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September 23, 2013

God, sex, worship and babies

(Continued)

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recently reported that U.S. births appear to be leveling off, although the numbers continue to show some decline. While birth rates edged up for women in their early 40s and throughout their 30s, rates kept falling for women in their 20s and among Latinas.

A key factor, Last explained, is "aspirational fertility," or the number of children that parents say they want to have. In the early 20th century, a clear majority of Americans favored having three or more children. Now, 66 percent of those who seldom or never attend worship services say zero, one or two kids is ideal, while 41 percent of those worshipping weekly desire three or more children. If a woman frequently attends worship services, it is much more likely she will have a larger family, if that is her goal.

It's hard to pin political or cultural labels on some of the behaviors that are inspiring so many people to avoid marriage, to marry later, to have fewer children or to have children later in life. At one end of the cultural spectrum is the 30-something male whose solo life remains focused on his Xbox. At the other end is the professional woman working 70-hour weeks while striving to rise in a major law firm, even as her biological clock ticks loudly.

Of course, it also matters that children are expensive. In his book, Last examines a variety of expenses and career realities and concludes that it costs about $1.1 million to raise a single child, with home costs and college expenses higher in prime locations. When living in New York City, San Francisco or Washington, D.C., having two children is "having a lot of children," he said. "What's countercultural in one city is normal in another."

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