Less women of color having children, study shows

Photo credit: The Awl

By Kim Harris, shades Magazine

The rates of American women who have passed their childbearing years without having children have grown, particularly for women of color, a recent study shows.

Pew Research conducted a study of combined fertility data from the Census Bureau from 1994 and 2008, using the measure of childlessness as women past their childbearing years – between the age of 40 and 44 – who had never given birth. And although across the board more women are passing their childbearing years without having children, the number of childless women grew more between 1994 and 2008 for women of color than for white women.

Caucasian women had the highest number of childlessness in 2008, with one in five women never bearing a child, and the number is higher for highly educated women, the study shows. “But over the past decade, childless rates have risen more rapidly for black, Hispanic and Asian women, so the racial gap has narrowed,” the study reads.

There are several possibilities as to why the number of childless women are grew more rapidly for women of color. Margaret Hunter, professor of sociology at Mills College in Oakland, California, said it may be that more women are pursuing advanced degrees of education, and the “up or out” policy in these institutions – where one must focus on moving up in academic or professional ranks – leaves little time for childbearing.

“Some women miss out on their window of childbearing years and find themselves having infertility problems as they try to have children in their late 30’s or early 40’s,” Hunter said.

Another possible explanation for these numbers, Hunter said, may be due to a lack of equally educated potential partners, specifically for African-American women who want to marry within their race.

“Because most black women do not marry interracially, their pool of potential marriage partners lies in the black community,” said Hunter. “But black men do not have comparable levels of higher education and many are chronically jobless or have become entangled in the criminal justice system.”

Hunter attributed this situation to discrimination.

“Sociologists generally see the disparities between black women and men as a result of racial and gender discrimination in policing, schooling and employment,” she said.

The Pew study also gave possible explanations for the numbers overall, including the diminished social pressure to have children and childbearing being viewed as a choice. They noted an increase in alternatives to having children, such as job opportunities and better family planning to realize these alternatives through access to contraceptive methods, as key factors as well.

For some, the choice to not have children is based on personal beliefs of what makes one happy. In her book, “Two is Enough: The Couple’s Guide to Being Childless by Choice,” Laura S. Scott describes the process of choosing to remain “child free,” and gives research on why childlessness may be a satisfying lifestyle.

In her blog, Scott references a Pew Research study from 2007, which looks at attitudes toward those who remain childless. This research showed that more people do not believe having children is the key to a happy marriage. In fact, only 41 percent of adults surveyed thought children were important to a successful marriage, a decline from 65 percent in 1990.

“Increasingly, more people are choosing to remain childless in early adulthood and/or choosing to have less children, resulting in many more years of ‘child freedom,’” writes Scott.

Moving forward: What are some of the reasons for the high numbers of childlessness in other ethnic groups? Do experts see any recent changes in these statistics? Stay tuned for answers to these questions and what women who fall within this group have to say at myshadesmagazine.net.

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