More highly educated women are becoming mothers, according to a Pew Research Study released last week.
Today, only 22 percent of women ages 40 to 44 with a master’s degree or higher are childless, down from 30 percent in 1994. The jump is especially significant for female physicians or those holding other doctorates—35 percent were childless in 1994 compared to 20 percent today.
“That’s a stunning turnaround,” report author Gretchen Livingstone told The Washington Post. “It was a most surprising find.”
The results are surprising because Pew notes other studies still show an inverse relationship between education and fertility: The more education a woman obtains, up to a bachelor’s degree, the less likely she is to have children, and if she has children, she is likely to have fewer of them.
This recent data reveals a small slice of childbearing women who are bucking the trend. The study, analyzing newly released Census Bureau data, not only says more women with graduate diplomas are having children, it also notes they are having larger families.
The number of highly educated mothers with just one child fell from 28 percent to 23 percent in the last 10 years. The number of mothers with a masters degree or higher and three or more children rose from 22 to 27 percent in the same years.
“Of all educational groups, this was the only one that showed clear declines in small families and increases in multi-child families,” Livingston told the Post. “I wasn’t expecting to see that at all.”
Livingstone suggested the explanation might just be more women in this category. She notes that more women are highly educated today than ever before. Women are earning more bachelor’s, master’s, and doctor’s degrees than men, according to data released last year by the National Center for Education Statistics.
She also notes advanced reproductive technology, like in-vitro fertilization, could influence the data. According to the National Center for Health Statistics, fertility rates for women under 30 are dropping while rates for women 30 and above are on the rise. As women delay childbearing, more find they need to use reproductive technology to help them conceive.
Rachel Sheffield, a policy analyst with the Heritage Foundation, told me more women with higher education and flexible work schedules most likely influenced the new data. But she also noted the new research goes hand in hand with another recent Pew study showing women are pushing for more work-family balance.
“More women are staying at home than there were 10 or 20 years ago,” Sheffield said. “Most women prefer to work part time over full time. Women do want that work-family balance. They still do value motherhood.”
— by Kiley Crossland