If your social media feeds are getting a little too crowded with pregnancy announcements lately, take solace in the fact that you’re probably not the only one who feels that way. According to a recent report from the Pew Research Center, more women in the U.S. are popping out babies nowadays compared to a decade ago.
According to the analysis, which looked at data from the U.S. Census Bureau, in 2006, 80 percent of women ages 40 to 44—generally the end of a woman’s childbearing years—reported crossing the threshold into motherhood. Ten years later, that figure jumped to 86 percent.
The report’s authors also found that women are having more children. “Overall, women have 2.07 children during their lives on average—up from 1.86 in 2006, the lowest number on record,” they wrote. “And among those who are mothers, family size has also ticked up. In 2016, mothers at the end of their childbearing years had had about 2.42 children, compared with a low of 2.31 in 2008.”
Another trend highlighted in the report is that women are actually waiting until later in life to become mothers: Today, the median age at which women become moms is 26—that’s just enough time to fit in a graduate degree or start to get comfortable with their careers. In 1994, however, the median age was 23. That change has partially been driven by the decline in teen pregnancies (thus iterating the importance of comprehensive sex education in schools, but I digress) and the fact that more women are pursuing higher education and entering the workforce.
The best part of these findings, though, is that more women—across all racial groups and educational levels—are realizing they don’t need to be married to support a child. In 1994, the percentage of women in their early 40s who had never married was 9 percent; in 2014, that group had grown to about 15 percent. Among those women, more than half have had at least one child. “This marks a dramatic change from two decades earlier,” the report states, “when roughly a third (31 percent) of never-married women in their early 40s had given birth.”
While the Pew report may help explain the influx of baby shower invites in your inbox, it doesn’t offer any perspective on what happens to a woman’s life and marriage once she becomes a mother—which is really important if you’re considering the ranks of people like, well, your own mom. The authors leave that good news to researchers like Matthew Johnson, the author of Great Myths of Intimate Relationships: Dating, Sex, and Marriage. After surveying decades of research on the psychological effects of having a child, he concluded that “the transition to parenthood causes profound changes in a woman’s marriage and her overall happiness...and not for the better.”
In an article for The Conversation, Johnson paints, by his own account, “a dismal picture of motherhood.” In addition to discussing how a woman’s fundamental identity shifts, he also explores the strain a helpless tiny human places on a marriage: “Parents often become more distant and businesslike with each other as they attend to the details of parenting,” he writes. “Mundane basics like keeping kids fed, bathed, and clothed take energy, time and resolve. In the effort to keep the family running smoothly, parents discuss carpool pickups and grocery runs, instead of sharing the latest gossip or their thoughts on presidential elections.
Questions about one’s day are replaced with questions about whether this diaper looks full.”
As a result, he continues, “new parents tend to stop saying and doing the little things that please their spouses. Flirty texts are replaced with messages that read like a grocery receipt.”
Not to worry: Even though new moms may find themselves less satisfied with their marriage, the likelihood of getting a divorce also decreases. As Johnson puts it, “Having children may make you miserable, but you’ll be miserable together.”