Women Having Fewer Children Than Their Hearts Desire

by Colette Moran

 . . . and it isn’t just here in the States. The Pew Research Center came out with a report today in which they asked women in more than 30 countries, aged 40-54, what was the ideal number of children to have, and compared it to how many they actually had.

In many developed nations, the average number of children that a woman has in her lifetime is now less than two, falling short of the approximate fertility necessary for a generation to “replace” itself. While there are many factors driving what some deem a ‘Baby Bust’ in Europe and—to a lesser extent—the U.S., a lack of desire for children is not among them.

 . . . Reality often doesn’t comport with the ideal. Among EU women ages 40 to 54, one-third reported that the number of children they actually have is lower than their personal ideal. This gap in ideal versus actual fertility varies markedly by country.

The U.S. data is somewhat dated, coming from a 2006-08 survey, but reveals that American women are not having the families they envisioned. 

Some 52% of American women (who gave numerical responses) said their ideal is two children, and an additional 44% said that three or more children is their ideal. (While 86% of women gave numerical responses to this question, 14% reported that the ideal family size was “as many as [someone] wants.”) But 40% of U.S. women nearing the end of their childbearing years have fewer children than their ideal.

The report goes on to point out the many factors that may be causing this trend, such as delays in child-rearing (which can lead to fertility problems) and lack of finding a suitable partner, but even when women have great benefits and incentives for parenting, they still tend to have fewer children than their ideal. (Or none at all — a report from January showed that the U.S. is one of the leaders in childlessness.)

It seems that — even when taking into account the factors listed above — the notion is entrenched in women’s minds that when it comes to childbearing, less is more. Why this persistent notion that one or two children is all a mother can handle and adequately provide for? If that’s what a woman decides for herself, that’s one thing; but if she desires more but chooses not to because of outside influences — societal/peer pressure, the stress of parenting, perceived economic restraints — that seems quite sad to me. Choosing not to create more little miracles because you’re afraid what others will think, or because you’re buying in to the notion that we must have a certain amount of cash in our bank accounts to properly raise another child, or any other arbitrary reason… I honestly believe that in these matters, one must follow her heart and be open to the joys — and yes, challenges — that more children bring to a family. It’s more than worth it in the end.

– Colette Moran is a mom of 7. Follow her on Twitter @ColetteMoran