September 27, 2011 14 Comments
Short version: more educated women are having ever fewer children; poorer women are having more and more unplanned children. Longer version:
Because the American fertility rate is an average, it obscures the fact that our country is actually more like two countries, which are now experiencing two different, serious crises.
You hear about the “haves” versus the “have-nots,” but not so much about the “have-one-or-nones” versus the “have-a-fews.” This, though, is how you might characterize the stark and growing fertility class divide in the United States. Two new studies bring the contrasting reproductive profiles of rich and poor women into sharp relief. One, from the Guttmacher Institute, shows that the rates of unplanned pregnancies and births among poor women now dwarf the fertility rates of wealthier women, and finds that the gap between the two groups has widened significantly over the past five years. The other, by the Center for Work-Life Policy, documents rates of childlessness among corporate professional women that are higher than the childlessness rates of some European countries experiencing fertility crises.
And, this is bad:
If our overall fertility rate is at replacement level—if we have enough young people in the pipeline to do all the jobs that will need doing going forward—does it really matter so much if some women are having more kids than they are ready for and some are having fewer? Unfortunately for women on both ends of the economic spectrum, it does. Poorer women suffer when they have unintended births—as do their children. Research shows that women with unplanned pregnancies are more likely to smoke, drink, and go without prenatal care. Their births are more likely to be premature. Their children are less likely to be breastfed, and more likely to be neglected and to have various physical and mental health effects. Then, reinforcing the cycle, the very fact of having a child increases a woman’s chances of being poor.
Well, then, the Greene family is doing our part to fight back! Four(!) planned children who’ve been breastfed and not neglected (we think). Your turn, educated readers.