Reason number one: The ‘motherhood penalty’ is scary as hell.
I’m from the Midwest, where people tend to both get married and have children early. Most of my childhood friends have two or three children by now, and while I don’t begrudge them their life choices, I always knew that early motherhood wasn’t for me.
My path ended up diverging pretty significantly at age 23 when I was accepted to New York University’s master’s program for journalism. After I graduated, I started working in New York. Staying on the East Coast – where most of the people I knew were single and no one had kids – happened naturally. Marrying my husband, also an East Coast guy, pretty much sealed the deal. We live in Philadelphia now, but many of the same ideals surrounding motherhood (i.e., waiting) prevail here.
I’ll be 32 this year. My husband and I have been married for three years, and we still don’t have children. Here’s why.
I Wanted My 20s to Myself
Call it selfish, call it self-preservation, call it simply enjoying having a disposable income for the first time in my life, but I really, really enjoyed my twenties. From living in New York City and all that entailed, to weekly happy hours and nice dinners with my girlfriends, to shopping whenever I wanted (probably too often, in hindsight), to some really great trips — London, Paris, Rome, Napa Valley, Hawaii, a road trip down the Pacific Coast Highway — I loved my life.
If I had children, I knew that many — if not all — of those things would be out of reach or simply not fiscally responsible when you consider that the cost of raising a child is an estimated $233,610, not including the cost of college.
Getting an Education Takes Longer Now
While many people in my generation (I like to think of us as “old millennials”) are perfectly successful with a four-year degree, it’s becoming increasingly common that a master’s degree is a necessary step when climbing the corporate ladder.
In fact, according to a CareerBuilder survey, 20 percent of employers are recruiting employees with master’s degrees for positions that used to only require a four-year bachelor’s degree. Personally, I suspect that having a school like New York University on my resume has opened many doors for me that may otherwise have stayed shut.
But herein lies the problem: Say you graduate from undergrad at 22, work a year or two, then tackle a two-year master’s program. When you finally graduate, you’re already in your mid-to-late twenties, and you really only have four, maybe five, years of your twenties left. Also, consider the fact that student loan debt is on the rise, and it becomes clear that our higher education system undoubtedly serves as a barrier to procreating.
Having Kids Hurts Your Career — If You’re a Woman
I know this concern isn’t a unique one, but it’s a major factor in my decision. Studies show that with the birth of each child, a woman’s lifetime earnings take a hit of 4 percent. Per child. Then, consider that the U.S. is one of just three countries in the world that does not offer paid maternity leave. (Others are Suriname and Papua New Guinea.)
And don’t forget about the “motherhood penalty,” which is, quite simply, that once a woman has children, she’s “less likely to be hired for jobs, to be perceived as competent at work, or to be paid as much as [her] male colleagues with the same qualifications,” according to the New York Times.
Adding insult to injury is the “fatherhood bonus,” which is, quite literally, the opposite effect: Once men have children, they are more likely to be hired and more likely to be paid more than their male peers without children.
It’s enough to make any woman throw up her hands in disgust and simply put off having children another year. Maybe even indefinitely.
If We Wait, We’ll Be Better off Financially
My husband and I have several major life goals, and many of those involve — or require — being financially successful. Research shows that waiting on motherhood can help increase a woman’s earning power, such as one Danish study that found that the age at which mothers give birth to their first child impacts how much they earn over their lifetime.
It concluded that women who gave birth before age 25 experienced the biggest losses, while women who waited until age 31 or older to have their first child actually enjoyed financial gains. (Worth noting: I realize that by waiting, the more likely we are to need medical help getting pregnant, and things like fertility treatments and IVF aren’t cheap. But, our insurance covers fertility, which makes me feel a bit better about waiting. I realize how lucky we are in that regard.)
Since my husband and I are both working right now and we don’t own a home and live below our means, we have a lot of disposable income each month that we set aside for things like saving for a house, paying on our student loans, and padding our emergency fund. I have a feeling that this extra money is going to — poof! — go up in smoke once a baby comes on the scene.
I’m Not Sure I Like Kids
This one probably makes me sound like a terrible person and to be fair, is a bit of an exaggeration. I don’t dislike kids. I’ve just never been baby crazy. As a teen, I rarely babysat. I avoided the typical summer nannying jobs my friends took on in favor of lifeguarding, even though it paid much less. I hold babies… sometimes. In fact, babies tend to prefer my husband to me.
Kids are scary, exhausting little beings who don’t operate on the same level of pragmatic and reasonable logic like the rest of us. They often do unexpected things, like eat things they shouldn’t, throw up on other human beings, and scream for no reason at all.
Not to mention that fact that when you have seen one photo of a semi-cute, toothless baby, you have seen them all. Yes, I love your kids, but it must be said: As a childless woman, these photos all look the same to me.
We Don’t Own a Home
I think that many women, myself included, have a fantasy of bringing their first baby home from the hospital, stepping over the threshold of their idyllic suburban house, newborn baby in hand, welcoming him or her into their little corner of the world — a safe, well-decorated, spacious home with a room allocated just for baby. The room will be painted a nice shade of blue, pink, or a gender-neutral gray (because it’s 2017 and we don’t want to reinforce outdated traditional gender roles if we don’t have to).
Enter reality. My husband and I live in a barely 1,000 square foot, one-bedroom apartment in a big city. Although we do own a car, it’s in a garage, and we sometimes have to wait awhile to get it out — not exactly ideal for quick trips to Target to grab diapers. The two-bedroom units in our building are astronomically expensive, and I can’t stomach the idea of moving again. Our last place? A three-story rowhouse with twisting staircases and no doors. Not exactly ideal living arrangements for a hypothetical baby.
We’ve been renters for the entirety of our relationship, and I’m not sure when we’ll buy a home. And we’re not alone. Last year, homeownership rates dropped to the lowest they’ve been since 1965, due in part to millennials who are putting off things like buying a home, and — you guessed it — having children.
I’m Afraid My Friendships Will Change
This one is tricky, so I’m going to try to approach it with sensitivity. But here’s how it usually goes: When you reach a certain age, you start to experience friends having children. And your friendships change. Small annoyances like a bad day at work or an insensitive offhand comment from a spouse pale in comparison to concerns about child development, school districts, and physical milestones.
It’s difficult to vent to a friend who’s tasked with the daily responsibility of not only keeping their child safe but raising them to be a functioning member of society — and a good person, to boot. When a friend first has a baby, you must take a step back and give them the space to figure things out, find their rhythm, and come up on the other side for air— and this is often done at the expense of your own emotional needs in the relationship.
It isn’t wrong or something to be upset about. It’s simply what happens. I cherish my female friendships. They are such a big part of what makes my life whole (and essential to keeping my sanity), so this one is tough for me. I know that when I’m on the other side of this and the one having children, my friendships will change, too.
So before you ask that well-meaning question of that woman of a certain age who’s in a committed relationship or has been married long enough, stop yourself. There are so many factors that contribute to whether one chooses to have children and when — and they are all very personal.
Waiting isn’t weird. Sometimes, it’s simply the best choice for those of us trying to navigate our educations, career paths, and a mountain of student loan debt in an economy that doesn’t support working mothers.
One last thing: Before my mom reads this and thinks she will never have any grandchildren: Yes, my husband and I are planning on having children. But when we do so is incredibly personal and private. And I think it should stay that way.