Why More Women Aren't Having Kids — And How The Workplace Is To Blame

Photo: G-Stock Studio / Shutterstock
woman at computer
Contributor
Self

Currently, nearly 57 percent of U.S. households are childless. Yes, that’s right. And since 1970, the number of U.S. households with families with two married parents and children fell by half, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.

In addition, birth rates have fallen steadily in the U.S. since 2007, and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention revealed that the lowest levels for birth rates, in more than 30 years, occurred in 2017.

Sadly, because of a general lack of support for mothers in the workplace, 43 percent of women leave the workforce within 3 months of having a baby, according to information from the CDC mentioned in the white paper “Why Supporting Working Moms is Key to Your Bottom Line” by Medela and Mamava.

The phenomenon of more and more adults, especially those in their early 30s, not having kids has been especially noticeable in the last year or so of lockdowns and social distancing.

According to information gathered by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and the National Center for Health Statistics, there were 53.9 births per 1,000 women in the last quarter of 2020, which is substantially lower than the 57.6 annualized births per 1,000 women in the last quarter of 2019.

Why are many women not having kids?

Research shows that this trend is largely a result of some women waiting longer to have children, which can impact fertility rates, and others choosing not to have children at all.

A major cause of this delay in conceiving, or a voluntary childfree life, is women not having enough support in the workplace, an issue that has been exaggerated during lockdowns, as women considering having a child see how little support many working mothers receive from their employer. 

“There are many benefits to having women in leadership roles, yet their presence is still lacking. Employers need to step up to help level the playing field and strengthen their pipeline of female talent," says Dana Kirwin, Director of Employer Groups at Medela. 

RELATED: Stop Telling Women That 'There's Never A Right Time To Have Kids'

The connection between women having fewer children and a lack of support in the workplace is backed by a finding that many women who are childless by choice made the decision largely because they think the costs of having children would be too great.

And, according to the Pew Research Center, 20 percent of women with an M.D. or Ph.D. are kid-free, while 19 percent with a bachelor’s degree do not have children.

It seems that delays in women having children, and the increase in childfree people, correlate to increasing educational attainment and women’s labor force participation. 

Essentially, more women are choosing to prioritize their career over motherhood, because they believe that the general culture in the workplace doesn’t support both career advancement and raising a family. 

What the Drop in Birth Rates Say About Corporate and Working Culture

So what do women ignoring the ticking of their biological clock, and others opting for a life without children, say about the working culture in the United States?

In many ways, it points to serious issues in how some employers treat working mothers.

A glaring light was shone on these issues when 2020 heavily impacted working life in the U.S. In September 2020 alone, 865,000 women in the United States left the workforce at more than four times the rate of men.

During this time, many working mothers cited the need to provide care for their children as a primary reason for taking a leave from work.

The fact that many households that include a mother and father had the mother take time off work, because the father typically made more money, points to the pay gap in the United States, which is one of the other major issues in the working culture in the United States.

But these issues aren’t just issues for women. 

There’s a major misconception that problems such as lack of childcare support, the pay gap, insufficient maternity leave, a need for more lactation accommodations in the workplace, and other issues women face are only detrimental to women.

On the contrary, a work force lacking in working mothers can lead to more productivity and higher quality of leadership.

RELATED: 72% Of Mothers Are Working Moms — So Why Aren’t Businesses Taking Better Care Of Them?

In fact, 91 percent of working Americans said mothers bring unique skills like communication, multitasking, and remaining calm under fire, to leadership that others don’t.

“Employers are becoming more aware that creating a diverse and inclusive positive work culture, as well as supporting new parents in the workplace, is good for employees and business. It helps organizations be more competitive and helps to attract and retain talent," Kirwin says. 

And it’s not just working mothers that bring significant benefits to the workplace — both mothers and childless women are a powerful component of the advantages companies reap when they employ women.

For example, a 2019 report found that companies in the top quartile for gender diversity on executive teams were 25 percent more likely to have above-average profitability than companies in the fourth quartile.

And, when women make up more than one-third of workers receiving promotions at a company, workers gave higher favorability scores in a variety of areas such as teamwork, performance evaluation, retention, company image and senior leadership. 

Research has also shown that female managers are more likely to be engaged than male managers, and employees who work for a female manager are also 6 percent more engaged, on average, than those who work for a male manager.

So when fewer women are in the workplace, we all suffer. But still, biases against women persist, often resulting in them not being hired or promoted due to their gender.

This bias is oftentimes intensified when it comes to mothers. Employers unaware of what an asset a mother can be to a company do not provide the necessary support that would allow them to thrive in the workplace.

Much of this support would stem from an increase in gender equity in the workplace, which requires employers working to develop and provide the necessary tools, programs, policies and laws that offer a level playing field for everyone.

This support would also need to include companies closing gender pay gaps, placing more emphasis on diversity and inclusion initiatives, and seeking more qualified female candidates for C-level positions.

When this support is not offered, it’s much more difficult for women to be motivated to start a family. 

For example, the white paper “Embracing Gender Equity” reported that, a century ago, women only made up about 20 percent of the U.S. labor force, but now, according to the Department of Labor, women currently account for 47 percent of the labor force.

What Needs to Change in Our Culture and Society to Empower Parents

Despite the many setbacks for women in the workplace, women persevere.

Both mothers and childfree women are pushing for changes in the workplace that support greater gender equality, and women in leadership roles are crafting initiatives that make it easier for mothers to stay in the workplace, while also providing quality care to their families.

For example, the teams at Medela and Mamava are making it easier for women to not have to feel like they have to choose between career or family through their New Moms’ Healthy Returns program.

New Moms’ Healthy Returns is an innovative program that provides technology, resources, and accessories designed to support new and expecting parents in the workplace. 

RELATED: I Was Firmly Anti-Kids Until An Unexpected Career Change Finally Changed My Mind

Specifically, New Moms’ Healthy Returns provides breast pumps and the applicable accessories, private lactation spaces, virtual access to pediatric and maternal experts, breastfeeding education, and breast milk shipping services. The program helps employers help their employees get the support they need to balance their career with breastfeeding and raising children.

The breastfeeding component of this program is especially beneficial, as employees whose companies provide breastfeeding support report improved morale, better satisfaction with their jobs, and higher productivity.

“Medela is committed to helping employers support their breastfeeding employees. Medela provides hospital-grade technology to help make returning to work and continuing to breastfeed seamless and easy for moms," explains Kirwin. "Equipping lactation spaces with breast pumps is one way to show employees that your company cares about supporting working moms who want to also provide breast milk to their babies.”

Subscribe to our newsletter.

Join now for YourTango's trending articles, top expert advice and personal horoscopes delivered straight to your inbox each morning.

The aim is that employers who utilize New Moms’ Healthy Returns can attract and retain high-quality employees by providing a family-friendly environment. And it’s been found that there’s a 94.2 percent retention rate of highly qualified female employees when workplace support programs are put in place.

"New Moms' Healthy Returns offers a customizable, single-source solution designed to make it easier for companies to support women in the workplace who would like to return to work after baby,” Kirwin adds. "The New Moms' Healthy Returns initiative provides turnkey support to employers to help new parents return to work, and continue to successfully breastfeed and pump — such as lactation spaces, breastfeeding equipment, educational resources, and milk shipping.”

Another program essential to empowering parents and creating a supportive society is Medela Baby, which features a full range of pacifiers for infants through 36 months.

For parents who want what is best for their baby, these pacifiers are orthodontic and designed to help support the natural movement of mouth muscles. In fact, the shape and features of a pacifier are important to supporting the oral development of a baby, which Medela Baby used to design their pacifiers:

—A thin neck teat minimizes the space between the upper and lower jaw.

—A flat teat takes up less space in the mouth allowing for more tongue movement.

—A flexible and elastic teat allows for additional tongue movement.

—The light weight design minimizes the work of the facial muscles.

—An ergonomically shaped shield fits the contour of the face and prevents pressure points.

Aside from taking part in programs like New Moms’ Healthy Returns, companies can empower working parents by providing more access to quality childcare, offering more flexible working arrangements, and, in general, creating more family-friendly policies.

These investments are aligned with what a lot of people are yearning for: greater work-life balance, and encouragement from employers to develop an enriching home life. If more employers embrace these types of changes, they’re likely to attract and retain more talented women.

Outside of the workplace, our society can help give working families the confidence necessary to succeed by pushing for a federal paid family leave policy and more affordable childcare, normalizing men and women equally sharing childcare and household duties, and supporting companies that advocate gender equity and create initiatives that enhance employees’ family life. 

In addition, it’s important for our society to normalize the decision to not have kids. We need to support those who don’t want kids in not feeling guilty, or like an anomaly.

The choice to have children is highly personal, and not right for everyone.

A society that is nonjudgmental about an individual’s family planning decisions will help dissolve the stigma of being voluntarily childless. The belief that you can have a good life whether or not you decide to start a family should be a norm in our culture. 

While more and more companies are starting to do right by their female employees, many employers, and society at large, still have a long way to go in regard to championing mothers and childless women in the workforce.

But by continually advocating for the gender equity that is at the root of these issues, we can craft a society that fully utilizes the phenomenal assets women bring to the world. 

-Created in partnership with Medela

RELATED: Why Going Back To Work After Having A Baby Is Harder Than It Should Be

Bailey Gaddis is the author of 'Asking for a Pregnant Friend' and 'Feng Shui Mommy.' She is also a Certified Birthing Doula, HypnoBirthing® Practitioner, HypnoMothering® Practitioner, and a founding member of the Ojai Valley Birth Collective. She has written about women’s issues for publications like Working Mother, Fit Pregnancy, Pregnancy and Newborn, Cosmopolitan, Redbook, Woman’s Day, Good Housekeeping, Scary Mommy, American Baby, Huffington Post, and more.

YourTango may earn an affiliate commission if you buy something through links featured in this article.