For the first time since the numbers have been tracked, women in their 30s are having more babies than younger women, according to data recently released by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Birth rates for women between the ages of 30 and 34 increased from 101.5 per 1,000 in 2015 to 102.6 in 2016. For women ages 25 to 29, rates declined from 104.3 in 2015 to 101.9 in 2016.
These changes might seem small but they reflect significant cultural and economic shifts.
Increasingly, young people are delaying the transition to adulthood. From 1880 until 2014, the most common living arrangement for adults between the ages of 18 and 34 was to share a home with a spouse or partner. Sixty-two percent did so in the 1960s; today just 31.6 percent do. Slightly more than that, 32.1 percent, live in their parents’ home.
This is due in part to changes in the way people parent their kids – they’re much more intensively involved in their kids’ lives than they were in the past – but can also be explained by changes in the economy. The economic recession in 2008, for example, caused a dip in fertility that garnered lots of attention. Understandably, many people put off having kids until they feel economically secure.
Another reason women may be waiting to have kids is related to workplace policies. Compared to other wealthy nations, work/life balance policies in the United States are particularly notorious for offering little support for working parents. Women who want to pursue opportunities at work may feel forced to put off having kids longer than they would if parental leave policies were more accommodating.
The shift toward later childbearing could also be reflective of several positive cultural changes.
Teen birth rates have plummeted over the past decade. Between 2007 and 2015, the teen birth rate declined by 46 percent. Despite the scare tactics of some conservative pundits and tabloid news outlets, research shows that children, and possibly even mothers, are better off when motherhood begins later in life.
In addition, women today have more opportunity to pursue interests beyond motherhood than they did in the past. This doesn’t mean that many women aren’t interested in eventually becoming mothers but it does indicate that we now understand that women are also interested in pursuing education, career opportunities, and having other kinds of life experiences.
Whatever the reasons that 30-something women are having more babies than those in their 20s, we can and should celebrate that we are living in a time and place when women have the right and ability to control their fertility. Retaining those rights, and pursuing policies that enable all women to make the choice that’s right for them about whether or when to become a parent, is essential.