When 37-year-old Heather Marcoux was expecting her child several years ago, she and her husband assumed it would be the first of several pregnancies.
“We certainly thought we would have more than one,” says Marcoux, who lives in Alberta, Canada. But today, these parents are very clear that their son, who is now in elementary school, will never have a brother.
“We can offer our only son a fairly good standard of living,” he says. “If we add more children, it would go down significantly.” It’s partly a financial decision. Even with Marcoux and her husband’s income combined, childcare is a struggle and saving significantly is impossible. But it also has to do with lack of support and doubts about the future.“I feel like another child would be a burden that we just couldn’t handle,” Marcoux notes.
“Nobody wants to think of their growing family as a load. That’s a disaster even to say. Some days we just feel that what we are trying to do with one is so impossible … How could we do that [nuestra vida diaria] work with more? Some family members are disappointed in our choice, but the world is different now, “he adds. The world birth rate is falling. That is not necessarily news; It has been in decline since 1950, according to data compiled by the Population Reference Bureau, a nonprofit organization based in Washington, DC.
But nevertheless, the decline in recent years has been especially marked: in 2021, the world fertility rate is 2.3 births per woman; in 1990 it was 3.2. A new Pew Research Center survey found that a growing percentage of childless American adults ages 18 to 49 intend to stay that way.
In all European nations, fertility in 2021 was below 2.1 births per woman which is generally considered the “replacement rate” of a population. In several of those countries, birth rates fell to historic lows.
It is not difficult to imagine why young people hesitate to have large families. Financial stability is harder to achieve than ever.
One in 10 non-retired Americans say their finances never recover from pandemic; in addition, significant inflation could be looming in Europe.
In many places, homeownership is almost a pipe dream. Political and civil unrest is rampant throughout the world and the climate is in crisis. It is easy to adopt a depressing view of the future. “The central explanation is the increased uncertainty“said Daniele Vignoli, Professor of Demography at the University of Florence, in his opening speech at a research workshop organized by the European University Institute in Zoom.
“The speed, the dynamics and the volatility growing “on numerous fronts, he explains,” make it increasingly difficult for people to predict their future. “
And while the world unemployment rate bounced back after the recession, it has not done it uniformly in all industries and levels.
“There has been a decline in good jobs for people from low- and middle-income households (union jobs, construction, manufacturing), those jobs don’t come back, and they are good and stable for people with lower levels of education,” Gemmill says.
A 2019 US study showed that the loss of certain jobs, including manufacturing, had a greater impact than overall unemployment on the total fertility rate. Gemmill adds that it increased. commissioned work (from the on-demand economy) and shift work – jobs that generally don’t come with family benefits, like childcare or healthcare in privatized countries. This reality also raises questions about future stability and influences parenting decision-making.
And the economic uncertainty spreads beyond employment, to the uncertainty about housing.
lack of certainty
A recent study by researchers at the Center for Population Change at the University of Southampton, UK, showed that the common assumption that people would own a home before having children, one that was supported by data until about 2012 , is no longer true.
In fact, financial reality may now mean that young people have to choose between owning a home or having one or more children“This disconnect between owning a home and becoming a parent has significant implications for parenthood in general,” lead researcher Professor Ann Berrington said in a news release.
“If it is the case, as we propose, that home ownership increasingly competes with the costs of having children, then it is likely that those who do succeed in buying a home will put off or even give up having children.” pressures to pay a mortgage and keep a home are part of the reason why he will have no more children. It is scary, he says, to think that something catastrophic could happen and lead the family into a financial crisis.
On top of that, Marcoux adds, she worries she isn’t providing enough for her son.
“The community has really eroded”
For prospective parents, these financial concerns may be compounded by concern about political and civil unrestBoth local and global, fears that can be further exacerbated by the constant presence of the media in our lives, which can amplify conflict and division.And although wars and political problems have been a reality for almost all generations, everywhere, you could say that today’s parents are faced with a world that seems a lot scarier than their own parents or grandparents.
Despite the highest life expectancy ever, improved technology, and access to modern healthcare, the ubiquitous media mean we are more aware of all the dire events in the world, from food shortages to school shootings. Data from the most recent Global Peace Index, an annual report compiled by the Institute for Economics and Peace based in Sydney, show that civil unrest has more than doubled around the world during the last decade, with a significant increase only in 2020, of a global 10%.
Forty years of data in countries that experienced civil conflict show that fertility rates generally drop by as much as a third during periods of instability.
People have fewer children, Gemmill notes, when they are terrified of what their progeny might have to face. Marcoux also feels that the division it affects people at the neighborhood level. There is a lack of community, she says, which makes parenting much more difficult, and more lonely, than it used to be.
“When I was a kid in the early 1990s, all the moms on the block were housewives. Everyone was always around, you knew your neighbors and you had the support of the community,” he says.
Marcoux expresses that he does not feel that support and that being isolated in her own community increases fears of modern parenthood.
In a 2018 study, two-thirds of American millennials surveyed reported feeling disconnected from their communities – unfortunate findings, considering that social ties are one of the strongest predictors of happiness. “We don’t even know our neighbors. I think la community has really eroded, “observes Marcoux.
“And now especially, political issues are coming to the fore and some people are losing relationships with people that we could have counted on in the past, because our beliefs, morals and ethics are simply not compatible.”
In the Pew Research survey, when asked why people who said they were unlikely to have children in the future, 5% cited environmental reasons.
A 2019 survey by Business Insider showed that about one-third of Americans, including nearly 40% of people ages 18-29, thought couples should “consider the negative effects of climate change when deciding whether to have or no children. “It is not just that a growing population increases the carbon footprint of humanity. Marcoux says she fears the next generation will suffer the worst effects of climate change and worries about the version of Earth her son and potential grandchildren will inherit. climate crisis it only reinforces your decision to keep your child as only son.
“Why would I add another child to the mix when sometimes I think about the future and am terrified for him? I stay up at night thinking about what his future will be like,” she adds.
“This is something else my husband and I talked about endlessly. We wonder, did we make the right choice? Are we burdening our son with having to deal with the consequences? Were we being selfish?” to entire generations as they decide how many children to have, or whether to have any, in the face of increasingly desperate reports on the state of the planet.
“It didn’t occur to me that the tipping point of the weather might come during my own business hours. prime ovarian hearing“writes adventure editor Katie O’Reilly.
In a 2019 article, published in Sierra magazine, she talks about how to deal with the choice of wanting to be a mother as an environmental journalist in the age of the climate crisis.
“It has become impossible to ignore the fact that things are looking increasingly bleak for the offspring of my generation. How could I look my hypothetical son in the eye and acknowledge that he willingly I brought him to a chaotic world And increasingly uninhabitable, who knew that all his favorite picture book animals were going extinct? “he wonders.
An uncertain optimism
As I write this, my first son squirms and hiccups inside of me. I have had a fortunately uneventful pregnancy, physically speaking, but mentally and emotionally, I am knee-deep in cloudy and confused feelings About impending fatherhood, I thought at 31, I’d be in a different place financially. I haven’t finished paying off my student loans, and unless major legislative action is taken, I will likely keep carrying them until my son is in kindergarten, at least.
I live in rural Pennsylvania, USA, where the cost of living is low and I have easy access to affordable, healthy local foods. But my house is rented, I am far from my family, and even though I have a loving community of neighbors, it is difficult to get rid of feeling of non-permanence.
So many things give me anxiety. It gives me anxiety to give birth to a child in a pandemic, in a country where I feel the weakness of political peace.
Fear aside, I also feel deep, visceral emotion and unmistakable optimism. I can not wait to walk with my son in the natural worldAs abused as I am, pointing out how precious the Appalachian hardwood trees, the moths and mussels, and the deep snow on the ski hill, I tell myself that we will just do our best to acquaint our baby, not scare him, with the problems of the world, and then train him to believe that he can help fix the boat.
Motherhood is scary, but it seems like exactly the right choice to me. Somehow it seems both may be true.
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