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Are childless women ruining the economy?

By Victoria Fryer 

A recent CBS Moneywatch article reporting on a new study from the Urban Institute inspired some recent polarizing conversation with its news of shifting demographics among American Millennial women. In it, the author suggests that our “rapidly ageing society” combined with “a younger generation that’s not having kids” could lead to an “economic Armageddon”—which makes a good lead, but is it a valid concern or simple fear-mongering?

The Urban Institute’s study looks at the decline of birth rates between 2007 and 2012 among women in their twenties, noting a “dramatic” decline of more than 15 percent. The study stops short, however, of suggesting impending doom. As they only looked at women in their twenties, it could be that these Millennials will go on to have children in their thirties. In fact, the study authors write, “Historical experience suggests there will be some catching up: some Millennials will go on to have as many children as their older counterparts, but at an older age.”

Either way, it’s a tough prediction to make, and the Urban Institute’s study is not the first to note that worldwide demographic shifts will have some interesting implications across the globe over the next decades. Like Japan and some countries in Western Europe, America’s drop in birthrates and ageing population will create a few new challenges. For instance: Who will care for the elderly as the need for nurses increases? Will the Social Security system survive?

It’s all well and good to talk about the economic implications of demographic shifts. After all, we’ll need to plan accordingly. But presenting Millennials’ lack of childbearing in their twenties as a possible economic disaster, as the author of the Moneywatch article does, strikes me as unfair and, perhaps, a bit irresponsible.

While the birth rate is falling in countries like Japan and America, in other countries population is on the rise, and I believe it’s a little too sensational to say that we’re in danger of “economic Armageddon.” As the economy becomes more and more globalized, we’ll just have to devise new solutions to deal with the new problems that arise from a shifting demographic makeup.

Furthermore, the narrative in America continues to revolve around the question, “Why won’t women have babies?” when I think it’s actually pretty clear. Low wages (women are still earning 78 cents on the man’s dollar), poor maternity and paternity leave support, and less than optimal childcare solutions for working women mean that, in many cases, women are waiting longer or forgoing children altogether. Instead of asking why some of us don’t want children, or berating us for that choice, the narrative should be focused on how to support the women that do.

Will the current worldwide demographic shifts have some impact on the future of our economy, both in America and across the globe? Absolutely. But I would stop short of suggesting that a falling birthrate alone could make the future look grim.

Victoria Fryer is a 31-year-old writer and content strategist. She lives in Pennsylvania with her husband and two pit bulls. You can find her on Twitter @extoria.

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