SIOUX FALLS, S.D. (KELO) — Skyrocketing gas prices, inflation, a rise in mass shootings, climate change and lack of affordable housing: These are just some of the issues young people are taking into consideration when deciding to have children.
28-year-old Kelsey Thornton and her boyfriend have been together for over two years and the topic of children has come up several times. The two own a home together and are advancing in careers they love but when it comes to children…
“There’s no part of us that’s like, ‘Okay, maybe it could happen.’ It’s just not something that we want to consider,” Thornton said.
Recent data from the Pew Research Center shows that for people between the age of 18 and 49 who do not have children, 44% are unlikely to ever have them. That’s up 7% from 2018.
For the young Sioux Falls couple, the decision not to have kids doesn’t boil down to just one thing but a number of factors that are outside of their control. One issue that’s been on Thornton’s mind and a part of her decision to not have children is climate change.
“I struggle with like; how can I bring a kid into the world not knowing what it’s going to look like? And basically, knowing that it’s going to be a job that they have to take on,” Thornton said. “So, before they’re even born, know that there’s something that they’re tasked with?”
Thornton isn’t alone in being worried about how climate change will impact future generations. Pew reports that 5% of people without children cite environmental concerns as the reason. Last summer, Morgan Stanley sent a note to investors citing climate change fears as one of the causes of declining fertility rates.
In South Dakota, the majority of births over the last 10 years have been to parents in the 20-29 age range and in that same period, fertility rates have consistently ranked among the top in the nation. In fact, South Dakota defied national trends in 2021 and saw an increase in births while the rest of the country showed a decline.
But South Dakota also continuously ranks among one of the top ten worst states for infant mortality according to the Center for Disease Control.
State demographer and South Dakota State University Associate professor, Weiwei Zheng said that while the rest of the country is seeing lower fertility rates, South Dakota remains high. That could be due to family values and the prominence of agriculture in the state.
“Usually, families that prefer a large household, because the economy, like the family income is related to how many agriculture activities you can have people to involve, right?” Zhen said. “So, of course, a larger size, you get more return.”
But for people in urban centers, where the cost of living is higher and there are more industries for labor, the fertility rates may begin to drop.
“The general trend is that with more women getting or aiming for more education, the fertility is gonna drop,” Zheng said. “And also because of that, there’s also the idea [that] fertility decline can be because women are postponing the birth, like having children from early age to later even after 30s, after 40s.”
For Thornton and her partner, the impact children would have on their careers and opportunities is another factor in their decision to remain childless.
“I think there’s now quite a growth in the younger generation, they have this idea of ‘child free,'” Zheng said.
Thornton and her boyfriend both love to travel and are focused on advancing their careers. A child impacts how they are able to do those things and with her boyfriend on the road most of the time for work, it would leave the burden of parenting to her mostly.
“If we’re to stay in Sioux Falls to start a family, financially it wouldn’t make sense for me to continue working with the cost of child care,” Thornton said.
Over the past year, South Dakota has entered a child care crisis for both parents and providers. The cost of care has increased, making it difficult for families to find affordable care and causing some to leave the workforce to stay at home. In addition to costs, day cares across the state are struggling to find workers due to the pay but increasing wages would result in increasing the cost of care.
Zheng pointed out that current inflation and cost of living may be deterring some young people from having children now and instead of waiting until things are more stable.
“But then the whole idea of… delay, delay, delay, and then it’s kind of delayed to the childless to the point of childlessness,” Zheng said.
Zheng added that younger generations are looking to inequality and equity concerns for why they would rather not have kids.
“So, they’d rather have the government spend resources on these issues,” Zheng said.
Thornton added that gun violence is another topic that weighs heavy on her mind.
“And then everything with like, the shootings, too, that has really impacted [us]. Like, what world they’re brought up in, you have to think, okay, do you want to drop your kid off at a school with it with an armed guard? Are you gonna homeschool that kid?” Thornton said. “What’s the world gonna look like around them? Not just like, environmentally, but also just other people in general, too.”
According to data from the Center of Disease Control (CDC), firearms are now the leading cause of death among children with 45,222 deaths reported in 2020. That’s an increase of 29.5% from the year before. Behind firearms, motor vehicles and drug overdoses round out the top three leading causes of death for youth.
The COVID-19 pandemic has also had an effect on birth rates. Across the country, birth rates fell in 2020. Zheng said that the uncertainties of the pandemic and added anxiety might have contributed to lower fertility rates.
“Some families suffer the loss of job income, right? And for small businesses, they closed and there is loss of the entire income, right? Earnings, all those things,” Zheng said. “There’s also the social-economic reasons, and the entire whole, like mental health, related to the stress caused by this pandemic…”
While South Dakota remains consistent in high fertility rates, the rest of the country and other developed nations might not be following that same path, Zheng said.
“But the general trend is always women, more women, going for higher education, and more participate in economic activities, labor market, and we expect to see declines in fertility,” Zheng said.