When we think of women in business, we often think of high powered career women who are opting to have kids. Who revamp their entire company’s approach to maternity, or large companies that create amenities to make it easier for new parents to return to work without sacrificing crucial time with their new babies.
What we talk about less as a culture is women who ultimately choose not to have children. A recent study from Pew Research says that 20% of women with advanced degrees now reach menopause without having (biological) children. The survey doesn’t delve too far into why those women may have decided not to have children, but there are many possible reasons.
Women in their late 30s and early 40s were raised on a steady diet of “you can have it all,” passed down by our mothers who were sold this dream in the 1960s. As these women have spent years being asked how they manage “work life balance,” a question rarely asked of their male counterparts, some women may have soured on the entire concept.
After all, there is plenty of research that indicates that pay gaps may in part be fed by motherhood – both the effect that maternity leave has raises and perceptions at work, and also the perceptions that women are more likely to get pregnant and leave the company anyway.
Women who want to reach the upper echelons in their industry may feel that having children will compromise their ambitions.
Women have more information than ever about their health, the health of their mothers and grandmothers, and the potential health of their children. Pregnancy and childbirth are inherently dangerous for healthy women; when women have complications like diabetes or heart disease, pregnancy may be life threatening. Women may also have medical conditions that require medication which is incompatible with pregnancy.
Finally, some women manage certain mental health conditions which are organic in nature, such as schizophrenia and bipolar disorder. With treatment, these conditions can be controlled and patients can lead full, happy lives, but they may not want to have children and risk passing on these disorders. Many of the medications that control and mitigate the symptoms of mental health disorders are also very dangerous during pregnancy.
Concerns About the World
While violent crime across all spheres has been steadily dropping in the United States over the last several decades, global awareness of atrocities, wars, and inhumane conditions faced by the very poorest members of the worldwide society have never had more attention. In the United States itself, the conflicts over gun ownership and school shootings can make many potential parents pause before making a decision to have a child.
Beyond concerns about violence, many parents worry about the economic and environmental impact of having children. It is clear that our world has a finite amount of resources, and that overpopulation is contributing to worldwide scarcity.
Long before CNN estimated that it took a quarter of a million dollars to raise a child, parents knew that the cost was intense. With years of stagnant wages and inflation, a weak housing market and economy, many women simply do not have the financial freedom to have children. It may make more sense for them to continue to work and save for their own retirement than to have kids.
Child Free By Choice
Of course, the simplest reason many women may be choosing a career instead of having children is simply that they don’t want children. In American society, there is a presumption that women have an inherent maternal instinct, and that a woman’s life isn’t complete if she doesn’t bear and raise children. That simply isn’t the case, however. Women may choose not to have children simply because they don’t want to have children.
It is also important to note that the 20% figure only counted women who had not borne biological children. Women might have married spouses who already had children and decided not to have more, or might have adopted children.
Educated American women also tend to be higher income, and therefore tend to have access to safe and reliable birth control. It is much more likely, therefore, that pregnancies in this demographic are intended pregnancies. In many countries, public health authorities have seen that when women gain control over their pregnancies, pregnancy rates tend to drop dramatically.