A new study of 3,000 college-educated women between the ages of 33 and 45 has found that almost half of them are childless. This has already been seen as a cause for worry.
"The statistic is likely to lead to a new wave of wondering why women still feel they have to choose between families and careers," writes Lisa Belkin in The Times' Motherlode blog. We agree with the policy thrust of this, and the implied calling-out of the United States for its family-unfriendly work, daycare, and family-friendly policies. On the other hand, why assume all women want to be mothers?
As it happens, the study also included British women, a handful of whom were quoted in the Sunday Times piece that broke the embargo on the study. None of them sounded like they were pining:
"I do need to feel that I am in control of my own life, definitely. Having children changes the entire dynamic. Once they arrive, everything starts revolving around somebody else. It's not selfish, it's more a case that I don't feel particularly maternal, so I don't feel I'm missing anything."
And this too, from the author of the study:
Leader-Chivee says this age group has also experienced being laid off, as in years when boom has turned into bust. This has made them flexible and career-focused; 91% of the women in relationships are part of dual earning couples, and 19% out-earn their husbands. Similarly, 74% consider themselves ambitious, compared to 65% of women from the baby-boom generation. They start their own businesses at three times the rate boomers did at their age.
None of this means that companies and government policies aren't forcing the hand of the women who do want to have children to leave the workplace, or that things are incredibly difficult for working mothers in either country. Sadly, that's true even in places with way better policies on paper; The Times today also reported on the slow pace of progress in Germany, which despite having a female chancellor also has some pretty bleak numbers of female workplace retention. "Only about 14 percent of German mothers with one child resume full-time work, and only 6 percent of those with two," the story notes.
It attributes this to a few things, including a boys club in the boardroom and remaining cultural baggage from the Nazi era about the role of women. The human resources chief at Deutsche Telekom says, "There is a very traditional image of women and men that was taken to an extreme in the Third Reich: female mother cult and male fraternity. These mental stereotypes have not yet been culturally processed and purged."