A New York Times blogger raises interesting questions this week about the effect on us all of the growing socioeconomic divide between parents. That is, more and more educated, well off woman will just be becoming mothers as their less well off, less educated peers are becoming grandmothers.
This week the United States released a government report which shows that pregnancy rates among older women – those aged 40 to 44 – have increased by nearly 65 percent in the period between 1990 and 2008. Pregnancy rates for women in their early 20s have also declined to the lowest level in more than three decades. This shows a general and well-recognised trend for women to have babies at a later age after they have established their careers and perceive themselves to be well off enough to have a baby. No doubt more widely available fertility treatment options also have a marked effect on these statistics, as many children born to women in their 40’s will be a much anticipated, prayed for and paid for IVF baby.
It certainly true that here in New Zealand two of my reasonably well educated friends (an architect and a lawyer), who gave birth at 30 and 28 respectively, said they felt really young in their antenatal classes – they were both the youngest in them by a few years. Most women in similar careers to them who they felt they ‘identified and got on with’ were in their mid thirties having their first child. These children will have very different upbringings to the more common big families with young mothers of the past.
While there are less people giving birth in their early twenties, more and more the people that are tend to be unmarried, less educated and less well off. In fact, according to the New York Times, fifty-three percent of all children born to women under 30 are unmarried. It rightly comments that is “an awful lot of children born outside of what’s been considered, for more than a handful of years, the most stable family structure”. It further reports that:
The young parents of Lorain said their reliance on the government safety net encouraged them to stay single and that they didn’t trust their youthful peers to be reliable partners. Many said they would like to be married — just not right now, and not to each other... “Marriage,” says Frank Furstenberg, a sociologist at the University of Pennsylvania, “has become a luxury good.”
Hardly heartening considering these are the people in society who are likely not having only the one or two IVF babies later in life, but in the end will populate our society with more of their children. How well adjusted will these children be? As the New York Times blogger comments, it is great that young mums feel supported and don’t suffer the same stigma they used to for having their babies – especially because abortion is now such an easy option. However, do we really want to go so far as to make young unmarried mothers who raise children with little or no help from a supportive family structure the "absolutely fine - who are we to judge" norm? Given the very widely available statistics about how this affects children, it is a little scary to think.