We have been home with our significant others for much of the last 13+ months. Yet all that time for lovemaking did not lead to the baby boom many had hoped for. According to the CDC, in 2020 birth rates fell another 4% reaching a record low in the U.S., the lowest it has been in over four decades.
History Is Not Repeating Itself
History shows that birth rates tend to lower after major economic events. In the early 1930’s birth rates lowered after the stock market crash that brought on the Great Depression. However, once the economy bounced back, a few years later, birth rates picked up. Today, the same cannot be said about our consistent lowering birth rates, which started after the 2008 Great Recession but have yet to bounce back and fell even lower last year. This lowering pattern is worrying and threatens our economic growth and future stability, globally. Yet, what is causing the lowering birth rates cannot be ignored and is more obvious than ever-gender inequality. The solution is just as straightforward, gender equality. Low birth rates and gender inequality are very much correlated and reform is essential to address this crisis, especially reform in workplace practices.
The Motherhood Tax
Women account for more than half of the U.S college-educated workforce, according to a new Pew Research Center analysis of data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. The growing number of highly educated women translates into an increase in earning potential and the narrowing of the gender-wage gap. To make headway narrowing the gender pay gap, women now know staying in the workplace is key, with such demands, motherhood is not feasible.
The motherhood penalty has been a harsh reality for millions of women and younger generations know it well. They are choosing not to have kids if having kids represents the potential for losing their professions. They are weighing their options and making decisions based on the outcomes they want. Furthermore, their perspectives are rooted in personal experiences from watching their mothers struggle to find a space within a society inundated with discrimination and biases against them, whose systems were created to hold them back and keep them home and underpaid.
Reform is Critical
In a society where fathers are rewarded while mothers are taxed for having the same kids, much reform is critical. The lack thereof has pushed a lot of women out of the labor force entirely for decades. The most important reform are the ones that would change the workplace. Those businesses that pivot and readjust to the meet the needs of our society for the sake of progress and equality will create an ecosystem where mothers can succeed on an equal playing field. The choices we make in the roles we have in our communities will influence the progress or regression for gender equality for decades to come.
Here is what can be done in the workplace:
- Obliterate the motherhood penalty and stigmas associated with motherhood.
- Modernize your hiring practices.
- Redefine performance criteria and check for biased inducing indicators.
- Normalize having a gap on a resume.
- Pay women what they are worth.
- Incentivize men to actively take more parental leave.
- Partner, support, and hire from programs geared towards helping women find jobs.
- Watch your words; use gender neutral language in your JDs.
- Include a written commitment to diversity on your website and live by your words.
- Speak out on the issue, become a strong advocate.
- Establish parent friendly policies, such as increased childcare support via an opt in benefits program.
- Be proactive and address the increased challenges facing mothers of color and single mothers. Connect with them to find out what their unique needs are and help where you can.
- Retain the women you currently have. Find out what they need and provide it.
- Offer schedule flexibility & part-time roles.
- Implement returnships and intentionally recruit for women coming back into the workplace.
Lower birth rates are a consequence of a bigger issue, until we fix the systematic gender inequalities in our society the consequences will continue to put a strain on all our systems threatening our ability progress economically and socially. We have to work at it from the root, unified in our conviction and resolve to become a society of equal opportunities at its core. Full stop.