The Birthrate in the US is Dropping, and I Think I Know Why

I know absolutely that if I had less debt, and a higher-balance in my bank account, starting a family would be back on my list in a heartbeat.
Publish date:
October 16, 2012
money, babies, finances, family drama

When I was seven, I wanted to have roughly 12 children before the age of 30.

I had pretty great role models for marriage in my parents, who were and continue to be almost too adorable to function. It’s gross. As a big sister to three younger siblings, the idea of a family was something I knew and loved and hoped to be able to take a stab at myself one day. I saw myself as having this family with some dude who liked yellow dogs, the ocean, books and sweaters.

This changed as I got older, but only in details. First off, the number -- twelve, a daunting number even given the precocity of my birthing hips -- was scaled back to a modest non-minivan-requiring two or three.

Then came the goal age -- what seemed feasible before I had hit double digits and grown all of my adult teeth seemed infinitely unlikely as I rounded the corner on 25.

Finally, even my imaginary husband began to shift into something else. Gone were the Fair Isle knits I’d give him on Christmas and the way our kids would have my eyes but his nose. Instead, as 25 turned into 27 and I dated more, my grand list of desirable attributes for a partner went from including such details as “Has eyes like a hurricane and maybe worked at a lighthouse” to “Is decent.”

As this list changed, so did my ideas about becoming a parent -- I factored into my musings both adoption and becoming a foster parent.

Suddenly, I was29, and it wasn’t just the details of the plan for my future family that changed -- it was the idea of having a family altogether. It isn’t that I wanted it any less. If anything, my maturing relationships with my parents and siblings made me appreciate family all the more. But for the first time, it just didn’t seem possible.

Financially, I can barely manage to make it from paycheck to paycheck without having at least one week of a menu I’ve named the “Just Pancakes Project” or engaging in an activity I like to call “Sink Party!” wherein I see just how many pairs of befouled panties I can clean in one sink-wash before the water turns the least sexy of the fifty shades of gray.

I joke about this stuff knowing full well that I am one of the lucky ones. In addition to being able to do things like feed and house myself, I’m living in a city I’ve always wanted to live in -- New York -- and my day job affords me the opportunity to pursue my dream of writing.

That said, it’s hardly a life I’d want to bring a baby into. I have a hard enough time not beating myself up over bringing my cat Rumi into it, and he is a cat, albeit one sensitive of disposition.

At its core, this feels like a “having it all” conundrum. I know absolutely that if I had less debt, and a higher balance in my bank account, starting a family would be back on my list in a heartbeat -- but since these dollars are sadly imaginary, I just don’t.

Over the past four years, the birthrate in the US has dropped, in part, because of the sheer cost of having a baby in this economy. One of the biggest drops is within women in their 20s - where the birthrate fell by four percent. So obviously what I’m feeling isn’t unique.

While I haven’t given up the idea, there are certain things I need to take care of before it becomes a reality, and with my cost of living being pretty high, it’s looking like it’s going to be later rather than sooner.

If I were to leave New York for another part of the country where the cost of living was lower, would I find myself putting my writing life on hold in order to replace the cat with a baby, the four-story highway-adjacent walk-up with someplace with a dishwasher, the roommate with a dude? Would it be different if I were in a relationship with someone as broke as me but eager to have kids? Does any human man actually look hot in fair isle knitwear?