Childless millennials: More young adults opting out or waiting to have kids
With graduation just around the corner, Becki DeGeest, of Moorhead, Minn., might not know what is in store for her future as she endlessly applies for various jobs in cities around the world. But, she knows one thing that’s not in her future: children.
“It’s not in the plan, anyway,” she said.
Even as a young teenager, DeGeest said she was never really interested in having children. While her childhood friends fantasized about settling down in their hometowns and raising their own families, DeGeest said she just wanted to get out. Thoughts of a successful career, endless travels and a life of adventure filled her mind. Kids were never a part of that picture.
“I love kids, but I’ve never really seen myself having kids,” she said, adding that it doesn’t mean she won’t get married.
DeGeest, now 22, has been dating Peter Lonnquist, of Moorhead, for 3½ years, and they’ve often talked of their future together. They’ve even thought about the possibility of children and discussed their favorite baby names.
“Those conversations do pop up,” she said. But, neither of them views children as part of the plan.
And, they’re not alone.
A recent study conducted by Stewart Friedman at the University of Pennsylvania showed that the number of recent grads planning to have children dropped 30 percent from 1992 to 2012. Whether it’s because of financial situations, career choices or the desire to travel, more people are opting out when it comes to having children.
“For me, it’s the traveling and career aspect of it,” DeGeest said. “For Peter, finance definitely plays a role.”
DeGeest is currently applying for jobs in New York City, Los Angeles and London. And, she said she’d never raise children in a big city. She said she also wants to travel more, and it’d be difficult with kids.
DeGeest said she is more focused on advancing her career than growing a family. Others may have a different reason for the same decision.
Many factors to consider
David Flynn, University of North Dakota professor of economics, said there are many factors that play a part in the decision to have kids, and if so, how many. Some of those factors include the size of one’s own family, one’s religious upbringing and one’s career path.
Flynn said people who come from big families with four or more children often tend to have more children of their own. The same goes for people raised in a religious family.
On the other hand, women who are more career-oriented, such as DeGeest, might opt out because they feel having a child might interrupt their desired career path, Flynn said. This is a decision women have that men don’t necessarily face.
“Depending on what industry you’re in, that may or may not matter,” he said. “For instance, the nursing and teaching professions are, generally speaking, more amenable to the maternity-type leave.” Alternatively, he said, someone with a business career might view having a child as a negative choice that might curb or slow advancement opportunities.
Economic factors play a big role in the decision as well, Flynn said, because having a child represents an ongoing financial commitment for a number of years.
“With the long time span of commitment that it has, it does sometimes make people uncertain of how to evaluate and assess that situation,” he said.
‘Experience life before you give life’
Many are finding that the easiest solution is to simply not have kids, while others are waiting until they’re more financially stable or established in their careers.
“The average age (for having children) is steadily increasing, and that’s a trend we see almost across the board,” Flynn said.
The national average age at first birth has increased from 21.4 in 1970 to 25.6 years today, according to the National Center for Health Statistics.
Some are planning to wait even longer than that. Raini Stanek, of East Grand Forks, Minn., said she thinks 28 or 29 would be a good age to start having kids.
“You have to live your life first, experience life before you give life,” she said.
Stanek is a freshman studying wildlife and fisheries at UND. She said she believes the change of mindset when it comes to having children is because of increased opportunities.
“We have a lot more opportunities than our parents had, so we have more things to go see and experience,” she said.
Chris Olson, of Roseau, Minn., said before he turns 30 would be ideal. He’s 23 now and hasn’t thought about it too much, but he knows he wants kids.
“I plan on having kids and all my friends do,” he said. “We just haven’t talked about it a lot.”
Kellie Tougas, of Strasburg, N.D., has similar views as Olson and Stanek. She said she plans to have one or two children but not until later in life.
“I would love to be married by around 21 or 22, and then I want to wait a couple years to have kids, around like 26, 27,” she said. “Wait a couple years just to get through the honeymoon stage and have more job security, and for sure have a stable environment.”
Tougas said one of her cousins has been married for nine or 10 years and doesn’t have any children.
“They go out and have fun and don’t have to worry about finding a babysitter,” she said. “I guess I kind of want to do that as well. You only live so long, and when you’re young, you want to do the fun things. When you start having kids, that holds you back right away.”
A different plan for everyone
Although Tougas wants to hold off on having children, she understands that everyone has a different plan.
One of her friends had a child when she was 19. Now, she’s attending college and enjoying her life as a mom, Tougas said.
She said she also knows someone on the complete opposite end of the spectrum, a young woman who got her tubes tied when she was 18 or 19 because she didn’t want to have kids.
“Now, she lives off on her own, and she’s got a dog and a cat, and she’s completely happy with that,” Tougas said. “She doesn’t want any kids.”
And, while the statistics show that that’s the case with more and more young people, Flynn said as to why, “It’s an important question to ask but a complicated question to answer.”
Increasing age at first birth
Women are waiting longer and longer to have kids. The average age of women at their first birth was 21.4 in 1970. Now, it’s 25.6 years old, according to the National Center for Health Statistics. And, that number is perfectly in line with the nation’s ideal. A 2013 Gallup survey revealed that the ideal age for a woman to have her first child is 25 years old, while the ideal age for a man is 27.
Declining percent planning for kids
More young people are choosing to not have kids at all. In 1992, 78 percent of graduating students planned to have kids, according to a study conducted by Stewart Friedman, a professor at the University of Pennsylvania. When the same study was conducted in 2012, only 42 percent planned to have kids. The percentage of students planning to have children dropped more than 30 percent in just 20 years.