As I’ve been talking to people about getting knocked up and what this means in terms of getting married and my career, I’ve found myself saying rather astonishing things, like, “I’m not that concerned about my career. It’ll be there no matter what I decide to do.” Similarly, while my partner and I are a couple, I’m not concerned about getting married because I know he is going to be involved with our child and in my life no matter what our official status is. Both of these things are big changes in American society which are turning out to have huge and mostly positive effects on families and fertility rates.
I write in Slackonomics about how educated, middle class Generation X parents are having more children than similarly situated baby-boomers, and in fact are nudging up the fertility rate here in the US not seen since the 1960s. I explain this in my book — and so does yesterday’s Times magazine — in a somewhat astonishing and counter-intuitive way.
Professional American middle class couples are more open to flexible gender roles, as I noted in a previous blog post about shared parenting, which make it easier and more attractive for professional women to have more children than previous generations. While fertility rates were dropping among the more educated and professional classes for many decades, that changed with Generation X as strict rules about who does what in the household have loosened considerably, and as post-Boomer men have become more equal partners in child-rearing even when the marriage or partnership dissolves. So getting married and having kids is a whole lot more attractive for women who now have more options about what to do with their lives. (A spate of Gen X fatherhood books attests to how Xers have brought shared parenting into the mainstream; see Neal Pollack’s book, Alternadad, as one example).
What’s more, the Times magazine piece adds another interesting dimension to the American fertility puzzle. Read the rest of this entry » »
It’s back to the future all over again. In the 1980s, the Backlash media stories focused on how 40 year-old working women were more likely to get “killed by a terrorist” than they were to ever get married (a catchy but untrue statistical comparison perpetuated by Newsweek, which the magazine took 20 years to correct). Now the recurring media myth is that “more and more” professional, educated women opt out of the workforce when they become mothers. Lisa Belkin wrote a big piece about this for the Sunday Times Magazine, which she defended in this op-ed three years later.
Lisa Belkin is no slouch, but in the era of “two’s a coincidence, three’s a story”, anecdotal evidence can justify a story that fits the backlash cultural zeitgeist that never seems to go away. But here are the facts as recently reported by sociologist Christine Percheski, who examined trends among college-educated women born between 1906 and 1975: “the number of women with young children who work full-time year-round has increased steadily, growing from a rate of 5.6 percent of women born 1926 to 1935 (referred to as the “Baby Boom Parents” by Percheski), to 38.1 percent of women from Generation X (born 1966 to 1975). More professional Generation X mothers of young children were working full-time year-round than their counterparts in any previous generation.” She also reports in June issue of the American Sociology Review that not only are more professional Xer women working, they’re working longer hours, especially as their children get older.
The NYT Sunday Magazine has a cover story titled, “When Mom and Dad Share it All.” Sadly, the term “Generation X” isn’t used, but that is clearly who this article is about. Author Lisa Belkin cites research showing that the majority of housework and parental care is still done by women, yet the story focuses on Generation X parents who are changing the rules by sharing things equally. Seems to be a contradiction, yeah? Not necessarily.
As I point out in my forthcoming book Slackonomics, Generation X does share parenting more equally than previous generations, but it doesn’t show up in the stats. Why? There is a big difference between the entire demographic of parents, and the subset of middle class, educated couples in their 30′s and mid-40s. This is the cultural definition of Generation X and the people Lisa Belkin focuses on. Because they are a small portion of the overall parenting population, the extent of the change is diminished. But not only is this subset of the population embracing shared parenting, they’re having more children than the average because of it.