Why American Women Everywhere Are Delaying Motherhood

“The perceived price of having children has really increased since I first talked to women in the mid-1990s,” said Kathryn Edin, a sociologist at Princeton University who has spent years writing about low-income families. “Even among the poorest women, there’s a recognition that a career is part of a life course.”

At the same time, there was more of a glorification of work in American culture, and workplaces began expecting employees to be available around the clock. Yet there is little in the way of policies to help parents combine work and family.

Parenting, too, became more stressful. American parents spend more money and time on their children than any previous generation, and many feel immense pressure to be constantly teaching their children, enrolling them in enrichment classes and giving them their undivided attention. This is known as intensive parenting, and while it used to be an upper-middle-class phenomenon, it is now rising fast across all social classes.

Ms. Schoenherr is acutely aware of how much the demands of parenting have changed. She was born on a bean and corn farm in Illinois. Her parents divorced when she was 2, and her grandmother babysat while her mother was at work. She remembers long days of riding her bike and coming home when the streetlights came on.

“Back then you could let your kids do whatever and you wouldn’t be judged,” she said. “Now there’s so much mom shaming. You are looked down on if you are not fully focused on your kid.”

A number of women said they wanted to avoid the schedules of their working-class parents because they were inflexible and allowed little time for play or family activities.

Alejandra De Santiago, of Surprise, Ariz., remembers yearning for her mother to stop by school during lunch the way other mothers did, but she was always working. Her parents, a house cleaner and a truck driver, both immigrants from Mexico, divorced when she was 7, and she was raised mostly by her grandmother, while her mother worked.

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