Fewer Americans Are Starting Families: Here’s Why

If you compared the ideal American family in the 1960s to one in 2019, you’d likely notice many differences. One would be in the size of such families, which is noticeably smaller. Another difference would be the ages men and women are when they do decide to start families.

That being said, the fertility rate in America has continued to decline over the past two years.  The fertility rate is something many countries pay attention to as it can affect things like labor supply, education, and immigration. A dropping fertility rate can also pose a threat to the global economy. With this knowledge, should the falling fertility rate in America be a major cause of concern? Before calling it a national emergency, it would be good to explore the reasons behind this decline.  

One could be that the cost of raising a child in America is predicted to hit $233,610 by the time the child hits 18. Considering the present cost of living and static wages, this isn’t something everyone can afford. Beyond this, there are several other factors influencing people’s decision to have kids. Continue reading to find out why fewer Americans are starting families in this day and age. 

Expenses 

One of the most recurring reasons that Americans are choosing to start families later is because of the financial implications of doing so. According to a survey conducted by Morning Consult for The New York Times, childcare, being responsible for others, and financial instability were three of many reasons why young adults wanted fewer children if any at all. That being said, below is a breakdown of some expenses that are keeping people from starting families or expanding the ones they have. 

Childcare

Childcare costs were at the top of the list when young people were asked why they want fewer kids. Considering childcare costs in America have leaped to nearly $10,000 a year while wages are nearly stagnant, it’s easy to understand why. For single parents, it’s even worse, as it can take up to 37% of their household income. These figures can be frightening for both individuals with no children and families who already have some. 

General Upkeep

Another reason stated for not wanting to have kids was being responsible for the care of others. This could include general upkeep costs that come with raising a child. Some examples are school supplies, cell phone bills, and extracurricular activities. In fact, the cost of cell phone services is one of the most important questions parents ask when they purchase a phone for a child. These costs may seem insignificant at a glance, but when you spread them over 18 years or more, it can turn out to be more than the average earner can afford. 

Medical Expenses 

In 1960, the annual healthcare cost per person was $146, whereas, in 2017, it was $10,739 per person. This shows that the cost of healthcare has seen exponential growth over the years and there are no signs of it slowing down. As a result, people are more reluctant to have children as this means they’d be paying for their healthcare and that of their dependants too. The fact is that many parents can’t afford health insurance, and those who can are often underinsured. This means unexpected injuries in children can result in obscene expenses that may lead to financial difficulties. 

College 

The cost of education is another expense that continues to rise and could be a determining factor for starting a family.  Presently, the cost of college over four years would be about $85,000 to send your child to a state school, while the cost of a private university would be $195,000. Even if your kids were to take out a federal loan, the current cap is $31,000, so parents would be expected to fill the gap. If you don’t want your child graduating with insurmountable amounts of debt, then you’d have to foot the costs. 

Not only can some of the respondents from the Morning Consult survey not afford college themselves, but some are also prioritizing their own education and careers. This leaves little room for funding a child’s education. 

Later Marriages 

Once upon a time, unrealistic amounts of pressure were put on women to settle down and have kids young. Now, things are changing and women have more choices so they’re choosing to get married and have kids later. In the 1960s, the median age for a first marriage was 20 for women, while for men it was 23. Now, the median age for women has risen to 27 and 29 for men. 

A core reason for people getting married later is the feeling they don’t have the economic foundation to do so. Additionally, an increasing number of millennials are choosing to cohabitate and put marriage off until later. They are also budgeting their lives down to every cent, and want to be sure they can afford kids. In practical terms, it would look like setting financial goals, looking for a stable income, and being comfortable before bringing kids into the picture. 

Debt 

Debt is another reason many aren’t in a hurry to have more kids. Women, in particular, have a lot of student loan debt. To make matters worse, the gender pay gap means it takes them twice as long to pay back their loans than men. 

It’s also important to consider the effect having kids has on women’s careers. Unfortunately, many end up stalling as there’s no guarantee for paid maternity leave, so it could mean taking months off with no pay. Additionally, some take time out of their careers to look after young children. This time off can make getting back into the labor market challenging, as well as make career progression slower. 

Physical Implications 

Childbirth can take an undeniable toll on a woman’s body. They go through physical and emotional changes which can make some apprehensive about having kids. There is also postpartum recovery, which not only affects your body but can impact your mental state too. It could result in postpartum depression, swollen feet, stretch marks, joint pain, and hair loss.

The physical changes that occur as a result of pregnancy and childbirth could impact their self-esteem. For this reason, some are opting for mommy makeovers after having kids. That being said, women can now choose whether or not they want to have kids and also have options such as adoption or surrogates. 

Ethical Considerations 

Aside from the more obvious reasons mentioned above, there are other factors influencing American’s decision to have kids. One of them is global issues like climate change. If you’re wondering how climate change affects the average person, the rise in food costs and the occurrence of natural disasters are just two ways. Thinking about the effects such changes could have on future generations can make having kids seem like a bad idea.

There are also growing concerns about whether or not the current world is a safe one for children to live in. With prevalent social issues like the opioid crisis and gun violence, these are all valid concerns.  For immigrants especially, there are ongoing political challenges such as children being separated from their parents due to changing immigration laws. This could make one question whether it’s really worth bringing kids into such a society. 

It is safe to say that the issue isn’t that the majority of Americans don’t want to have families. It is more about whether the socio-economic and political climate makes having and raising kids practical. After all, many parents hope to give their kids the best opportunities their money can afford. However, if they’re barely making ends meet themselves, the chances of that happening are low.

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