Even though millennial women account for the majority of mothers in the United States, they’re having fewer children than previous generations, according to a May 2017 report by the Pew Research Center. This same study shared that millennial women who did choose to become mothers were waiting longer than ever before, with the mean age of mothers at the time of their first birth being 26. In 1970 the mean age was 21. So, what accounts for millennials’ lack of enthusiasm for becoming parents? Is it because they’re self-centered, entitled, and lazy, like other generations seem to believe? Not surprisingly, it’s not that simple. In fact, this generation of adults are pretty clear on why so many are planning to opt out of parenthood altogether.
Women are under less pressure.
These days, one-fifth of women will not have children at all, according to the Pew Research Center. One obvious explanation for this change is a shift in what is expected of women. Previous generations experienced a lot of pressure to bear children, but that isn’t the case for today’s woman. Instead, people are more likely to see the choice to remain childless as a personal decision, leaving women be to make decisions about motherhood based on their own desires and circumstances.
Women have more options.
Women are not only free to make their own choices about whether to have children, they also have more choices in general. If they decide motherhood isn’t for them, there are more alternative options to consider. Today’s woman can get an advanced degree, pursue a challenging and exciting career, run her own business, and remain single with plenty of options for their future. This certainly hasn’t always been the case, and some women of the past may have felt marriage and motherhood were the only options they had after a certain age.
Millennials aren’t that financially secure.
Money is a big stressor for most adults, but this generation seems especially worried about their financial future. This should come as no surprise. Millennials, on average, are more highly educated than previous generations, but they’re making a lower income, according to The New York Times. Without the security of a healthy income, young adults simply don’t feel ready to make the jump into parenthood, what with the cost of diapers and daycare. Add to this the stress of debt—probably from the college degree they thought would set them up for financial security—and it really makes sense why money is holding some millennials back from having kids.
Millennials aren’t ready to commit.
It seems that fewer millennials are having children because fewer millennials feel ready to commit to marriage. As progressive as this generation may be, many still believe that marriage should come before children. Unlike previous generations, their reasons are less about morality and more about providing financial security to their offspring. Financial concerns are to be blamed for millennials’ apprehensions about marriage as well, since more millennials believe that putting off marriage is better than being married without a strong financial foundation.
Millennials are worried about college.
Yes, you read that right. Fewer millennials are having kids, because they are worried about the cost of college. It isn’t their own college education they’re stewing about, though. Instead they’re opting out of parenthood because they’re not sure they’ll be able to afford putting their own kid through college. It may be a pretty fatalistic perspective, but it makes sense. The cost of college tuition is rising. Millennials know what it’s like to be burdened with student loans, and they believe college is a big part of a successful future. If they’re not certain they can put their kids through college, they’d rather not take the risk. There seems to be a common theme among millennials who don’t want children—they’re worried about money.
Millennials have lost faith in the American Dream.
Go to college, get an awesome job, get married, and have kids. That’s the formula for a happy life, right? If you’re feeling a little skeptical, you just might be a millennial. This generation is less enticed by the idea of the American Dream. Specifically, fewer millennials see value in trying to balance a demanding career and a family life. For women especially, the American Dream doesn’t seem to be much of a reality—and even if it were possible, it doesn’t sound all that enjoyable. This is because for women, having kids often requires adjusting or leaving their careers or working a “second shift” after they clock out while men keep advancing along on their path to success.
Family life in the United States is the worst.
It may sound cynical, but millennials don’t love the idea of raising a family in the United States because our society simply isn’t built for family life. Take maternity leave, for instance. Professional women who want to become mothers have to face the fact that the United States has quite possibly the worst maternity leave options, without any mandated paid leave available to new moms. Once you head back to work, things just get more complicated. Middle-income earners won’t qualify for daycare assistance but really can’t afford it on the money they’re making. So many millennials look at the current state of things and decide that having a child would be near impossible to pull off in their situation.
Millennials are really smart.
Before you jump to any conclusions, we’re not trying to imply that it’s smarter not to have kids. We’re just pointing out that women with an advanced degree are less likely to have children. Perhaps it comes back to student loans or maybe it is devotion to a career. Whatever the reason, there is some kind of connection between being highly educated and deciding not to become a parent. We also know that millennials are the most educated generation to date, so it seems to make sense that they’re having fewer kids, too.
Millennials are worried about the future of the planet.
Most millennials aren’t anticipating a zombie apocalypse, but they are genuinely concerned about the future of planet Earth. Climate change is on the minds of many young adults—so much so that they aren’t sure it makes sense to bring children into the world. For starters, having kids increases a family’s carbon emissions. From producing more waste to consuming more energy, it makes sense that having fewer kids is one option being considered by adults who feel a strong personal responsibility to do something to slow climate change. Of course, personal responsibility for the Earth isn’t the only climate change–related motivation for avoiding parenthood. For millennials there is also fear, according to NPR. Since some scientists believe that the consequences of climate change are just around the corner, millennials really do worry about what kind of world their hypothetical children could be living in. Perhaps it goes without saying, but not everyone sees eye to eye with a decision to remain childfree. Some have expressed a concern about falling birthrates and the effect on the economy. And some just want a grandbaby. When it comes down to it, the decision is a highly personal one. Whether it is motivated by the burden of finances or being stressed out about the future of mankind, millennials don’t necessarily owe older generations an explanation for their choice to remain childfree.