The XX Factor

Do Non-Mothers Need To Be Coaxed Into Motherhood?

Sharon , I agree that there is an opportunity cost associated with having children. But just as there is no evidence linking recent female happiness trends to mother-oriented social policy, I know of no good evidence for your claim that social policy is to blame for growing numbers of childless women.

Fertility rates have dropped all over the world in the past 30 years, not just in the United States. The decline is sharpest in developing countries like Bangladesh and Zimbabwe, not generally known for their generous parenting subsidies. Among wealthy countries, the U.S. birth rate is remarkably high, and it remains high even when we remove Hispanic immigrants from the equation. France certainly subsidizes motherhood to a greater extent than does the United States, but French women are not having more children than their American counterparts. What needs explaining is not why there are so many childless women in the United States, but why there are so few.

I wrote a long article on fertility trends last year, and in the course of my research I became wary of politicians who think there is a “right” birthrate to be achieved through domestic policy. American women are not a population of breeders to be incentivized toward motherhood whenever politicians want a few more natives around. The further talk of paid maternity leave can be kept from talk of birthrates, the better.

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