Last week, The New York Times reported that the United States’ birth rate has fallen to a low of 1.87 children per woman—the lowest it has been in 40 years. By contrast, the global population is increasing at a rate faster than the world knows how to handle. The last time the American birth rate was this low, the U.S. was in the midst of a severe economic crisis in the mid- to late 1970s. American birth rates have been declining since the early 2000s because although women have been rapidly entering the workforce for several decades now, childcare options and general family structure have not changed enough to keep up with the times. Women are pressured to fulfill traditional gender roles and remain at home while somehow simultaneously pursuing a career. Even in two-career households, women still do more housework and child rearing than their male partners.
Despite these obstacles, U.S. women still report that, on average, they would like to have 2.7 children. Because of the lack of development surrounding childcare in countries with lower birth rates, attempts to address the lack of support for mothers could raise their birth rates—a outcome these countries would like to avoid. Overpopulation is putting an increasing strain on resources and contributing to environmental changes, such as global warming and air pollution. By the year 2100, the global population is predicted to be between 10 and 12 billion, so it is important to remember that although having a child is a personal decision, it ultimately impacts the global population.
However, women should be free to have as many children as they personally decide, so we need to give women the opportunities and resources to make their own decisions. If we reduced the gap between the number of children women want and the number that they have, American women would be happier, and the country would have a much more stable birth rate. Relying on harmful stereotypes about mothers and giving them no support in order to produce a lower birth rate is a highly unstable strategy and holds back society as a whole.
Reducing this gap starts with lessening the societal constraints that women face while having children. In 2013, The Atlantic reported that 43 percent of new mothers leave the workforce after giving birth, which often negatively affects their careers via delayed promotions and pay increases. In a country that is experiencing a steady increase in the cost of living, one can only afford to take time off work for so long. Solutions such as mandatory paid maternity leave and job security could work to remedy this situation. These standards must be mandated because individual workplaces implementing them will have too small of an effect. Women are frequently tasked with choosing either their families or their careers. There are few resources available to women once they have children, and childcare is expensive. Providing more accessible childcare, as well as changing the narrative that women ought to be the sole providers of childcare and housework, would allow women to make more comprehensive decisions in family planning.
As a nation, we tend to prioritize short term results over long term effects. In order to make sure that these solutions endure in our society, our government needs to make solid policy changes in favor of mothers. We also need to take personal responsibility, ensuring that we ourselves are challenging these ingrained gender stereotypes about conventional domesticity. We should broaden the minds of children and young people and teach them to be confident in assuming non-traditional familial roles. Letting women choose what to do with their bodies is paramount, but we cannot forget the reality of the situation—rising populations have a negative effect on the world as a whole