Despite millennials being firmly in their family-building years, fewer 25- to 39-year-olds are having kids than ever, thanks to factors like the 2008 financial crisis, a lack of paid family leave or affordable child care, and a lot of anxiety about the state of the world. Now, they can list “living through a pandemic” among the issues impacting whether or not they want to have children.
Despite early reports of an anticipated coronavirus baby boom, demographers say that’s probably less than likely. With so many Americans unemployed or furloughed, fewer people are likely to feel financially stable enough to start a family. As a result of COVID-19, more than 40% of American women changed their plans to have children or how many children to have, according to the Guttmacher Institute’s new analysis of data from more than 2,000 women. More than one-third of cisgender women said they would delay getting pregnant or wanted fewer children than they’d wanted before; that number is even higher for Black, Hispanic, queer, and low-income women.
If having a baby seemed iffy pre-coronavirus, it may feel unimaginable now, no matter how badly you hope to become a parent at some point. But on the flip side, quarantine has a way of adjusting priorities and perspectives. Nearly one-fifth of respondents in the Guttmacher study said COVID-19 has made them want to have a child sooner, or to have more children.
Bustle spoke with four women about how COVID-19 changed their plans for starting families.
Interviews have been edited and condensed for clarity.
Ally*, 33, Missouri
I’m really uninterested in our culture’s motherhood industrial complex, this idea that you have to perform a certain kind of lifestyle in order to be a “good” mother. Thinking that if you weren’t worrying about getting your kid into a preschool with a waitlist longer than Harvard’s, you weren’t doing it right, used to put me off the idea of having children. I used to think that being a parent meant having to change how I thought about all of those things in a way that made me more selfish in the name of trying to do best for my kid. And even before the pandemic, climate change and social unrest gave me the feeling that things weren’t in a great place in a world. Before, it felt like, “The world is a bad place, but I can solve that by not having kids.”
The pandemic flipped a switch for me. It reminded me that we’re all just a bunch of humans who are susceptible to things like disease and death. I feel like I can wrap my head around having a child now that I have a better understanding that I’m part of this messy and wild circle. It’s sort of surrendering to the fact that the pandemic and our understanding of mortality is bigger than all of us.
My husband and I have stepped up trying for a pregnancy because we're together more. It feels like now is about giving in and embracing uncertainty. Why not have kids?
Jaime, 32, Georgia
We got married in December — I was 31, almost 32. I figured we would have a two-year period before trying to get pregnant. We wanted to travel first. So that would put us at having a baby close to age 35.
But with COVID-19, my husband ended up losing his job, and our two-year plan is totally upended. There aren't many jobs for what he does where we live, so we may be uprooted to go where the jobs are, in another city.
I feel pressure to have a baby right now from people I know and total strangers, saying because of my age, I might not be able to have one if I wait, especially if I wait even longer because of COVID. But it feels scary to bring a baby into the world with so little certainty. Should we really have a kid right now, when we don't even know where we'll be living in a year? With everything up in the air, it puts off our timeline until we feel more comfortable.
But I wonder if I wait to have a baby until I’m 36, will I be able to have a second one? Will I even be able to have a first one? I’ve been on birth control since I was 16, and now I’m worried I’ll never be able to have a baby.
Elena, 32, California
I had always wanted kids. Then five years ago, my husband and I got a dog, and I was like, “Oh God, this is a lot of responsibility.” We like to travel; we want the flexibility to do what we want, when we want. I also have a lot of anxiety about climate change. We've spent the past five years saying, “We probably won't have kids, but we'll see. We reserve the right to change our minds.”
Literally a week before the shutdown, my husband got his dream job he's been waiting his whole life to get. We went from barely making ends meet and thinking, “How could we ever raise a child on this?” to saying, “We could do this.” It made us start to reconsider our stance and think about trying. But now, who knows? Even before the pandemic, we were worried about climate change and the impacts of the current presidential administration on the world. It feels like if you have a pro-con list for whether or not to have a kid, the con list is just growing.
With the pandemic, it sucks to feel lucky to not have kids. I briefly thought I was pregnant last summer. If I had been, I would have been due in the spring. I kept thinking, “Thank God I’m not pregnant.” It feels irresponsible to ignore the things I thought the world could just figure out.
Stephanie, 26, Texas
I cannot wait to be a mother. People always ask me if my abortion work — I’m an abortion storyteller and on the board of an abortion fund — conflicts with me wanting kids. I’m like, “I do want kids, but on my own terms.” If anything, the pandemic made me realize how important families are to me. I have a mother and brother and sisters, but queer folks, we often have to create our own families.
I wonder what it would be like for me to adopt a child as a single person, to get pregnant by myself. I got through being alone in my apartment for months, so I realized when it comes to children, I can do it by myself, too.
The pandemic has made me feel really hopeless sometimes. There is so much economic uncertainty, people aren’t sure what’s legal and what’s not [in terms of abortion access], they’re not even sure if it’s even OK to leave the house. Despite all of that, it’s wonderful to know there are people working to make sure we have a society where someone like me — someone who is queer and Latinx and lives in Texas — can raise a family.
*Name has been changed to protect privacy