A few days ago, the New York Times Room For Debate page addressed issues around a woman’s choice to pursue education versus bearing / caring for children.
With more education, women have fewer children and, with fewer children, they’re more likely to pursue education – and thus reap the benefits.
Apparently we’re looking into this simplistic interpretation not only for causation, but the possibility of more nuance. We’re concluding that education doesn’t cause women to bear fewer children, though the two are related.
Isn’t this obvious?
And why should we care?
Schools vs Playgrounds
According to Professor Joel E. Cohen, in his article, “Schools or Playgrounds”, since education and childbearing impact women’s prospects in life,
Economists, policy makers and politicians care because education and childbearing shape economic development and population growth.
Well, that makes sense. The more schooling – the fewer children. Or so it would seem, which leads one to believe that we could manage population by increasing education levels. And demographers have been watching and studying exactly that.
A no-brainer, don’t you think?
With a bit of knowledge we’re all more likely to use birth control and experience fewer teen pregnancies. With more education, we’re more likely to want to pursue interests, to establish careers, and defer having children – in part so we’ll be able to support them. And studies (cited in the series of articles) reflect that the trend toward fewer children among (better) educated women is seen in countries as diverse as Norway and Niger.
But it’s not as simple as schooled or unschooled. Economics, culture, and evolving cultural change come into play.
Women’s Lives – Common Sense
Again, most women would say this is common sense, which is exactly what frustrates me about this sort of discussion and research – and conclusions like the one referenced in a Norwegian study:
… childbearing kept Norwegian women from pursuing a higher education more than education impeded childbearing.
Hello? Are we surprised?
But let’s not forget the desire to establish causation! I refer you to the issue of the chicken-or-the-egg, as presented by Professor Parfait M. Eloundou-Enyeuge of Cornell. At least he suggests that this isn’t an “either-or” proposition – that with more schooling women bear fewer children, or that with more children, women’s prospects are less bright.
He says it’s a matter of “how much” these issues come into play.
Still, I’m shaking my head. I’m sputtering. I’m wondering if my tax dollars are funding any studies here at home. And I do believe that it’s important to arm ourselves with information so we can make good policy decisions. But this? Really?
I suspect that Didi from Philadelphia would agree that our attention is better aimed elsewhere – on health care, childcare options, and unemployment. It’s her comment that says it all for me, following Professor’s Eloundou-Enyeuge’s article.
My friends and I, despite our college and advanced degrees, can’t undertake the responsibility of having children… we can’t pay for rent, childcare, and health insurance. Isn’t that also a problem?
Let’s hear it for Didi!
And likewise, for other comments from women, echoing my sentiments concerning the self-evident nature of these conclusions, and the urgency of looking at how to fix the problems we know about.
Is my cynicism showing?
Women, Kids, Money
Of course a woman’s well-being and prospects are affected by the number of children she has and her education! And likewise, the age at which she bears them, the cultural and social context in which she raises them, not to mention her ability to feed them!
Those who condemn women for not having children, as well as those hoping for children in the future might want to revisit their assumptions. As expressed by Didi from Philadelphia, decisions are being made to defer childbearing – not necessarily for “selfish” reasons, but as a complex matter of economic survival.
And then there’s divorce. And when it comes, as it does for half of us, isn’t divorce a career killer? Doesn’t it make everything tougher – and not just bringing home the bacon?
Is this really about choices that women make – or their absence?
I will add that I wholeheartedly agree with this statement, expressed by Arline Geronimus, a professor at University of Michigan:
In reality, few women have the luxury to make decisions regarding when to have a child or whether to pursue their education without taking other factors into account, facing conflicts and making trade-offs.
Let’s get real. The issue of women and childbearing still comes down to biology – but whatever choices we have are either hampered or helped by society – not to mention a bit of good fortune.
So what’s your take?
- Do you believe these studies provide insight?
- To what extent has availability and cost of childcare kept you from pursuing work-for-pay?
- To what extent has your income level affected the size of your family?
- Is it better to choose whatever feels like the work-life configuration that allows you to manage?
- Are you planning for a time when that work-life scenario changes, as inevitably, it will?
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