Fewer educated women are choosing to skip having kids

More highly educated women are opting to become mothers, marking a shift in attitudes about work-life balance compared to just 20 years ago, new research suggests.

Changing attitudes about working women pursuing both careers and motherhood may be feeding into this trend, said Gretchen Livingston, senior researcher at the Pew Research Center who authored the report.

“In the past, it’s been the attitude that a working mom can’t have a good relationship with her child,” she said. “I think as it’s becoming more acceptable for working women to become moms, and that may be having an influence.”

About one out of five women, who are between the ages of 40 and 44 and have earned a master’s degree or higher, choose to remain childless. That is down from 30 percent in 1994, despite the perceived influence the Great Recession held over fertility rates as well as the fact that more women are pursuing post-graduate degrees, the Pew Research Center found. Researchers used data from the U.S. Census Bureau’s Current Population Survey for this report.

In the last 20 years, more women also have risen to managerial and leadership roles, Livingston said, giving greater exposure to issues of work-life balance. At home, “convergence of gender roles” has helped, but Livingston says research shows that childcare still primarily falls on mothers.

And working mothers are still more likely than working fathers to say that being a working parent stifled their career advancement, Thursday’s report says.

However, childlessness among women between the ages of 40 and 44, regardless of education, is “at the lowest point in a decade,” the study says.

An “education gap” remains, the data reveal. A woman’s education level still makes a difference in the likelihood of whether or not she will also become a mother and how many children she will raise.

According to the report, 13 percent of mothers without a high school diploma have one child, while one-quarter of these mothers have at least four children. On the other hand, about one in four mothers who have earned a master’s degree or more raise an only child, while 8 percent of these mothers choose to have four children or more.