According to a New York Times article, the number of recently graduated students who plan to have children has gone down about 50% in the last 20 years. While the decision to have children is incredibly personal, there are themes and patterns for why that number is decreasing, and it’s not because of all the avocado toast.
1. Millennials can’t afford them.
According to Business Insider, 21 to 34-year-olds hold $1.1 trillion of the U.S’s $3.6 trillion in consumer debt. This leads to lower rates of large purchases like homes and cars. While millennials are tighter on their budgets and spending less, many are still defaulting on their loans, trying to get by.
This type of financial environment makes in nonconducive to raise and support a family. Children can cost about $300,000 by the time they’re 18. Millenials don’t have any room in their budget for that.
2. It’s harder to find a partner to have a child with.
The dating landscape has changed, and not necessarily for the better. Pew Research Center discovered that fewer millennials are getting married before age 32 than any other generation. While 69% of single millennials want to be married, many think they are financially unqualified to take that step.
3. They are focused on their career.
Having children can have some negative effects on a career. The parents have to take parental leave. Childcare has to be paid for. A parent has to have the flexibility to leave if a child is sick at school and needs to be picked up.
Working parents do experience professional biases. More millennials value education and work over starting a family. According to Time magazine, only 14% of women are now homemakers, compared to 45% in 1975. Millenial women, in particular, feel like they have more options in their career and lifestyle.
5. Millennials love their lifestyle and self-care.
Self-care, or the #treatyoself movement, has been on the rise. As mental health has declined in the U.S., millennials are making it more of a priority. Not having children gives someone the time to go for walks, read, hang out with friends, and be in bed by 10:00 for a full night of eight hours of sleep. Taking care of oneself does wonder for mental health.
6. Parenting is harder now than it was 20 years ago.
The laws and rules around child endangerment are more strict than they were 40 years ago. While they positively affect children’s safety, they make parenting more difficult. In Episode 2 of the podcast Invisibilia, psychologist Roger Hart studied the movements and behaviors of kids in the 1970’s. He returned when the children he studied were grown up and had children of their own. Modern children did not venture as far from home, and their parents perceived the world to be a more dangerous, even though the rate of crime in that area had dropped.
After the kidnapping of Jacob Wetterling in 1989, free-range parenting came to an end, and being a parent became a more time-consuming job. There is now an opposing “free range parenting” movement happening, with Utah being the first state to pass a law protecting the practice. While the movement promotes children’s independence and exploration, it also means that parenting doesn’t have to be a 24/7 job.
* * *
While each millennial has their own reason to hold off on having children, the trend has caused concerns for society at large. There are, however, public policies that could be put in place to stimulate population growth.
One of those policies in better parental leave after giving birth or adoption. The Family and Medical Leave Act of 1993 only requires employers to give 12 weeks of unpaid leave for mothers. There are no laws around paternity leave or leave for adoptive parents. Also for families struggling to make ends meet, unpaid time off is not going to cut it.
The rate of school debt among millennials is also a huge national issue. The financial burden of student loans keeps young people from participating in and growing the economy. It also holds off future dreams of buying a home and starting a family.
With these kinds of policies in place, millennials might actually be able to build a family and enjoy their avocado toast too.