The XX Factor

The Complicated Calculus of Children and Careers

Of course abortion and birth control have a large role in bringing down our fertility rate in America, as they have elsewhere. (I have spent much of the past decade-and-a-half writing about both.) But there is no need to be reductive; this is not an either/or issue. There are many factors contributing to the decline in fertility, including both the ability to control when and whether to become mothers and the policies that affect mothers’ quality of life.

I don’t think the issue is just affording a child. It’s also, as I already reported, about not feeling professionally ready , i.e., not wanting to sacrifice hard-earned successes at work. Of course, many people just don’t want children (and, by the way, I have zero interest in coaxing anyone to do it). But for some women-again, we don’t know how many-the decision to have a child is more complicated than simply wanting to or not. Given the lack of part-time and flexible work options, as well as paid maternity leave and sick leave, and affordable childcare, women know that having a child can and often does derail women’s careers. For many, that knowledge is part of the calculus.

Since we’re offering personal stories, here’s mine: I waited quite a while to have children. For a long time, I didn’t feel ready. By the time I did, I encountered age-related fertility issues. I managed to have children anyway, but if I hadn’t, I think I would have felt sad about it.

As for whether the decline in women’s happiness is statistically valid, you can argue it either way-it’s small, but it’s there. What you cant quibble away is the fact that, without the support for working women that largely exists in other countries, life can be particularly difficult for working mothers in the United States. And that’s sad.

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