Is Childless By Choice On the Rise?

iVillage Virginia Sole-Smith Childless By ChoiceNope, today’s post isn’t about beauty or body image. We’re mixing it up a bit over iVillage, so be prepared to roll with it — and today I’m talking about new data that shows 43 percent of Gen X women (that’s those of you aged 33 to 46 — so technically, not me. I’m an X-3 years, or a Y+ or something) aren’t having kids.

Which is higher than ever before, so at first you’re all, hooray! More lifestyle options for everyone! Being single or married without kids doesn’t make you sad — it often makes you the most interesting (and well-read, well-traveled, well-dressed and well-rested) person at anyone’s dinner party.

Except I’ve been listening to (and participating in) a lot of conversations with childless or new-child-having or child-debating women in this general age bracket and I’m worried that these stats don’t just represent social progress. They also represent how we’re still faced with the same old choice — career vs. kids. Only now, careers are winning because workplaces haven’t adapted to give employees the kind of true flexibility we need to really “have it all.”

So that’s what I’m mulling over on iVillage today, and I’d love to hear your thoughts.

PS. For a longer look at what the American workplace would really have to do to make work + family go together like PB&J, read More Magazine’s Attack of the Woman-Dominated Workplace, by my friend Jennifer Braunschweiger, who lays it all out brilliantly.

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6 Comments

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6 responses to “Is Childless By Choice On the Rise?

  1. Julie Was Here

    Why should the workplace change to accommodate the personal lives of employees? Places of work are places of work, they’re not charity daycare centers for adults. If you want true flexibility, be self-employed. Otherwise, you play by someone else’s rules.

    • Hi Julie Was Here — Interesting point! And one I can relate to (because I am self-employed pretty much precisely because I want to play by my own rules!) — but I’d say workplaces should accommodate the personal lives of employees in this way for the same reasons we fought for weekends, lunch hours, paid overtime (for hourly workers), access to bathrooms and a lot of other facts of modern working life that we now take for granted but were once considered as much of a “charity handout” as what I’m suggesting here.

      Society functions better as a whole and individual workplaces are more prosperous and productive when employees are treated like valued human beings — who also have families they value and lives outside their jobs, which they’re working to support. There’s lots of data backing this up (check that More article I linked to above). So while I’d argue workplaces should change because society is changing and they owe their employees basic human dignity, that moral argument is really beside the point. It’s going to be better for business in the long run, for them to do this — especially as the more and more talented workers start expecting these kinds of arrangements. (I know it can feel like employers are kings in our current economy, but workers hold a lot of power as well!)

  2. Juli

    I’m happy to hear that “childless by choice” is becoming more widespread and acceptable!! However, I’m not sure I agree with your assertion in the iVillage article that, “these stats show that women are still being forced to choose between career and family”. I agree that women are, in fact, still being forced to choose, but can you prove the causality of the career itself being the primary factor in the decision to postpone or decide against childbearing?

    Perhaps you were speaking to other statistics in “The X Factor” report (that I don’t know because I haven’t read it), but I think many other reasons factor into the rise of “childless by choice”. For example, social consciousness – people today are more aware of the social and ecological consequences of population growth. Fiscal responsibility is also a factor… some couples want to postpone childbearing until savings (and college funds) have been adequately established. Lastly, I would also propose that as the divorce rate is higher now than it was in the past, many children of single parents may be hesitant to enter into marriage contracts and have children of their own.

    I definitely agree, though, that the existing workplace model is in dire need of a tune up, to better align itself not only with family considerations, but also health and lifestyle changes. Yes, work is work, and not charity – but now that we know that sitting 8 hours a day is slowly killing a large portion of employees, I would think it would behoove companies to revamp things – so they aren’t stuck with the healthcare costs for bypass surgeries, anti-stroke medications, etc. And, as you mentioned, productivity increases when companies take these things into consideration, as Best Buy discovered (http://davidseah.com/blog/2006/12/changing-work-life-balance-at-best-buy/).

    • Hi Juli — Yes, there is quite a lot of data (in that report and elsewhere — I’m on my iPhone right now, or I’d dig up more links!) showing that some women are opting to wait or not have kids because they’ve chosen careers that pretty much require you to backburner family during the peak childbearing years. Think about lawyers trying to make partners, doctors getting through residencies, professors going for tenure, writers trying to get books published (ahem!). Of course we can all point to women in those fields who are killing it professionally and having kids too, but they tend to be the exception to the rule. (Again, sorry I don’t have stats at hand right now — will try to pop back on later with more!)

      That being said, this is, of course, a super complex issue and all of the reasons you’ve outlined are absolutely also part of the puzzle. Plus some people just don’t want kids and that’s fine — and it’s more fine now than ever before (which is great!). I’ve got a 500 word count max on those iVillage stories so I didn’t have space to explore the full tapestry of reasons, and an issue like this really deserves more nuance for sure. But the work piece is a big part of the puzzle and it’s a part where change IS possible — except, all too often, I think we’re afraid to ask for more at work (women especially) and don’t realize how reasonable and universally beneficial these kinds of changes would be. That’s why I zeroed in on the work piece — but thanks for laying out those other important factors!

  3. TS

    Perhaps the reasons are evolutionary. There is evidence to show that many species slow or even cease reproduction during periods of overpopulation or resource scarcity.

  4. Pingback: What Do Women (and Men) Want From Work? | Beauty Schooled

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