I hear the same story, told in different ways, all over New York City.
There’s 34-year-old Kate, who works in finance downtown. “She’s beautiful, smart, talented . . . everything going for her,” her colleague tells me. “But her boyfriend doesn’t feel settled in his career, so she spent thousands of dollars to freeze her eggs as she waits for him to be ready.”
Susan, 41, a single senior marketing executive from the Upper East Side, is eight months pregnant. After waiting for her match and not finding him, she decided to have a baby on her own.
And then there’s Joanna, from the Upper West Side, who tells me that at age 32, she stepped off the partner track at her law firm, halving her salary to work in the firm’s marketing department, so she could focus on landing a husband. But at 39, Joanna is still single and childless — and unsatisfied in her career.
These women aren’t alone. The latest US Census Fertility Report, published last week, found that for the first time in reported history over half (53.8 percent) of women ages 25-29 are childless and a record 30.8 percent of American women ages 30 to 34 haven’t given birth. Most of these women are college-educated. And most are single.
The census labels childless college-educated women over age 35 the “delayer boom” — as if we gathered together in a collective conspiracy in defiance of motherhood.
The census labels childless college-educated women over age 35 the “delayer boom” — as if we gathered together in a collective conspiracy in defiance of motherhood. Others dub this cohort “career women” as if we made a choice between having a family and a career. (There are no “career men,” mind you.) Some blame women for being naive about their fertility, as if we had no monthly reminder of our own ticking clock.
The trouble with all this finger pointing is that it leaves out half of the baby-making equation: men.
Women want an equal partner, but there are increasingly fewer candidates to choose from. The census reports that “the average adult woman in the US is more likely to be a college graduate than the average adult man.” Moreover, today’s young, childless female city-dwellers with college degrees are out-earning their male counterparts by 8 cents on the dollar. Their higher incomes may be why they are less likely (29 percent) to be living with their parents than single men (35 percent).
If they want a family, single women have to come up with a Plan B, where a young man with the same socioeconomic status isn’t necessarily part of the picture.
It’s not surprising then that a 2012 Pew Research study found, in a reversal of traditional gender roles, that while two-thirds of millennial women say that “being successful in a high-paying career or profession” is of high importance to them, only 59 percent of young men do. At the same time, a significantly larger number of young women than men say that a successful marriage is “one of the most important things in life.” Almost 60 percent of women rate successful parenting as one of the most important parts of life, while only 47 percent of young men do, according to Pew.
Today’s empowered young women are not only placing greater value on the importance of marriage and parenthood than the generation that precedes them, they also value high paying careers more than ever. And millennial men? They’re lagging behind.
This shift has caused a seesaw effect. “When women are in oversupply, men have the advantage and delay marriage and parenthood,” Jon Birger, author of “Date-onomics: How Dating Became a Lopsided Numbers Game,” told The Post. And when men are scarce, women put an even stronger focus on their careers so they can take care of themselves with a financial safety net. Meanwhile, men take a step back in their career ambition, no longer having to impress an oversupply of women with their financial prowess.
Women can’t wait for today’s perpetual male adolescence to change course. And they can’t bank on finding an equal mate while they’re of childbearing age — if ever. If they want a family, single women have to come up with a Plan B, where a young man with the same socioeconomic status isn’t necessarily part of the picture.
For some young college educated women, an older partner may work. Middle-aged men place a higher value on marriage and parenthood than their younger counterparts do, according to Pew. Birger also advises college-educated women to consider a different cohort of men altogether. “If there are too many women in the white-collar dating world,” Birger contends, “that means there are too many men in the blue-collar one. I think it’s inevitable that we’ll see more and more of what I call ‘mixed-collar’ marriages in the future.”
In addition, like Kate and Susan, college-educated women who want kids need to plan for later-age fertility and motherhood. Egg-freezing is an option for those who can afford what can cost $12,000 or more, plus ongoing storage fees, and later IVF.
Whatever they choose, young women should consider their options now. Wait for love, absolutely. But be ready in case love doesn’t come in time for motherhood.
Melanie Notkin is the author of “Otherhood: Modern Women Finding a New Kind of Happiness” and founder of Savvy Auntie.