This article was originally published at the Washington Examiner.
America just had its lowest birth rate in 32 years. The 2018 fertility rate hit a “record low,” researchers wrote in a new report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Also of note is that among all births, the percentage delivered at less than full-term increased.
In other words, too few babies are being born to sustain the population, and of those that are, many are emerging from the womb before their complete gestation.
Neither is good news, and I believe both are happening for one main reason: having babies interferes with women’s career goals.
Until relatively recently, the lives of most young women (and young men, for that matter) were centered on getting married and having families. But that was before we changed our values.
The sexual revolution, along with technological advances and the birth control pill, created a new cultural ethos. Like many people of the over-50 crowd, I’ve witnessed this ethos many times in conversations among millennials. What dominates their conversations is everyone’s respective careers. Children are afterthoughts, if they have them at all.
That’s what happens when a culture knocks marriage and family off the top tier and replaces it with the pursuit of professional success — and deems this success as the marker of one’s identity and self-worth. Women, in particular, are repeatedly told that career success equals life satisfaction, and when you’re young, it’s easy to believe it — even though it’s a lie.
As a result, both men and women (because men almost always follow women’s lead when it comes to decisions about when, if, and how many children to have) began living to work, rather than working to live. They are, quite simply, married to their jobs. Ergo, fewer marriages and families are formed, which in turn means fewer babies are born.
So many of the decisions we make in our 20s determine the direction our lives will go. If women don’t start prioritizing family over career, the odds that they’ll regret this decision are high. Women live longer today than they ever have. It’s a much longer life to voluntarily leave children out of the equation.
Unfortunately, telling women they’re obligated to keep up the human race won’t encourage them to put family first. Here are three solid reasons that might:
1. A woman’s desire for commitment is something to celebrate.
Women have been told to map out their lives the way men map out theirs: to be singularly focused on a career and to enjoy commitment-free sex in the interim. But men are much more capable than women are of doing the “casual” thing; plus, they don’t have a biological clock. Women almost always want to know where a relationship is going and how it will end. To be “casual” about sex and relationships is a game women try to play, but by age 30, it gets old. So, stop playing. Stop dating and sleeping and living with men with whom you have no future — it’s a colossal waste of time.
2. It’s extremely advantageous to have nailed down the most important decision of your life early on.
Deciding who to marry early on (in one’s mid-to-late 20s, let’s say) offers tremendous flexibility for family planning. You could wait a few years before having children if you want a smaller family, or you could have three or four kids rather than the 1.7 kids families now have. Ideally, if a woman wants to have three or four children, it would take about a decade to do so, allowing for enough time to have a child and recover before having the next. By age 35, their fertility declines precipitously. Ergo, having the number of children you want the natural way means making marriage a priority.
3. You won’t find yourself in the unenviable position of having to ‘hurry up and find a man to marry.’
This is a major problem with women who delay marriage too long and find themselves in their 30s marrying whomever they happen to be dating (or living with) to ensure they’ll be able to have children. The entire decision process is undermined as a result of a ticking clock: You’re just far less likely to choose well when you’re under the gun. The way to avoid that is to put marriage at the forefront rather than in the background of your life plans.
America’s titanic shift in values (work first, family second) has been a gigantic social experiment. We need far more adults who tell young people something akin to what Maria Shriver did in her book, 10 Things I Wished I’d Known—Before I Went Out into the Real World: “You may think your career is your life and your identity, but it’s not and it shouldn’t be.”
That is the message women need now more than ever if we want not just a burgeoning population, but a nation of thriving relationships and families.