Maternity and Millennials: Students weigh careers and children

As a senior, the last thing on Natalie Marfisi’s mind is whether or not she should have a kid —  rather, she’s worrying about finding a job post-graduation.

She’s not alone in her line of concerns, and millennials across the board are foregoing childbirth in favor of their education and careers. According to a 2009 study on delayed childbearing by the NCHS, the national average age of women at the time of their first birth increased from 21.4 years in 1970 to 25 years in 2009. Birth rates decline as the battle for new mothers to keep their jobs serves as a deterrent from childbirth. According to a 2013 study commissioned by Helena Morrissey, chief executive of Newton Investment Management, more than 80 percent of women fear that having a child will harm their careers. 

  Marfisi, a 21-year-old senior majoring in political science, decided to wait to have kids in order to pursue her career goals.

“I want to wait, I have career ambitions and things I would like to do with my life before I’m lugging around some kid,” Marfisi said. “Also, kids are mad expensive.”

For women, the cost of having a kid cuts deeper into their wallet’s than it would for the father. Michelle Budig, a sociologist at the University of Massachusetts, found in a 2013 study that the earnings of American women decrease by four percent for each child she has. In contrast, for each child a man has, their earnings increase by six percent. 

Hefty childcare costs also play a role in family planning. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, in 2013, roughly 63 percent of mothers with children under the age of six were in the workforce. Additionally, in 40 percent of families, women are now the sole or primary breadwinner. 

Pitt alumna Dr. Kizzie Johnson, a family therapist at Mind, Body and Solutions located in Pittsburgh, gave insight into the generational trends she’s noticed among her clients.

“Some women have decided to start families earlier and focus on careers after raising their children, and younger women, those in their twenties and early thirties have decided to wait to have children,” Johnson said. “The decision generally depends on where someone is in their life at the time.”

For Marfisi, this “time” comes after she pursues her career goals.

Marfisi said the work she plans on doing post-graduation could take place abroad, which would only complicate any scenario involving having children. 

“I want to do work with refugee populations either in the U.S. or abroad. It’s hard to imagine just getting into that field and having young kids at the same time. I think it would be impossible to juggle,” Marfisi said. 

Marfisi said this decision is her own, and choosing to have kids at a younger age could be the right thing for other people.

“I think it’s up to the woman, what they want to do with their bodies. It’s good that now there’s less societal pressure on women to have kids so young, but at the same time there’s a sharp turn toward a negative view of women who have kids younger,” Marfisi said.

Marfisi referenced the “why don’t you have a career?” mentality as a part of the reason many women feel pressure to hold off having a child.

“I think it takes away choice feminism, which is about having that option to do what you want based on your personal beliefs,” she said. “It’s nice that nothing is forced on you, but the negative of that is so many women feel you have to wait, you have to have a career first.”

Maurice Dickerson, a 25-year-old senior majoring in philosophy and economics, said he is not too worried about when it’s the right time to have kids.

“I’ll have kids when I have kids. I don’t look at it in terms of whether or not I need to wait,” Dickerson said. “When it happens is when it happens.”

Dickerson acknowledged certain benefits of waiting to have children, but he ultimately feels it might not make a difference.

“I don’t think a career is a reason to wait, because that’s never going to change. You have to be willing to sacrifice something, no matter where you are in life,” Dickerson said.

Marfisi sees the decline in conceiving a first-born at a younger age as the result of women’s prevalence increasing in education and the workforce.

“I think it’s education. More women [are getting] a higher education past high school. There are also more women in different higher-level professional settings then there were in say the ’40s, ’50s or ’60s,” Marfisi said. 

According to a Pew Research Center study from March 2014, females are currently outpacing males in college enrollment by a considerable margin in most races, including Hispanic, black, white and Asian. 

“Now more women are in college than men, so more women are not having kids in order to focus on their career,” Marfisi said. 

While Marfisi feels that for women, balancing both a career and raising children is possible, she admits it would be increasingly more difficult.

The difficulty is driving some college students to leave children out of the plan entirely. Stewart Friedman, a professor at the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School of Business, completed a cross-generational study of Wharton students in both 1992 and 2012, and she found that the rate of graduates who plan to have children has dropped by nearly half over the past 20 years.

“At the same time, men and women are now more aligned in their attitudes about dual-career relationships, and they are opting out of parenthood in equal proportions,” the website reads.

For those who take on the challenge, some other life facets may give away to pressure. Marfisi recalls friends who have had to quit college due to the mere expense of having a child.

“I have friends who were in college and didn’t continue because they have kids. They can’t afford to be paying for an education while raising a couple of kids,” Marfisi said. “It’s also tough to go to graduate school and take care of your child at the same time.”

Money is a clear deterrent from having children, too.

According to a United States Department of Agriculture report from 2013 on the expenditures on children by families, the average cost of raising a child is $245,340 total. In the urban northeast region, that number increases to $282,480. Until a child is two years old, he or she costs families $12,940 annually. Raising a 15- to 17-year-old costs $14,970 annually. 

The cost of higher education for children is also a factor. According to the study, the average annual cost of college for a student at a public institution is $18,390, while, at private schools, the cost is $40,920.

The expenses can be daunting, but Johnson has found that deciding to have a child doesn’t complicate things how we might imagine.

“I think most people acknowledge that there are financial obligations associated with raising children, but I have not heard many people address the expense directly,” Johnson said.