Should We Worry About Millennials Not Having Babies?
Millennials create a pronounced shift in marriage and family planning.
Posted Apr 25, 2018
Many of my friends and I have millennial children. We have pondered and discussed their futures (that is, “When will they get married?”; “When will they have babies?”) even though we realize that they are leading their lives on different timetables than we did.
Because journalist Cristina Schreil is a millennial, I asked her to provide some insights into the millennial perspective and the pressures she and her peers face in terms of marriage and having children.
Guest Post by Cristina Schreil:
You’ve probably heard that millennials are childish and immature—late bloomers. This strikes me as true whenever I volley laundry into my parents’ washing machine, or when I almost walk into a tree while playing Pokémon Go.
Being a late bloomer seems to have more credence than other millennial clichés. After all, by the time my mother was my age (29), she had what many of my contemporary counterparts do not: a spouse, two children under five, a home with a mortgage, and a career. Looking back a generation further does not help alleviate my millennial guilt. By the time my maternal grandmother was 20, she was married with two children; my paternal grandmother had two children by 31.
Granted, many in my generation are among the first to have parents (notably, mothers) who had children when “older” (that is, 35 and up, into their forties). Yet many of my fellow millennials have parents and grandparents who at young ages reached milestones that today’s millennials as a group don’t prioritize.
Millennials do things “later”
A Pew Research Center report found that millennials “are more than three times as likely to have never married” as their counterparts in the Silent generation, although 65% of never-married millennials reported that they would like to be married one day. Researchers note these changes impact society overall. “In 1965, the typical American woman first married at age 21 and the typical man wed at 23. By 2017, those figures climbed to 27 for women and 29.5 for men…When asked the reasons they have not gotten married, 29% say they are not financially prepared, while 26% say they have not found someone who has the qualities they are looking for; an additional 26% say they are too young and not ready to settle down.”
On being “too young” is interesting, especially considering how previous generations clearly didn’t find this age premature. Things are indeed shifting older. According to Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Pew Research Center, late-twenty-something women had the highest birth rates until only 2016. Now, for the first time, women in their early 30s are giving birth at higher rates than women in their twenties and teens. A study by The Urban Institute reporting on the millennial generation during the years between 2007 and 2012 points out that “birth rates among twenty-something women declined more than 15 percent.”
Gap in societal attitudes
Although getting married and having babies in one’s thirties and forties is more common, many people still equate the twenties with these specific milestones. Despite evidence that the average age of first-time mothers is older, societal attitudes haven’t completely caught up. It’s still normal for twenty-somethings to be questioned, “When are you going to get married and having kids?”
A 2012 study surveying approximately 1,200 American women of “reproductive age with no children” found that they feel social pressures even though women who choose to be child-free face fewer stressors than those who are childless due to circumstances out of their control. There’s much anecdotal evidence supporting this finding.
One 29-year-old from Washington, DC recently told me, “Honestly I have no idea if I'll ever get married. The pressure certainly feels to be mounting at this point in life.”
A 28-year-old woman living in New York City says: “I feel general pressure because of the obvious reasons: I am in my late twenties and marriage/having a family was always something I’d been ingrained to think (whether by society, pop culture or otherwise) would happen by thirty.”
Another woman, an Armenian-American 25-year-old from Los Angeles, shared that despite understanding that education and career-establishment are more of a priority for her generation, her future is still on her family’s mind. “There is also the cultural component present in my life that adds pressure to have kids earlier. My culture defines success for women as those who can secure a marriage and have kids, usually by the age of 24 to 25,” she says. “I remember growing up and getting asked about whether or not I was in a relationship, probably from the age of 18 or 19.”
Even at a recent funeral, relatives pulled away from their grief to inquire on the readiness of my womb, as if I were a first-aid disaster kit at the start of hurricane season. “It’s your turn,” an aunt told me, implying that a “new life” would help offset the sadness of several recent deaths. Worded slightly differently, other relatives have asked, “When are you going to settle down, get married and have babies?”
Not doomed, just different
Several studies argue that millennials aren’t that different from previous generations, but are just taking longer to catch up. For many of us that’s because, in large part, our priorities are higher education and career success.
Bruce Tulgan, author of the report "The Great Generational Shift: Update 2018," wrote, “Workers of all ages today are under more pressure than ever as work becomes more demanding for everyone. In every industry, in nearly every organization, individuals are working harder and facing increasing pressure to work longer, smarter, faster, and better.” And that is one reason millennials are not rushing to have babies.
Another Pew article says: In 2014, about half (49%) of women in their early 40s with a bachelor’s degree had given birth by age 29, compared with 60% of their counterparts in 1994.” Things change at age 34, however: “Women who are at the end of their childbearing years had ‘caught up’ to their predecessors: 72% of each group had become mothers by that age.”
While the mid and late twenties have long been associated with the time many women “settle down,” it’s clear millennials have created a major shift in marriage and family planning, perhaps a long-term one. When will prevailing attitudes shift as well?
Also of interest: Living with Parents: Stunted Development or Opportunity?
Copyright @2018 by Cristina Schreil
Astone, Nan Marie, Martin, Steven, Peters, H. Elizabeth. (2015) “Millennial Childbearing and the Recession.” Urban Institute.
Caplan-Bricker, Nora (2017). “For the First Time Ever, Thirty-Something Women Are Having More Babies Than Their Twenty-Something Counterparts.” Slate.com
Fry, Richard, Igielnik, Ruth, Patten, Eileen. (2018) “How Millennials today compare with their grandparents 50 years ago.” Pew Research Center.
Livingston, Gretchen (2018). “They’re Waiting Longer, but U.S. Women Today More Likely to Have Children Than a Decade Ago” Pew Research Center.
Tulgan, Bruce (2018). “The Great Generational Shift: Update 2018. White Paper.” RainmakerThinking, Inc.
University of Nebraska-Lincoln. (2012) "Child-free women feel intense pressure to have kids, but rarely stress over it." ScienceDaily.