The recent article, “Americans Are Having Fewer Babies. They Told Us Why,” discusses a new survey conducted by Morning Consult for The New York Times. It reports on survey results regarding why “young adults are having fewer children than their ideal number” as well as why they aren’t sure and why they don’t want them at all. Let’s take a brief look at the ‘aren’t sure’ and ‘don’t want them’ group of respondents.
“Why Young Adults Aren’t Having Children”
The survey, “a nationally representative sample of men and women ages 20 to 45,” has 1,858 respondents. “More than half” indicated that “they planned to have fewer children than their parents.” “About half were already parents. Of those who weren’t, 42 percent said they wanted children, 24 percent said they did not want them and 34 percent said they weren’t sure.”
The article shows the reasons given for the part of the sample who “said they did not want children or weren’t sure:”
36% Want leisure time
34% Haven’t found partner
31% Can’t afford child care
30% No desire for children
24% Can’t afford a house
24% Not sure I’d be a good parent
23% Worried about the economy
18% Worried about global instability
18% Career is a greater priority
14% Work too much
14% Worried about population growth
13% Too much student debt
13% Still in school
13% Not enough paid family leave
13% Personal health problems
11% Can’t afford college
11% Worried about climate change
10% Worried about domestic politics
20-45 Age Span = Young Adult?
While many of these reasons line up with data I have been collecting since 2000 on reasons young adults say they don’t want children, results of this survey leave me with a few questions. One involves the sample of men and women deemed “young adult.”
The title of the percentage table of those who indicated they did not want children or weren’t sure is “Why Young Adults Aren’t Having Children.” Go back to the description of the respondent sample: “a nationally representative sample of men and women ages 20 to 45.” From what I can tell, this entire age span is considered “young adult.”
I’d consider “young adult” more like the sample from the study conducted by the Wharton Work/Life Integration Project at the Wharton School that resulted in the book, Baby Bust. It surveyed 496 members of the 1992 Wharton college undergraduate class, then surveyed 307 of the 2012 undergraduate graduating class.
In this study, in response to the question, Do you plan to have children?:
-In 1992, 79% of women said yes, 12% said probably, and 3% said probably not or no;
-In 2012, 41% of women said yes, 14% said probably, and 27% said probably not or no
-In 1992, 78% of men said yes, 9% said probably, 6% said probably not or no
-In 2012, 42% of men said yes, 12% said probably, 30% said probably not or no
Lumping Unsure with Not Wanting Children
The percentages shown from the Morning Consult survey would be more informative if the reasons of the lumped 58% of who don’t have them would have been separated out into the reasons of the “Unsure” and those who “Do Not Want Them.” If these groups were looked at separately, the reasons of both camps could be compared for similarities and differences. It would also better clarify the 30% who reported “no desire for children.”
Additionally, the article states, “among people who did not plan to have children [italics mine], 23 percent said it was because they were worried about the economy. A third said they couldn’t afford child care, 24 percent said they couldn’t afford a house and 13 percent cited student debt.” These percentages appear on the chart showing the reasons for who “said they did not want children or weren’t sure.” Those who said they did not plan to have children would square up with those who said they did not want children, but how can those who said they weren’t sure about having them also be described as not planning to have them? Could they be planning not to have them ‘right now’ because they are unsure? It’s unclear.
A Bright Spot, Getting Brighter
The article on the Morning Consult and Times survey quotes a 26-year-old woman from Michigan named Jessica Boer, who “like an increasing number of people in her generation,” “does not plan to have children.” She says, “Now we know we have a choice.”
This echoes what I am seeing as well in the bigger picture – that with each generation, more people see that having children is truly a life choice. With this understanding comes more acceptance of the childfree choice. While there still is a ways to go for total acceptance, comments like Boer’s reflect generational progress!