Gen Xers Having Fewer Kids: Is It Only a Creeping Non-Choice?

Always a creeping non-choice?

Earlier this year I posted on some initial findings from recent research conducted by Center for Work Life Policy on the Gen X generation. One area it looked at was the kid factor. Check out some of the findings on this score and how Sylvia Ann Hewlett, the founding president of the Center for Work Life Policy interprets them…

The research indicates that over 40% of women ages 41-45 did not have children. There is a similar finding for the Gen X guys; by age 40, 36% of Gen X men also don’t have children.

The findings show that some of the reasons why they are not having children have to do with  “career ambition and economic challenges.”  Many are college educated, and their careers are very important to them.  Given today’s economic realities, they are working longer and harder. Many also have big college loan debts and credit card debts.genx2

But when asked, “According to a CWLP press release, Gen Xers are ‘choosing’ not to have children.” Does this mean they delay and then can’t get pregnant, or are they actively making the decision not to have children?”, here is Hewlett’s response:

“I call it a ‘creeping non-choice’ because it’s nuanced: You don’t wake up one day and say, ‘I’m not going to have kids.’ It’s a decision that falls out of other circumstances. Other important factors and opportunities crowd out the possibility of having children.”

This is another example of many in which research findings are interpreted through a pronatalist lens. Pronatalist beliefs include the idea that we all must want children.  And in this explanation, the message is, “these women would have kids if the all of the right “circumstances” lined up. If the economic factors were right, and the job could include room in life to raise a child (or at least believing that is the case), then of course they would not delay in trying to get pregnant! Essentially she is saying, these Gen X women do want children and would have them if they could.

Now, many men and women end up with no children “by circumstance.”  Like savvyauntie who really does want kids of her own but just has not found the right guy yet.  I call this being “childless by choice.”They want kids, but are choosing not to have them for whatever reason right now.

However, in this study to say the reason Gen Xers are having fewer kids is because it’s a “creeping non-choice”  reflects a limited interpretation, based on the assumption that parenthood is supposed to be a given, not an option in life.  It does not include those who are childfree–those who would say it is not about circumstance at all, but more that, plain and simple, they do not have children because they don’t want the experience of parenthood.

With every generation, it is getting easier and easier to be out front about the childfree choice.  More research needs to do the same, and better ferret out the reasons why people don’t have children beyond those having to do with circumstance.

Gen Xers those and who know them, what you see  out there regarding why more Gen Xers are not having children?

8 thoughts on “Gen Xers Having Fewer Kids: Is It Only a Creeping Non-Choice?

  1. Born in 1963, I may be technically a Baby-Boomer but have always considered myself a Gen-Xer because my father was not old enough to serve in WWII. [The term “Baby Boomer” as I first heard it defined, described someone born in the “Post-War (WWII) Baby Boom” to a dad who served in WWII.]

    Anyway, I would add a few more reasons as to why those in my generation are not having kids.

    (1) Decline in religious affiliation compared to our elders. As an atheist, I am immune from any religious pressure to have children. Even if a Gen-Xer is not an atheist, simply not being around religious people by not attending church often, if ever, will greatly diminish religious pressures.

    (2) The women’s movement in the 1970s made women less economically dependent on men for their livelihood and well-being. This meant they could marry later, or not at all, and pursue their own dreams (i.e. careers) and not have to follow the so-called “life script” and get married and have children. Women began going to college to get degrees such BS, BA, MS, MA, not the “MRS” degree.

  2. As a Gen-Xer with a few slightly-younger-than-Gen-Xer friends, what I’m seeing is largely a simple lack of interest. As with any life choice, the “because” is a matter of favoring the alternative, no matter what it is. I always find it interesting that there is so much research going into the “why” – WHY aren’t women having children? WHY are they putting them off?

    Why do some women choose to be accountants instead of teachers? Why do some women decide to have two kids instead of five?

    I’d be interested to see some research funds dedicated to learning more about why people DO have children. I say this not to be testy – I’m genuinely interested. The reasons, I’m willing to bet, are varied – and possibly very deeply psychologically motivated. (“My parents abused me, and I want to do it right.” “I feel alone, and I want someone to love me.” “I never really thought about it – I just assumed that’s what women did.”)

    And where are the studies about men and their decisions about when, or whether, to procreate?

    – Sylvia D. Lucas
    Author of “No Children, No Guilt”

    1. Sylvia, I think society asks “why don’t they” because it still hold tightly to the notion that having biological children is something we are supposed to want to do as humans. I like to think of it as one assumption people make as a result of drinking pronatalist kool-aid ; )
      I would also go further on learning why people have kids–how about requiring everyone to take some kind of course before they even get pregnant to explore for themselves why they think they want a child and whether they are ready and will they be good at it–and it they don’t take that course no no tax credits etc. More people need to be conscious of their reasons they think they want them before they even start to try and have them!

  3. Well, I would agree with the statement “You don’t wake up one day and say, ‘I’m not going to have kids.’” However, that’s not due to agreeing with Sylvia Ann Hewlett’s interpretation, but because I think those who have decided not to have kids have given it MUCH more thought (often years of thought) than those who actually do have children. If we’re to believe the statistics that state a very high percentage of pregnancies are not even planned, then obviously many aren’t giving it any thought at all!

    I love the idea of requiring some sort of course to at least get them to consider the ramifications of having kids, but unfortunately I don’t see that ever happening. In the U.S. it seems to be the belief that is is a RIGHT to have children, regardless of whether one can afford them, can take care of them emotionally or physically, etc.

    I think it’s pathetic that I’ve put more time and effort into deciding NOT to have kids than anyone I know has put into having kids. Honestly, people seem to put more consideration into making a purchase (such as buying a vehicle) than they do into having kids!

  4. I’m with you both on the course idea. There was a TV series on for a while (I forget the name) that placed young couples in a house with other people’s children, one at a time and at different ages. The young couples went in feeling one way, and left feeling another. They didn’t necessarily decide they didn’t want kids, but they at least (which I wish more couples would do) recognized that they should give it thought before doing it.

  5. I’m a Gen X’er and for me the study is the complete opposite of my experience. Nearly every Gen X’er I know has children and none of them are doing it for religious or “it was expected” reasons that I know of–as far as I know the children were planned and desperately wanted. The few people I know that don’t have kids haven’t found mr/mrs right yet and are not willing to do it solo. Also I found that the 30’s was the turning point – in our 20’s a few people had kids and going through our 30’s, there were lots and lots and lots of pregnancy announcements. They are college educated and put off kids until their 30’s to get started in their careers first, but they do have kids, definitely before age 40.

    1. Lisa, thanks for writing what you’ve experienced–love hearing stuff like this from La Vie-ers…Interesting! Wish we could hear from more of the people that I am assuming are in the 60% the study does not speak to-those who Do have kids….

  6. Like many of our cohort I was a latchkey kid, and did not experience the Leave It To Beaveresque “wonder years” of previous generations. Fresh out of school thrust into cubeland, struggling to find a niche underneath the yuppie, later, grey ceiling. The whole arrangement lead to intense cynicism and pessimism about my own future. As luck (or whatever) would have it, I ended up reasonably OK career wise. However, the cynical bent led to me seeing many things that really turned me off about child rearing as it came to exist post 1980s – helicopter parenting, trophy children, the long arm of the state, etc, etc, etc. The whole thing became more and more of a turn off the older I got. I lucked out, marrying another like minded soul. And there you have it.

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