Love, marriage and millennials – one more look at fertility

About Susan Heavey

Susan Heavey, (@susanheavey) a Washington, D.C.-based journalist, is AHCJ’s topic leader on social determinants of health and curates related material at healthjournalism.org. She welcomes questions and suggestions on resources and tip sheets at determinants@healthjournalism.org.

Photo: Don Harder via Flickr

Photo: Don Harder via Flickr

Recent data on the economic recession’s impact on U.S. birth rate showed a slowdown among millennials struggling to regain their financial footing.

It sparked not only headlines but also raised questions about whether those 20-29 year olds would skip childbirth altogether or perhaps opt to “catch up” later in life.  Now other coverage is examining how millennials are grappling with factors such as their likelihood to marry, work-life balance and financing infertility treatments.

“Many questions remain about family formation in the postrecession economy,” researchers at the Urban Institute wrote in a recent paper, noting that answers won’t come until that generation “has completed its reproductive years.” And while some Americans have increasingly put off having children until their later years, the possibility of an entire generation delaying parenthood is forcing a reexamination of the social impact of fertility.

Meanwhile, several publications have recently examined what those years look like for young adults who coming of age as the economy ever-so-slowly comes back to life.

The Wall Street Journal recently reported on the boom in fertility treatments, which have grown into a $3.5 billion-a-year industry as more women – including millennials – postpone pregnancy. That’s up from $2.25 billion in 2000 – a seven-fold increase, according to the newspaper.

WSJ’s Neil Shah writes:

“The rate of women having their first child at ages 35 to 39 nearly doubled between 1988 and 2013, CDC data show. There were 11.2 “first births” per 1,000 women of that age in 2013, up from 5.7 in 1988 and just 1.7 in 1973. For women ages 40 to 44, the rate rose to 2.3 births from 0.3 in 1973.

In tandem, the number of treatments for reproductive assistance has soared. Nearly 175,000 treatments were done in 2013, up from less than 23,000 in 1988, according to the Society for Assisted Reproductive Technology, an organization that represents fertility clinics. The treatments consist almost entirely of IVF and exclude routine fertility drugs.”

And while the Urban Institute’s work linked lower marriage rates among some millennials to the fall in births, The New York Times recently examined how a person’s chances of marriage is linked to where they live.

David Leonhardt and Kevin Quealy at the NYT’s Upshot blog took a look at data compiled by Harvard economists and found not only regional differences that factor into whether someone is married by age 26, but also variances by income and race. Leonhardt and Quealy write: “The Deep South presents the most complex picture. It nudges affluent children toward marriage and lower-income children away from it. By comparison, the Northeast generally discourages marriage for children of all income levels, and the Mountain West encourages it for children of all levels.”

Such disparities among marriage rates combined with recent birth data paints a complex picture not only for millennials but also the next generation.

Then there’s the stress of all that love and marriage.

According to recent survey by accounting firm EY, some millennials are feeling the weight of early parenthood as well as moving up in their careers, CNBC recently reported.  And although the results indicate both men and women in their 20s are more willing to cut back on their careers to pursue work-life balance their previous generations, the study showed respondents still struggling with the additional responsibilities that come with a family.

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