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Millennials and the Age Gap

April 6, 2022

Millennials trail furthest behind in terms of having spouses and children. The desire to marry early and start a big family is on the decline, which projects grave consequences for future generations.

“That’s a pretty big thing; most of the world is transitioning into natural population decline,” said researcher Professor Christopher Murray to BBC news. “I think it’s incredibly hard to think this through and recognise how big a thing this is; it’s extraordinary, we’ll have to reorganize societies.”

With fluctuations due to race, ethnicity and education attainment, falling fertility rates across the globe are prevalent.

People today fear overpopulation and global overcrowding. As technology innovates and lifespans increase, humans don’t seem to be struggling. Thinning out the population may seem like a solution to many of the world’s problems: fewer carbon emissions, resource shortages, less deforestation. However, as true as this may be, the effects of this topic are webbed with complexities that stand to damage the wellbeing of future society.

As Millennials approach their adult years, prioritization of careers and economic growth dominate the desire for lifelong relationships and parenthood. The creation of online dating apps such as Tinder, for example, support short-term relationships, and discourage long-term ones.

“While there are some shifts culturally around becoming a parent, for example, the country seems less religious now than it was in the 50s-70s, I think the larger reason is economic,” said Spencer Hollenbach, CHS math teacher, millennial. “Our country has dismal parental leave and child-rearing support in place compared to other countries.”

Pew Research Center collected data on individuals across the world, ranging from age 23-38, noting whether or not they lived with a family of their own (defined as living with a spouse and or child). The research showed: 15% of individuals in 1968 (Silent Generation), 31% in 1987 (Baby Boomers), 34% in 2003 (Generation X) and 45% in 2019 (Millennials).

The Gen Z era follows the era of millennials (1997-2012), consisting mostly of teenagers and young adults. And although most Gen Z’ers would claim they are years away from having children, their perspective on having children at all, parallels that of most millennials.

“I never plan on having kids. Other than the fact that they’re gross, I’d prefer to enjoy my life instead of throwing it away for some weird idea that it’s a contribution to society.

Frankly, I don’t think having kids is good for society; I think it’s a selfish decision to force someone to endure the agony that is life, not to mention the fact that it’s a waste of resources

— Poppy Orchard

said Poppy Orchard, Gen Z, CHS sophomore. “I’m not saying people who have kids are bad, but at best, the action itself is neutral.”

With the thriving population numbers today, young individuals see no problem with ending their own bloodline. The trust of surrounding peers to carry the weight of human reproduction overtakes any worry of a scarce future population.

Of course, being a parent does not necessarily mean giving birth, or being biologically related, rather is the commitment to care for and look after an entire human being for their developing years; and this decision of becoming a parent, in any manner, is decreasing over the past decades.

According to the US Bureau of Consular Affairs, adoption rates internationally have decreased by 92.9% percent since 2004. In contrast, adoption rates in the US alone went from 146,172 adoptions in 2005 to 116,814 in 2015, more than a 20% decrease, according to statistics compiled by Wm. Robert Johnston.

Whilst decreasing fertility and adoption rates, the standard of housing demographics in regards to Millennials in particular, look less and less populous, thus conveying that people just aren’t as interested in having children these days. But for the slim that do, it is often postponed to later years of more economic stability, if not put off entirely.

The role socioeconomic status and race play into the statistics of marriage and family sizes are crucial to understanding the fluctuations that arise.

The New York Times collected data on the age that women have their first baby across the United States. Focusing on two factors: attainment of a college degree, and marital status. According to these statisics, the average age for a woman to give birth (nationally) without a college degree is 23.8 years, and with a college degree or higher was 30.8. In comparison, the age for unmarried women is 23.1 and 28.8 years for married women (on average).

Clearly, married women and those with college degrees tend to hold off on having children to a later age, but it is also shown these same women have less children than those without spouses and college diplomas.

According to a study conducted by Statista, in 2019, 35.1% of women with only up to a high school diploma were childless, whereas 47.7% of women with some college, no degree were childless, and 43.1% of women with a bachelor’s degree, and 37% of women with a graduate degree or higher were childless.

These trends show that women are less likely to become mothers as they attain higher education, thus inferring that the longer one waits to have children (or adopt), the less likely they are to become a mother at all.

So, what does that say about the way our society organizes itself? If income increases as education attainment does, and educational attainment is becoming more popular, then the falling birth and adoption rates may continue to fall for the years to come. Those in the highest tax brackets, paying the highest amounts, having less children, are most supporting those in the lowest tax brackets, they pay very little taxes (if not any at all), who tend to have the most children.

“In 2016, poverty among all single mothers would have declined by more than three times the rate seen over the last decade if just one in four single mothers with a high school education or some college had earned a college degree,” according to the Institute for Women’s Policy Research.

If this lopsided structure continues to polarize itself, people of low socioeconomic status will continue to have many children and big families, possibly leaving the weight of the taxpayers’ dollars to those of higher education, who typically have smaller families.

As said, thinning out the human population may seem like a solution to many of the world’s problems; less carbon emissions, less resource shortages, less deforestation. But in reality, such a drastic population drop will cause detrimental effects to the entire human race.

“That would be true except for all the uniformly negative consequences of an inverted age structure,” said Murray. An inverted age structure, being a society with more older generations than young ones, is a dynamic the world has yet to see, but is projected to reveal itself soon.

Imagine a society with 80% more elderly persons than young to middle-aged adults. Implications with social security, the medical field, housing surpluses, would all be dramatically prevalent when the generations exist unbalanced. Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, for example, elderly persons have been most at-risk. This combined with the physician shortage across the US has caused great panic and mayhem across society.

In the following years to come, there is hope for this imbalance to resolve itself, and become neutralized and functional, but as seen, this global age-gap is continuing to create complications.

Of course, the world isn’t doomed for the rest of time, and our shrinking population poses many genuine benefits for the future world. But assuming this topic will carry no complications would be unrealistic.

“I think most important for me was learning to be able to navigate a world in which your values are not necessarily universal. That there is no “normal” and we are all just doing our best with the time we have,” said Hollenbach. “My hope is that the millennial generation finds ways to bridge the best of both ideologies rather than just isolate and ridicule the worst parts of both.”

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Sidra Major, Chief Digital Editor

Sidra Major is a senior at Clayton High School. Sidra initially  joined the Globe because she loves to write, but she quickly became enthralled with the journalistic perspective....

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