For decades, the stereotype of an ambitious, educated woman was that she’s cold, ruthless, perhaps single, and definitely childless. Think terrifying Glenn Close in Fatal Attraction, or hapless Diane Keaton, who could barely figure out how to feed the infant she had to take care of in Baby Boom. But a new study says that highly educated women in their 30s and 40s are having significantly more children than they were a decade ago. Call it the a new baby boom.
The old stereotype was actually borne out by the numbers: By the 1990s, about 30% of college-educated women were childless, compared (roughly) to just 18% of the general population of women. Now, that trend seems to be reversing: Between 1998 and 2008, the childless rate of college-educated women dropped by five percentage points.
“One of the major economic stories of the second half of the 20th century was that highly educated women were working more and having fewer children,” Bruce Weinberg, an Ohio State econ professor who co-authored the study, explained to ScienceDaily. “It is too early to definitively say that trend is over, but there is no doubt we have seen fertility rise among older, highly educated women.”
The change has been sharpest for women above 35 with graduate degrees, a spike that could be the result of more widely available fertility treatments. The authors of the study don’t know that for sure, since the government data they examined doesn’t include that information. But one clue is in multiple births, which are much likelier to occur with fertility treatments. And sure enough: The multiple-birth rate for college-educated women in their early 40s more than tripled between 1990 and 2006.
All these new numbers should be encouraging to younger woman looking ahead to the juggling act required to sustain a career through their 30s and 40s. Increasingly, women are finding a way to have it all, one way or another. That may be why the new stereotypical career woman is something more like the heroine of I Don’t Know How She Does It: a worker bee, mom, and wife whose stress comes not from her childlessness, but from her children. I guess that’s progress?