/
Motherhood moving down the priority list

Motherhood moving down the priority list


Motherhood moving down the priority list

Over the past three decades, delaying childbirth has become increasingly common in the U.S., as birthrates have declined for women in their 20s and jumped for women in their late 30s and early 40s, according to a new report from the U.S. Census Bureau. The trend has pushed the median age of U.S. women giving birth from 27 to 30, the highest on record.

Decisions by college-educated women to invest in their education and careers so they could be better off financially when they had children, as well as the desire by working-class women to wait until they were more financially secure, have contributed to the shift toward older motherhood, said Philip Cohen, a University of Maryland sociologist.

Motherhood also has been coming later in developed countries in Europe and Asia. In the U.S., it could contribute to the nation's population slowdown since the ability to have children tends to decrease with age, said Kate Choi, a family demographer at Western University in London, Ontario.

In areas of the U.S. where the population isn't replacing itself with births, and where immigration is low, population decline can create labor shortages, higher labor costs and a labor force that is supporting retirees, she said.

“Such changes will put significant pressure on programs aimed at supporting seniors like Social Security, Medicaid, and Medicare," Choi said. “Workers may have to pay higher taxes to support the growing numbers of the retired population."

Although the data in the Census Bureau report stops in 2019, the pandemic over the past two years has put off motherhood even further for many women, with U.S. birth rates in 2020 dropping 4% in the largest single-year decrease in nearly 50 years. Choi said there appears to have been a bit of a rebound in the second half of 2021 to levels similar to 2019, but more data is needed to determine if this is a return to a “normal" decline.

During the pandemic, some women at the end of their reproductive years may have given up on becoming parents or having more children because of economic uncertainties and greater health risks for pregnant women who get the virus, she said.

“These women may have missed their window to have children," Choi said. “Some parents of young children may have decided to forego the second ... birth because they were overwhelmed with the additional child-caring demands that emerged during the pandemic, such as the need to homeschool their children."