A recent Pew Research Center report on social and demographic trends found that almost 20 percent of American women in their early 40s are childless. What's more, they say that trend has almost doubled since the 1970s and they call it a "social and cultural shift."
Headlines around the world tell the same story. Couriermail.com out of Australia states that Australian women are "increasingly putting off motherhood well into their 30s." Even in China, Radio86.com talks about women waiting much later to have children and Britain's Sunday Times recently reported on "a generation of women bred to work."
So what's going on? Education and greater career opportunities are two reasons so many women are postponing, or even skipping, motherhood. Half of the American work force is female and more women than men are earning college degrees. The Atlantic magazine recently reported that women hold 60 percent of all master's degrees, half of the law and medical degrees, and 42 percent of the MBAs. While careers for women were once limited to teaching, nursing and a few other areas, today's U.S. business world is pretty much open to women in all fields. These opportunities give women more economic freedom than ever before and many are delaying marriage or not marrying at all. Some who don't marry will have children of their own; some will adopt, but most will remain childless.
Many women say they haven't intentionally put off motherhood. Instead, they, like many of their male counterparts, found themselves caught up in climbing up the corporate ladder or starting their own businesses. Before they realized it, the traditional childbearing years had ticked by.
The economy is another factor. Couples here in America and in most industrialized countries depend on two paychecks. Many women are concerned that "dropping out of the work force" to have children will derail their career and endanger their ability to earn the income they trained for and that their family has come to need. Also, the expense of raising and educating a child in giving a lot of couples second thoughts about becoming parents.
What does all this mean for business in the future? Expect more women in the work force. Expect more women to stay on the job and to grow their careers without time-outs on the "mommy track" of childbearing and child raising.
Also, expect more female entrepreneurship — between 1997 and 2002 women-owned businesses grew by more than 20 percent — as women start their own businesses. Female entrepreneurs cite control, life and family balance, greater economic opportunity and helping others as the main reasons they created their own businesses.
Marie Stempinski is founder and president of Strategic Communication in St. Petersburg. She specializes in public relations, marketing, business trends and employee motivation consulting. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.