In 2018, the United States population increased by a mere 0.62 percent, the least it’s grown in 80 years. Typically, birth rates have fluctuated with the economy, but despite recent economic growth, the downwards child-bearing trend continues. The birth rate decline among hispanic women has been particularly drastic, dropping by 31 percent from 2007 to 2017, even though the population of hispanics of child-bearing age is increasing. The lower birth rates among hispanic women – most of which are of Mexican heritage – is “helping to drive a major shift in the country’s fertility patterns. Child Trends, [ a nonprofit research group] found that 2016 was the first year in which American women ages 25 to 29 did not have the highest birth rate. Instead, the highest among women in their early 30s” (Tavernise, NYT).
The New York Times article quoted above is called “Why Birth Rates Among Hispanic Americans Have Plummeted,” and it contains statements from a variety of Hispanic-American women – the daughters and granddaughters of immigrants – explaining the generational change in shift in birth rates that we are witnessing. Some of these women have parents’ with very limited education and job opportunities, who came to the United States to work for a better life for them, sacrificing a great deal to do so. One young woman explained her parents’ mindset, saying it was a “don’t be like us” one. “Don’t get married early. Don’t have children early.” Another’s father told her, “you don’t want to be like me, m’ija. I want you to go to school. I want you to do better than me.” Parents who worked hard, enduring many hardships and often taking on multiple jobs in order to provide the best they could for their children, understandably want their daughters to have careers, to lead more comfortable lives. And this is the epitome of the American dream – of coming to this country, working hard, and being able to provide for your family. And for many, this is becoming a reality.
What is clear, however, is that this American dream of a better life is characterized by decreasing fertility rates. Many of these Hispanic-American women are delaying starting families or deciding not to have any at all in order to have careers, be successful, to “become somebody” (Tavernise, NYT). They are cognizant of all that their parents have sacrificed for them, and they want to make them proud. All of these goals – of going to school, having a career, giving back to their family – are excellent aspirations, and it is admirable that these women are able to pursue them. However, an issue arises when we think that being “somebody” is exclusively defined by professional aspirations and not by raising a family. In fact, this very view challenges the significance of many parents’ lives, which were dedicated to family. I don’t think any of their children would claim that their lack of career or professional “success” would exclude them from being “somebody”.
As a young woman, who is in college and hoping to be successful one day, I fully understand the tension that exists – or that seems to exist – between wanting a career and wanting a family, especially because it can seem that the latter complicates my chances of leading the life my parents worked hard for me to have. Having children seems to be an extra serving on an already-full plate. I want to be able to do good work in the world and make a name for myself, and the professional culture that surrounds me tells me that I will be happier and more successful if I don’t have a family, or if I prioritize my career over becoming a wife and a mother. This mentality is clearly far-reaching, as it permeates the mindset of most Americans, especially those that are first and second generation. Parents fear their daughters’ becoming disadvantaged by motherhood, and many young women view having children as an inconvenience. While it is important to work and have a career, we need to help women understand that having a family is empowering as well. Becoming “somebody” or making an impact in the world is not exclusive to the professional realm. Women have a special role in the family as the nurturers of life and as those with the most intimate contact with their children. This means that women can positively impact society not only through their contribution to the workforce but also through raising future generations.
The family is the most fundamental unit of society, without which it would fall apart. Drastically decreasing birth rates could not only lead to demographic disaster, as is already occurring in countries like Japan and EU member states, but also to societal and cultural poverty. We need to help women understand that having a career is something to be extremely proud of, but so is having a family. Females are central to all realms of society, so removing them from the family to exclusively focus on their place in the workforce is not a win-win situation.