WASHINGTON – Rasheika Jones was 19 when she became a single mother. She was surprised when she found out she was pregnant with her first child. She had just started her first month of cosmetology school.
From that point, Jones took it upon herself to step ahead of the other students in her class because she knew she would have to leave soon to take care of her son.
“I was in school from the time it opened to the time it closed, so I had 300-plus more hours than everybody in my class when I went out on maternity leave,” Jones said.
Now 29, she is an entrepreneur in the cosmetology industry. In business for herself for five years, she works in a shop and specializes in braiding.
According to a report released by the NCHS Data Brief, births to single mothers decreased between 2007 to 2012 for millennial women. That drop is the highest for women ages 15 to 17, and is second to the drop for women 18 or 19.
“People do wait longer to get married, hence they are delaying marriage and childbearing. More women are going to college and getting higher education,” Rachel Sheffield, a policy analyst at the Heritage Foundation said.
The Pew Research Center found that the more education a woman has, the fewer children she will produce in her lifetime. According to the study, the childbearing rate for unwed college-educated women has remained low.
It has increased since the 1960s, but today 10 percent of college-educated women have a child outside of marriage. For women with a high-school education, half of babies born are born to single mothers, according to the research.
“We’re getting this divide in society along the lines of marriage and education, where children in the lower income third of the population are raised by single parents with a high school education or less. In the upper income third of the population, children are raised by married parents with college education,” Sheffield said.
She said millennials are not necessarily going straight from school to marriage and children. They are working on their careers and getting established.
The economy can play a part in why birth rates are going down.
In 2008 a decline in fertility rates in the U.S. occurred, which was linked to economy, according to a 2011 Pew study. Preliminary data for 2009 shows 4.1 million babies were born in the U.S., the lowest number since 2004. Since 2007, the fertility rate has dropped from 69.9 births per thousand women ages 15 to 44 to 66.7 births per thousand women ages 15 to 44 in 2009.
Provisional data for 2010 show a further drop to 64.7 births per thousand women ages 15 to 44.
Constance Margaret Hall is a sociology professor at Georgetown University who specializes in clinical sociology, with particular attention to social intelligence and social sources of personal and social identity. She said anxiety levels can play a part in why families are getting smaller and birth rates are going down. The census reported that the average household decreased from 2.59 persons in 2000 to 2.58 in 2010.
Hall said anxiety levels play a role in what people decide to do, whether it is to have kids or to not have kids.
“That is where people have stressful situations. If you count stress, meaning not having good health care, not having good income, not having a good job – all of this you are going to get fewer kids usually,” Hall said.
Jones, with three young children, sometimes experiences that stress.
She got married and had two other children after her son was born. She got a divorce and is now living the single-mother lifestyle and trying to find the time for a personal and social life has become a challenge.
“Trying to balance everything out. Alone time, kid time, work, me time,” she said.
She said she works hard to provide for her children. Being an entrepreneur was an easy choice versus having to look for a job or work for someone.
“It’s a blessing working for yourself because, if I was trying to get a job, I don’t think it would be as easy,” she said.
Jones said her life as a single mom is sometimes very challenging, but her kids are something she is most proud of.
More millennial women are in the process of proving for themselves and making a name for themselves in the workforce by walking in a straight line to reach goals. That straight line means waiting to get married and have children until they are established.
Pew Research says young women today who have not had children expect that when they do so it will have a negative impact on their careers. Of millennials ages 18 to 32, 63 percent think that having children will make it harder for them to advance in their job or career. These young women want a job that they enjoy that provides security and flexibility.
Emily Fennell, 22, a D.C. resident, is a researcher at the National Institute of Mental Health. She is planning to go to medical school and is studying for the MCAT. Fennell and her boyfriend have been in a relationship for eight years and plan to get married within the next two years. She wants to have kids before she turns 30. Fennell said it is important to be on a path toward a goal or success that she wants to accomplish before she has children.
“Women want to be independent before they have kids. They want to make sure they can stand on their own feet without being in a marriage or committed relationship,” Fennell said.
A Pew Research study shows most people do not agree with single mothers not having a male partner to help raise their children. Sixty-three percent of people ages 18 to 29 say it is a bad thing, and 67 percent of people ages 30 to 49 say it is bad. This study includes the oldest millennials but also members of generation X.
“As the institution of marriage kind of evolves, it’s kind of at a point where people are debating if marriage is even relevant anymore,” Jean Walton, 27, a senior account executive at the strategic communications company Adfero, said.
Walton, a D.C. resident, said it has never been a priority for her to get married or have children. She does not have a romantic view of marriage and would prefer to “partner.” It is hard for her to visualize having children or getting married without being equally linked to both.
A 2010 Pew study found the trend for women not having children is rising. Americans did not approve – they said it is bad for society. Thirty-seven percent of millennials ages of 18 to 29 say it is bad for society.
“I think the decline in birth rate and women having children later, and women having less children is not necessarily a bad thing. I think that as a society progresses, that’s what comes along with it,” Walton said.
A 2014 National Center for Health Statistics data brief reported a greater increase in nonmarital birth rates for women ages 35 to 39 and 40 to 44 from 2002 to 2012.
While the birth rate for unmarried millennial women is decreasing, the number for unmarried couples raising children is increasing. Cohabitation is a growing trend in the U.S. in recent decades.
From 2002 and 2006-2010, the percentage of nonmarital births that occurred under a cohabiting union increased from 41 percent to 58 percent. Half of those births to cohabiting women in both 2002 and 2006-2010 were intended.
“Having children requires a lot. It requires two people to be on the same page about what sacrifices each partner is going to make, and I think that sometimes that’s just a hard thing to figure out young,” Walton said. “I do think the decline in birth rates and women having children late is not necessarily a bad thing. I think that as a society progresses, that’s something that comes along with it.”
Reach reporter Ashia Aubrey firstname.lastname@example.org or 202-408-1490. SHFWire stories are free to any news organization that gives the reporter a byline and credits the SHFWire.
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