Are the Smartest Women Having More Babies?

fertility rates, work life balance
Are super educated women more likely to be moms?

It’s common knowledge and also still the case that girls and women who get a basic education tend to, statistically, give birth to fewer children. Thus all the efforts to educate girls who live in poverty.

It has also long been the case that the higher a woman’s education, the fewer children she’ll give birth to, if she even chooses to have kids at all. A new study on workplace flexibility found that this continues to be true: 20 percent of American women age 40 to 44 had no children — double the number since the 1980s. Susan Bianchi, sociologist at UCLA, also found that of the women in the U.S. with professional or advanced degrees, 27 percent are not mothers.

But today New York Times Economix blogger Catherine Rampell reminds us of a Pew Research Council study from back in June, which showed that, since 2008, women with the very highest professional degrees or PhDs were slightly more likely to have kids than those who held bachelor’s or master’s degrees only. Also, compared to their same-degreed counterparts from the 1990s, these highly educated women are more likely to have had kids by age 44.

Rampell writes:

More than a third of these women with professional/Ph.D. degrees in 1992-94 decided to forgo having children; in 2006-8, less than a quarter of such women made the same choice.

Which could be saying something about a change at the very tippy top regarding work flexibility and benefits like maternity leave. Perhaps they’re also going into professions which they consider more family-friendly. Rampell links to an interesting (and overlooked) piece from the Wall Street Journal nearly a year ago that asked why so many women are becoming veterinarians. Who knew!

But another Economix blog post on Bianchi’s study shows that really? We shouldn’t get too excited. In order to get those educations, or at least advance careers, more and more women are delaying getting pregnant. The fallout, the study shows, is that these delays are leading to increased stress for both men and women and increasing the odds that adults will be caring for kids in the home while their own parents’ health begins to wane — all of which occurs when the career needs us most.

In the study, “Family Change and Time Allocation in American Families,” Bianchi writes:

Delayed marriage and childbearing heighten the likelihood that the greatest childrearing demands come at the same time that job and career demands are great particularly among the well-educated.

Another study on workplace flexibility found that parents are doing an awful lot of multi-tasking both at work and at home. The study’s author, Barbara Schneider, a sociology professor at Michigan State, attributes a significant cause of the stress and multi-tasking to something I’ve been shouting about long before I even had kids: school. That is, the lack of it — only 180 days per year.

Schneider writes:

If parents’ jobs do not occur over the weekend, they still are responsible for at least 81 week days during the year when their children are not scheduled to be in school. Most full-time jobs allow for two weeks of vacation and some personal days; taking these times into account, there are approximately 55 days per year that parents are responsible for their children’s care when they have to work .

Interesting and important, if not surprising, stuff. It seems we stopped talking about things like work flexibility, maternity leave and the like once the recession hit. Who wants to be the person sticking her neck out for a little flex time when all jobs seemed to be on the line? Still, family matters are like the long-simmering stew of issues ready to bubble over.


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