More highly educated women are having babies

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More women appear to be trying to "have it all," according to a new survey.

Today, just one in five women between the ages of 40 and 44 with a master's degree has no children. Twenty years ago, close to a third were childless, according to a report from the Pew Research Center.


Not only are a rising share of highly educated women having babies, but they're increasingly likely to have multiple babies. (No word on their mental state or sleep deprivation.)

At the same time, the number of women in leadership positions in the workforce is growing. Where highly educated women may have once have felt like they couldn't balance both work and family, more are, as Sheryl Sandberg would say, leaning into that challenge.

"Highly educated moms today may be a little bit different than highly educated moms 20 years ago," senior researcher Gretchen Livingston told Fusion. "It's becoming more common now for women to get advanced degrees…so the profile of who these women are might be a little different."


Livingston can't say for sure what's driving the increase, but she has some theories. There's a growing acceptance of working moms, she said, which may play a role. Highly educated women are also more likely to have babies later in life, an option made increasingly possible by advances in reproductive technology. Finally, highly educated women today are a bit more likely to be married now than 20 years ago, Livingston said—and married women are more likely to have babies.

Childlessness among all women ages 40 to 44, according to the report, is at a 10-year low point of 15 percent. It rose to 20 percent during the mid-2000s, perhaps driven by the Recession. But family size overall has remained relatively constant at about two children, with a drop in the number of four-child families and an increase in the number of one-child families.


While highly educated women are more likely to have children now than they were two decades ago, the survey didn't find clear trends among less-educated women. And it remains generally true that the more educated a woman is, up to a bachelor's degree, the less likely she is to be a mother. That may strike some as counterintuitive, Livingston acknowledged, because more educated women are arguably more likely to have childcare options and a greater ability to negotiate flexible work hours—but the burden of raising children still falls primarily to women and some are choosing to opt out of that balancing act.


Opting not to have children is also becoming a more socially acceptable choice, Livingston said. While childlessness among older women is declining, it's been steadily rising among young women since the 1970s, meaning there may be less pressure to get married young and have babies now than in previous generations.

Emily DeRuy is a Washington, D.C.-based associate editor, covering education, reproductive rights, and inequality. A San Francisco native, she enjoys Giants baseball and misses Philz terribly.

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