Posted on September 28, 2011

The Have-None and the Have-Too Many: Fertility Rate Masks Hidden Class-Divide Timebomb

Hannah Roberts, Daily Mail (London), September 28, 2011

The average American woman has 2.1 children, a seemingly healthy fertility rate.

But the misleading figure is disguising a growing fertility class divide in the United States.

The US is like two countries, which are experiencing two different, serious crises, two new studies show.

The rates of unplanned pregnancies and births among poor women now dwarf the fertility rates of wealthier women, according to new research from the Guttmacher Institute.

The gap between the two groups has widened significantly over the past five years.

Rates of childlessness among corporate professional women are higher than the childlessness rates of some European countries experiencing fertility crises, another study, by the Center for Work-Life Policy, documents.

43 per cent of the women in their sample of corporate professionals between the ages of 33 and 46 were childless, the study found.

Childlessness has increased across most demographic groups but is still highest among professionals.

About one quarter of all women with bachelor’s degrees and higher in the United States wind up childless.

By comparison, in England, which has one of the highest percentages of women without children in the world, 22 per cent of all women are childless.

The rate of childlessness among the Asian American professional women in the study was a worrying 53 per cent.

At the same time, the numbers of both unplanned pregnancies and births among poor women have climbed in recent years.

About half of all pregnancies in this country are unplanned, with poor women now five times more likely than higher-income women to have an unplanned pregnancy, and six times more likely to have an unplanned birth, according to the Guttmacher Institute’s recent analysis.

Ultimately poorer women with unplanned pregnancies are more likely to smoke, drink, and go without prenatal care.

Their births are more likely to be premature. Their children are less likely to be breastfed, and more likely to be neglected and to have various physical and mental health effects.

And, reinforcing the cycle, the very fact of having a child increases a woman’s chances of being poor.

Only about 40 percent of women who needed publicly funded family planning services between 2000 and 2008 got them, according to the Guttmacher Institute.

With no national paid leave law in place and no decent subsidised childcare system, US policies make it more difficult to simultaneously work and parent than many European countries.