In the last three weeks I have come across at least four articles discussing the issue of why more American women are choosing not to have children or having children at a later time. It seems like everywhere I turn, there’s another major media site tackling the topic. From Times to NY Mag to Yahoo! to Washington Post, it’s obvious that the United State Census Bureau dropped new data and like fresh bait in an ocean filled with fishes, everyone is trying to digest it.
According to the Yahoo! piece, recent data released by the U.S. Census Bureau indicates that childlessness is on the rise amongst American women of reproductive age. The article cites family/career conflict, the economy and personal choices as some of the key reasons women are passing on having children. According to the Washington Post piece, a faltering economy is more to blame than career ambition as financial hardship causes young women to procrastinate on procreating. While Yahoo! and Washington Post both presented interesting data-driven discussions, I found the title of NY Mag’s article quite condescending. It reads: Women! They Keep Not Having Kids: A Report From the Census Bureau. Really? “They Keep?” I digress, as that is not the focus of my writing. This topic piqued my interest for more concrete reasons which I discuss below.
You see, when I first got my current job six years ago, the last thing on my mind was inquiring about the maternity benefits my company offers. I was just too excited to have landed my first job after graduate school and the last thing on my mind was having babies so maternity benefits were of little or no concern to me. Soon after I found out that I was expecting my first baby, I made an appointment to meet with my HR manager to discuss my maternity leave options. I left that meeting stunned at the meager maternity benefits my employer offers. But it really didn’t come as much of a surprise. A co-worker/friend had advised me two years earlier to really save up before deciding to have a baby after she found out our company’s maternity benefits. My HR manager informed me that I was entitled to 12 weeks maternity leave by law, of which I would get paid approximately 25% of my weekly pay for 6 weeks. The other 6 weeks would be unpaid…by law! How encouraging is that? So now tell me, why would women who are employed for instance, in my line of business, want to have children considering the financial repercussions?
The United States lags behind amongst industrialized and unindustrialized nations when it comes to the matter of maternity leave. Hence, it’s little wonder why American birth rate is on a decline. Times have really changed and we live in a time where most families depend on two incomes to survive. Having children is a serious decision which is accompanied by an enormous financial responsibility. Couples have to decide if they can afford the high cost of raising a child in a country where the government doesn’t go out of its way to encourage child bearing by mandating paid maternity leave.
In Canada, women are given up to 14 weeks of paid maternity leave. 14 Weeks of Paid Maternity sounds pretty amazing to me…American women can only dream of that. In Sweden, mothers are allowed to split up to 16 months of maternity leave with their spouse/partner while receiving 80% of their salary. Even more amazing! The United Kingdom, Germany and many other European countries offer more generous maternity benefits. One can only wonder wonder when America will follow suit.
When Hilary Clinton recently declared her intentions to run for president, I couldn’t help but hope that the issue of poor maternity benefits will be one of the causes she will champion. Of course, I don’t expect Hilary Clinton to resolve all women-related issues should she become president of the greatest country in the world but I can only hope that she will adopt this one issue that affects so many working class families. As a mother and grandmother I know she can relate to this and I am hoping she does.
@DMCarson, thank you for your comment. Actually, according World Bank data, Sweden and the U.K. have slightly higher birth rates than the U.S. while those of Germany and Canada are lower. My point isn’t that better maternity benefits will increase the birth rate but rather that poor maternity benefits discourage women’s decision to have children.
A very good blog. Actually, in Canada Canadian mothers are given up to 1 year of maternity leave and the government pays 55% of the mother’s salary, the maximimum amount given is stated to be 40,000.
I think all of the places that you cited with more generous maternity leave policies also have lower birthrates than the U.S. . . .
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