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rising number of American women are planning to have children someday, despite generally falling birth rates in the country in recent years, according to new numbers released by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Thursday.

Half of US women between the ages of 15 and 44 say they intend to have children in the future, up from 46 percent in 2002.

And experts say that could be a sign that future parents are more confident in the economy — and with that, their ability to handle the financial responsibilities of having kids.

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“Having kids is not an inexpensive life decision,” said Dr. Hal Lawrence, the executive vice president of the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists. “When people are concerned about the economy, they shy away from having children or more children.”

Fertility rates fell dramatically in the US in 2008, which experts have said was closely linked to economic insecurity brought on by the Great Recession. But as unemployment rates continue to fall, Lawrence said, potential parents could be growing newly comfortable with the idea of having children. And indeed, in 2014, for the first time in seven years, the birth rate increased in the US.

Percentage of women aged 15–44 who expect, do not expect, or do not know if they expect to have a child in the future
Percentage of women aged 15–44 on whether they expect to have a child in the future. CDC

Another potential factor: shifts in insurance coverage among young adults.

“Younger women, women ages 15 to 24, are more likely to expect to have a child in the future,” said Jill Daugherty of the National Center for Health Statistics, who authored the CDC report. Approximately 86 percent of women between the ages 15 and 24 who didn’t yet have children said they expected to have children one day, a higher prevalence than any other age group.

A provision of the Affordable Care Act may have played a role for these young people, Lawrence pointed out. It’s estimated that more than 6 million young adults under the age of 26 have gained insurance since the law passed in 2010, according to the Department of Health and Human Services. Expectations could also be slightly up thanks to advances in assisted reproductive technology like in vitro fertilization, which can help some women who have difficulty conceiving get pregnant.

“Women who are more mature now realize they have an option, or ways of conceiving, which years ago they may not have had,” Lawrence explained. About 33 percent of women between ages 35 and 44 who don’t have children said they expected to have a child in the future.

CDC officials cast a wide net, interviewing nearly 5,700 women of child-bearing age about whether they had children, planned to have children, and whether they were married, cohabiting, or single.

The survey also found that women expected to have an average of 2.2 children, a slight decrease since 2002. But that expectation might change after a first baby, the study suggests.

“Among women who have one child, nearly half expect to never have a second child,” Daugherty said.

Other key findings from the report:

  • Among women with no children, 22 percent did not expect to have a child in the future.
  • Cohabiting and married women seem to have similar expectations for having kids — 16 percent of currently cohabiting women expect to have children within two years, while 19 percent of currently married women say the same.
  • Among women who already had two or more kids, 82 percent said they didn’t expect to have any more children.

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  • Did this study examine the effect of shifting ethnicity in this country? Birth rates are known to be higher in the Latino and Black communities, and the demographic shift is in that direction. That makes much more sense to me than guessing how people feel about the economy.

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