that having children is potentially cruel. Add to that the possibility of the collapse of society in other ways (politically, economically) I can certainly see how one might decide that the cons vastly outweigh the pros.
posted by axiom at 1:41 PM on January 27 [40 favorites]

Thanks for posting this! I subscribe to a lot of newsletters but Men Yell At Me is one of the few that I always read and always read as soon as it shows up in my inbox. Lyz Lenz is brilliant and hilarious and very relatable.
posted by everybody had matching towels at 1:52 PM on January 27 [5 favorites]

Even if I wanted to have a child (and I don't), I'd be taking a cold, hard look at the financial, socioeconomic, geopolitical, etc realities and deciding it's just not feasible. Barely any parental leave, if any at all, incredibly expensive childcare, expensive healthcare plus a disquietingly high maternal mortality rate, zero guarantee of government or social support in terms of schooling etc...and all that on top of one's ambient anxiety about their kid dying or whatever? No thanks.

Frankly, I feel pissed off at the slightest suggestion that women "should" be having children, or questions about why a woman doesn't have/isn't trying to have a child. American society as currently structured feels pretty damn hostile to having a child, unless you're wealthy or have a big enough support network to make up for not being wealthy.
posted by yasaman at 1:59 PM on January 27 [44 favorites]

Oh, this is me! I am a mom of one and refuse to have any more children. I am lucky to be in a stable marriage and have a good household income. Prior to child, I had a good full time job with benefits and maternity leave. Hell, I even worked for nonprofits that help pass the maternity leave act in NYC. Even with all of that, I never kidded myself that I had no one else to rely on but myself if something goes wrong. I went to an all women's college back in the time when we were taught women could have it all. I called them on their bullshit in my sophomore year. Graduated and married well and deliberately went into a family/women-friendly career so I wouldn't have to stress out too much. I followed the 1950s playbook but with an addition of holding on to my job by downgrading to a part-time job with benefits working from home after having a kid so I still have my foot in the job door. This all because I know shit happens: my spouse can die, divorce me, abandon me so I have to take care of myself and my son. I would not feel comfortable adding another kid to that equation especially with this government. A woman has to plan like 10-20 years in advance. Looking at Sweden, Denmark or other countries with wonderful family policies, I imagine I probably would have had more children.
posted by ichimunki at 2:12 PM on January 27 [17 favorites]

Looking at Sweden, Denmark or other countries with wonderful family policies, I imagine I probably would have had more children.

The birth rate in the Nordic countries is low, and probably falling. That's much like the rest of the world: high birth rates are associated with violence, high mortality, and insecurity; also with contraception - the big falls in most countries' birth rate came in the 1960s and 1970s.

There is a very real problem in that many countries have a rapidly aging population, with a diminishing number of people prepared to support and take care of them. This would be a lot more manageable if the decline were slower, but any population support will have to come from immigration: I don't think any country has been able to use non-totalitarian social policies to increase their birth rate. Consequently, I expect we'll see huge demographic shifts once countries get over their national fragility and start seeing migration as a win-win outcome.
posted by Joe in Australia at 3:10 PM on January 27 [8 favorites]

I don't think any country has been able to use non-totalitarian social policies to increase their birth rate.

Reason number five million why the GOP must be destroyed as it presently exists; I am quite sure that elements in their organization have been thinking fairly seriously about going all-in on the totalitarian solutions for this
posted by aramaic at 3:21 PM on January 27 [14 favorites]

I should add: fertility rates in the countries with highest number of births for women is dropping precipitously. It's just that they started later, and at a higher initial level. It's good news for the anticipated maximum global population: a study in The Lancet reviewed in Forbes suggests that global population will peak in 2064 (just 43 years away!) at under 10 billion, and fall from there.
posted by Joe in Australia at 3:24 PM on January 27 [9 favorites]

All this whining about demographics and Social Security is just a smokescreen for white supremacists who want to coerce white women into having more babies because they are afraid of the ongoing ethnic transformation of America. Raise the income cutoff for Social Security contributions and the SS problem goes away immediately.
posted by heatherlogan at 3:30 PM on January 27 [55 favorites]

Raise the income cutoff for Social Security contributions and the SS problem goes away immediately.

This. Right now our effective tax rate is falling the more money we make up until we start earning over $320K and our marginal rate of tax goes up again.

It's so insanely stupid.
posted by Your Childhood Pet Rock at 3:58 PM on January 27 [19 favorites]

You only need more babies if you need constant growth in your economy. Steady state can be a thing, it just can't be a thing under capitalism.
posted by maxwelton at 4:46 PM on January 27 [13 favorites]

You only need more babies if you need constant growth in your economy.

No, a lot of places like South Korea have basically fallen off a demographic cliff and their birthrate is about half (or less!) of the replacement level. Someone's going to have to keep things going as the existing population ages, and geriatric care especially is the sort of labour-intensive job that's hard to automate. They don't necessarily need more babies, but they're definitely going to need more people.
posted by Joe in Australia at 5:26 PM on January 27 [9 favorites]

If you're an American wondering what could be done, policy-wise, to fix some of these problems, or at least make them less severe, you might get some ideas from this People's Policy Project proposal: the Family Fun Pack.

It is described as "a suite of family benefits that solves the problems [of having and raising children in a capitalist society]. These benefits include free child care, free pre-k, free healthcare for children, and a child allowance, among other things.
posted by davedave at 6:16 PM on January 27 [5 favorites]

These benefits include free child care, free pre-k, free healthcare for children, and a child allowance, among other things.

What is this magical place?
posted by medusa at 6:20 PM on January 27 [2 favorites]

I am kind of horrified at people getting pregnant Right Now in this particular time. I know their ovaries can't wait and all that, but I'm freaked out about doing the slightest of anything that might require medical care at the moment. I'm nervous cutting food in the kitchen, man.
posted by jenfullmoon at 6:36 PM on January 27 [26 favorites]

What is this magical place?


Well, not entirely. But daycare starts at $8.35/day. And besides the federal child benefit there is a provincial one. There are a lot of issues in Quebec including the type of care (and a whack of xenophobia and racism, not that the rest of us can throw stones but you literally cannot wear a hijab and work for the government including teachers) and of course the care and school must be in French however...there you go. Pre-pandemic Quebec’s birthdate was higher than Ontario’s and female labour force participation was up.
posted by warriorqueen at 6:36 PM on January 27 [8 favorites]

What is this magical place?

The author's a socialist, but I think they tried to put forward a policy platform that could be implemented within a capitalist economy. Or, more specifically, they tried to put together a platform that a US progressive politician could run on.

Different parts of their proposal have been implemented already in other countries or, in some cases, by individual US states, so I don't think it's a utopian list of policies. Besides, only once people start demanding these kinds of things from politicians will we end up getting any of them.
posted by davedave at 6:40 PM on January 27 [1 favorite]

What is this magical place?
The Netherlands has some pretty generous parental benefits, and the current government is actually being dissolved over a scandal where parents (many immigrants) were falsely flagged as making fraudulent claims

But the best part in the Netherlands is not the groups leave policy, but a societal expectation that das actually play an active role in parenting, best illustrated by the Pappadag (Daddy Day).

Here stateside, one on my colleagues with a PHD is taking a leave of absence because her kid's schools are closed and online learning/pod arrangement weren't working for them.
posted by CostcoCultist at 6:55 PM on January 27 [6 favorites]

I am a full-time working mom whose toddler can't go to daycare because of pandemic and it is placing an incredible amount of stress on my family. I have been incredibly radicalized by the stress and trauma and rage of the past year. Nevertheless, for whatever ridiculous reason, I DO want another baby, and I think about it often.

What I don't want is to have another high-risk pregnancy during a pandemic, when I have no idea if or when I'll be able to get a vaccine. I don't want to spend my entire next pregnancy in complete isolation and I don't want to be unprotected from covid while being forced to expose myself to it at the ob-gyn or hospital 3 times a week. I don't want to be hospitalized with coronavirus because of a pregnancy-weakened immune system, and I especially don't want to die from coronavirus and leave my existing child without me.

So I am delaying my 2nd child, not by choice, but only because my country failed me, and, you know, I'm not getting any younger, and you can add this particular drop of rage to the whole festering pile.
posted by the turtle's teeth at 7:01 PM on January 27 [42 favorites]


Quebec resident here. 2020's birth rate rise was the first for the province since 2012, and it was an increase of only 0.4 percent. The change was attributed to "an increase in the number of women in Quebec who are of childbearing age, rather than a change in the province's fertility rate."

Traditionally, Quebec has had one of the lowest birthrates in Canada, and certainly below replacement levels. We're below 1.6 children per woman, which is well below the 2.1 we would need to maintain our population. Because of the bigotry, racism, and xenophobia that afflicts our society, immigration has been unable to keep up.
posted by jordantwodelta at 8:35 PM on January 27

NZ here, our health system isn't in the best of shape either - which bis the primary reason for our Covid policy.

Some NZ stats , TFR about 1.7

"In 1981, the proportion of women aged 45–49 years who were childless was 9 per cent. This increased to 10 per cent in 1996, to 13 per cent in 2006, and then to 16 per cent in 2013."

I understand the above figure is now ~22%. I (male) was under huge pressure to have kids, not doing so causes rifts but such is life.
posted by unearthed at 1:34 AM on January 28 [1 favorite]

the turtle’s teeth, you’ve put into words what I’ve had bouncing around my head for the past six months. I feel a little less alone. Thanks.
posted by Concordia at 8:10 AM on January 28 [2 favorites]

My ex's mom died when she was 2 and her dad was in the US Navy, away for months at a time so he remarried as quickly as he could and it didn't go well.

When we got a puppy it triggered something in her and I thought maybe kids wasn't such a good idea for us.

When we had a kid she was really stressed out so we switched roles. I have a younger sister I took care of and I had a stay at home mom too so it was easier for me. I had experience and examples.

When we split I thought my natural allies were other single parents. Turns out neither of them had moms either. I didn't think that through, did I? So this is the ninth year of my doing most of the EL for 3 really great little people. I have nothing saved for my dotage and I am 15 years older than the other two adults.

I ditched most all my male friends because they made fun of the situation. It's not funny. I love the kids unconditionally and I can be upset with their moms at the same time.

Covid meant no breaks at all last year. The moms got stuck overseas. We got attacked thrice for being a non traditional family. We got swatted, CPS was called- I had to turn the kids into infantry.

My therapist is 20 years younger and has a nine month old baby she is trying to raise in isolation. I'm not sure who needs to talk more some weeks. There's usually background noise from both sides during the zoom call but its contact for both of us.
posted by Mr. Yuck at 2:07 PM on January 28 [9 favorites]

My brother and sister in law had a toddler and had been trying for another for a couple of years. Literally the same week we had the first COVID restrictions here, they found out they were having .. TWINS. they freaked out at first but they are a couple months old and doing well. The hardest part is 3 small kids in a small house and pressure to stay isolated. They are taking a lot more risks than I am because they need support. My mom and my SIL’s sister go over there all the time and they have had several friends over with kids, whereas I still haven’t held the babies. There’s no point in trying to convince them not to have all those possible COVID vectors over, because they get no sleep and are going to crack up without some assistance. I am so, so glad my kids are teens and can just do remote learning and then Minecraft and Among Us 24/7. I don’t know how people with young ones are managing.
posted by freecellwizard at 3:37 PM on January 28 [5 favorites]

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