Is fatherhood more appealing than motherhood? What new research shows

When it comes to the idea of becoming a parent, more men want children than women, according to a new U.S. study.

Pew Research Center surveyed 1,495 young adults aged 18 to 34 in the United States late last year to find out how they felt about whether they wanted to be parents and regardless of gender. Fifty-one per cent said they want to enter parenthood, with another 30 per cent said they were not sure, while 18 per cent said they did not want kids.

But when broken down by gender, the data paints a slightly different picture with 57 per cent of men hoping to become a father someday, while 45 per cent of women said the same. At the same time, just 15 per cent of men said they were not in favour of parenthood at all, while 21 per cent of women were found to have the same stance.

“This not the first time in history, I think, this is being pretty persisted, that men want children more than women,” Marina Adshade, assistant professor of teaching at the University of British Columbia’s Vancouver School of Economics, said.

“There’s still that enormous burden that’s placed on women, especially women who are birth mothers who have to go through childbirth. That’s zero fun for anybody. There’s a recovery period.”

Adshade told Global News it’s not just a physical toll that women go through, because having a child can also impact their finances as well.

She said it’s sometimes known as the “mommy penalty.”

“Women who are mothers, they see much slower progression in their careers, they see slower wage growth in their careers,” Adshade said.

That statement appears to match with findings from a study released late last year by University of Quebec in Montreal (UQAM) economics professor Marie Connolly, alongside fellow UQAM economic sciences professors Catherine Haeck and Marie Melanie Fontaine.

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According to that study, 10 years after the birth of their first child, a mother’s earnings were still 34 per cent on average below where they were before the birth of their child. Meanwhile, for men, the change was minimal or no change at all between, before or after their child was born.

Connolly told Global News in an interview that in addition to the physical and mental impacts of childbirth, what having a child can do to a woman’s career could also influence the decision to have one.

“It doesn’t mean they’re not going to have children, but they might hesitate or might respond, ‘I’m not so sure,’” she said.

University of Toronto sociology professor Melissa Milkie told Global News those impacts can sometimes make it more difficult for women to see the positives parenthood can bring.

In addition, with the study being conducted in the U.S., she notes expenses can add up given Canada’s neighbour does not have mandatory paid parental leave.

Here in Canada, those on maternity and parental leave get benefits of up to 55 per cent of their salary, with a weekly maximum pay of up to $668. The birth parent is also eligible for maternity leave for the first 15 weeks after birth, then it switches to parental leave with up to 40 weeks that can be shared between both parents.

Parents are also eligible for extended benefits up to 61 weeks for one parent and 69 weeks shared between both. In that case they get up to 33 per cent of their pay and a maximum of $401 weekly.

This discrepancy on what women can access, though, may have impact, while it may not come into play for men when thinking about kids.

So young men, their lives won’t change as much once they become fathers. We know that from the data,” Milkie said. “When they are involved with kids, which they’re much more now than in the past, but, it’s more of the play kind of activities with kids, maybe the fun activities and other people are around.”

Women, on the other hand, may find themselves having to deal childcare more than men, especially if women are breastfeeding, on top of other regular responsibilities.

Pressure from the parents of Americans surveyed, however, appears to have little to do with whether they plan to get married or have children.

Milkie said it could be a cultural shift from past decades, and in turn could also influence young adults on their child-making decisions.

“So if my parents aren’t pressuring me, and I don’t feel a cultural pressure so much anymore either, then, you know, it’s OK to say, ‘I’m not going to have kids,’” she said.

Though Pew’s study focuses on the U.S., Canada has seen a shift in adults wanting kids as well.

Statistics Canada said in a January report that the country’s fertility rate has hit its lowest level since the data started being collected more than a century ago. 

While Adshade doesn’t believe policies should be implemented in an effort to get young adults to have more children, she argues social changes are still needed to remove the pressure people feel that could be dissuading them from having kids.

She said this could include more affordable childcare — something she says still needs improvement even with the federal government’s $10-a-day plan — and a shift in societal attitudes around fatherhood and parenting.

“We need a change in social attitudes around fatherhood and parenting, so that fathers at the end of their workday, when they have to leave because their children have a medical appointment or a sports game, they can say to their bosses, ‘I have to go and take care of my children,’” she said.

This kind of change would have a “big impact,” Adshade argues, because it could allow more women to feel comfortable knowing the responsibility between parents is equal.


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