Women in America are having babies at a considerably higher rate than our European counterparts. So is there something special about being a mom in America that makes it more appealing? And how does the high American birthrate jive with the fact that a high proportion of American women are in the workplace, where the work/mother balance is not eased by government benefits provided in some European countries? The saying “nothin’ more American than Mom and Apple Pie” is apparently more appropriate than ever as we approach this Fourth of July holiday.
A recent article in the New York Times titled,” No Babies,” discusses some of these questions and points to some possible answers. The article points out that the United States has one of the highest birthrates of almost anywhere in the developed world – an average of 2.1 births per woman. European countries discussed in the article range from 1.3 to 1.7.
I recently posted a Family Responsibilities Discrimination Update, in which I wrote about WorkLife Law’s study about flexible work statutes in other countries. The study suggests that the United States would be wise to follow some of our more enlightened European brethren when it comes to employers’ accommodation of working mothers.
If that’s true, and the “balance” that America’s working moms are forced to strike is a more difficult one than that in many European countries, one would expect a natural consequence to be that American women to have fewer children than their European counterparts. If American working women enjoyed the benefits of state-funded childcare, liberal maternity leave policies, and statutory flexible schedules, just to name a few—wouldn’t we have more children?? Not necessarily.
The article states that within Europe, the statistics seem to suggest that the more juggle-friendly the country, the higher the birthrate tends to be. So how do we explain the U.S., which has a healthy birthrate of 2.1, despite offering relatively little government child-care assistance?
There are various hypotheses regarding the difference. The author of the article suggests that the key seems to be the flexibility of our labor market and workplaces, coupled with social mores that increasingly encourage fathers to take an active role in child rearing. In Italy, where there are traditional views about gender roles, the birthrate is only 1.3, whereas in the Netherlands where fathers share more of the traditional child-rearing roles, the birthrate is 1.7. In other words, women whose partners change the diapers, pick up kids from soccer practice, and clean up the living room, tend to have more children than those who don’t.
So, although the U.S. government offers us little in the way of social services to manage the load, our society supports the notion of women in the workplace, and our spouses (apparently) help to lighten our load. So what are we complaining about?
See Prior Post: