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U.S. Fertility Crisis: Real and Growing

With American families having an average of 2.1 children, you’d think we’re in great shape. Enough children to carry on society, yet not too many to drain resources.

Yet according to Slate writer Sharon Lerner, our country is in a serious fertility crisis. Actually two separate yet related crises.

The problem: More high achieving, educated women are opting out of pregnancy (or waiting too long to biologically be able to get pregnant), while a growing number of lower-income women are having unplanned pregnancies/births.

The Slate article uses two new studies as the basis of their analysis, as well as more in-depth research. (Check out the studies on Slate if you’re interested.) But before you get all worked up, these studies don’t conclude that lower-income women are incapable of loving their children as well as wealthier women, nor that they’ll genetically destroy our future society. But unexpected pregnancies statistically put babies at a higher risk for physical and mental problems, as well as statistically encourage a cycle of poverty. On the opposite end of the spectrum, older women risking their fertility for their careers/freedom is one of the biggest trends in motherhood.

Are more women choosing not to become mothers because they love their careers — or is it because they feel like they have to choose financial security over family? Is there a reason why half of the pregnancies in this country are unplanned? Is there a larger force behind why more women aren’t intentionally getting pregnant?

I think Lerner is correct in looking at our country’s unfriendly work-family policies, unaffordable health care and overall lack of resources on both ends of the spectrum. Of course our economic climate contributes to this. But there’s another factor to consider: Motherhood isn’t very appealing today.

The “job” of mother simply isn’t respected, which you can blatantly see in every crevice of our culture. That’s not to say “the mom” is an invisible part of our society — the exact opposite in fact. Some of the biggest TV shows and movies center around motherhood and family. Some of the most influential women in media are mom bloggers. But this platform has largely been used to highlight a lot of negative to the masses — exhaustion, stress, anxiety, unkept appearance, failing marriages, failing success. Young women today are told that motherhood will cost them money in the long run. Young women are also under the impression that they’ll be “less hot” (thank you, youth- and beauty-obsessed culture). Just think of what the words “mom jeans,” “mom hair” and, my personal favorite, “mom-ish” conjure up. Then to top it off, never-ending issues of breastfeeding in public, mom-friendly public facilities, the stroller wars, “mom war” hype, and sites like STFU Parents* further highlight my point. Who would want that gig?

Moreover, although it’s hard to understand the intangible joys of motherhood without feeling the emotional context, shouldn’t raising the next generation of good citizens be just as important as saving lives and teaching children? Shouldn’t our families be important? Why do we assume that using our education to also teach and mold our children is a waste of an education? Why do we look at pregnancy as a threat? Because of money, time, jobs, a misunderstood view of motherhood. We want children to be raised by good mothers, we say that mothers are important, but there’s no national maternity leave, no affordable childcare, not nearly enough flexibility.

Women might look at all of the obstacles and negative aspects of parenting (that have nothing to do with actual child-rearing) and opt out. And I think that’s a shame.

We all talk about fixing the first problem of unplanned pregnancies, but what about the other side? When will we start encouraging and helping women to want to take on motherhood and feel like they’re also being valued, productive members of society**? When will we refocus our priorities as a society?

Maybe if our society starts taking motherhood and fertility seriously, so will the women affected by these crises.

 

*STFU, Parents is a humor site with the tag line “You used to be fun. Then you had a baby.” It highlights all the funny, bizarre, over-the-top things that parents overshare on Facebook. They are not encouraging women to stop having babies, just to not be so crazy about it. I only referenced it as an example of our pop culture, not to say that the site is anti-motherhood. It’s actually a humorous site for parents to check out.

** Let me clarify: Motherhood isn’t the ONLY way to be a valued, productive member of society. I, in no way, think that all women should be mothers. But for those who want to have children, we should have better resources for them to have both a career and be mothers.

Photo: MomLogic


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