May 13, 2018

Millennial women are embracing motherliness

Monet's Family in the Garden, 1874. Photo: Leemage/Corbis/Getty Images

Millennial women are redefining modern motherhood, according to a new survey — they are likely to embrace traditional notions of motherliness, and while most work, few are optimistic about combining parenting and career.

Quick take: The survey by Motherly, a news site aimed at millennials, suggests that the generation now aged 22 to 37 — much maligned as reluctant to take on responsibility — is growing up, says Liz Tenety, the website's co-founder.

Tenety tells Axios that motherhood has been defined by conflict — with work and identity. "It's almost like the idea of what motherly is felt outdated," she said.

  • But many millennial women, she said, view motherhood "as the best part of their life," she said, rather than as a tradeoff with career. The majority — 53% — are working full time. But 59% feel defined by motherhood, and just 14% said they are optimistic “that it’s possible to combine [work and family] creatively."
  • Millennials' opinion of their parenting skills surpasses the self-assessment of prior generations: In a 2015 Pew survey, 57% of millennial moms said they are doing a "very good job" at parenting; 48% of Generation X said the same; and 41% of Boomers.
  • But, but, but: Like prior generations, Motherly found that millennial mothers feel frustrated by a lack of support: 74% said society does not do a good job understanding and supporting mothers. Half said the government should enact tax credits for child care and require employers to provide family leave.

This does not mean large families: When you look at fertility rates, millennial women will have fewer children than prior generations — at an average of 1.8, reports Lyman Stone, an economist writing for the NYT.

  • Yet their intentions are different from any recent generation — millennials said they want to have an average of 2.7 children, the highest on record since the early 1970s, Stone reported.

Go deeper: Read Stone's piece The Decline of American Motherhood, in the Atlantic.

  • And listen to a podcast in which Brookings senior fellow Isabel Sawhill describes the "success sequence": Women who get an education beyond high school, work full time and wait to have children within a committed relationship have a greater than 70% chance of landing in the middle class, and less than a 2% chance of being poor.
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