[Photo: Julian Hochgesang on Unsplash]
By Hope Lock
Increasingly, many couples are choosing to have children later, or are skipping out on the process altogether. It is not uncommon to see headlines drawing attention to Singapore’s low birth rate. In 2020, Singapore’s fertility rate fell to an unprecedented low of 1.1, as compared to 1.15 in 2010.
As young adults, the question of future plans, marriage, and children is hard to avoid. Concerned friends and family are bound to lob such questions during meals or get-togethers. How are women today responding to shifting societal attitudes with regard to childbearing?
A truly equal society?
Society has come a long way on the issue of women’s suffrage, access to education, and jobs. There is, however, still much to be done in terms of gender role attitudes and beliefs. Women continue to find themselves disproportionately shouldering larger childrearing and homemaking responsibilities, despite the rise in dual-income households.
Such gender roles and expectations, rooted in history, are hard to shake — in the past, women were expected to stay home and take care of the children while the men acted as the sole breadwinners.
It is not uncommon to hear experiences of the disparity in gender role expectations. For instance, Teslik, a Google executive, tells Chicago Tribune that he has never been questioned on how he juggles work and family commitments. On the contrary, his wife Ryder, CEO of a digital healthcare company, notes that she receives such questions weekly.
Teslik himself acknowledges the unspoken assumption that women are the ones who disproportionately bear the weight of child-rearing. This trend is also reflected in past research. According to the Pew Research Centre, women are more likely to give in and accommodate their schedules in the face of conflicting priorities between children, family, and work.
Challenges that come with childbearing and rearing
Bringing the conversation closer to home, a recent article from CNA highlights the difficulties faced by women who attempt to return to the job market after taking a career break. Obstacles cited include managers’ concerns that maternity leave negatively impacts female employees’ work efficiency.
It was also noted that managers tended to be cautious about hiring women of childbearing age. Additionally, working mothers also risk getting overlooked for job promotions, or struggle with the assumption from line managers that they are unable to take on greater responsibility at work due to family commitments.
The challenges posed to women’s career trajectories provide insight into why more women are hesitant to embark on the journey of motherhood. In 2021, The Straits Times released a video interview featuring women who chose to remain childless. They share their reasons behind remaining childless and detail how they manage the negative reactions from others. Some individuals also reveal their exploration of permanent birth control methods such as vasectomy or hysterectomy.
There are still women who choose to bear children, despite its many challenges. Itsclarityco recently released a podcast featuring Rachel Lim, co-founder of women’s fashion brand Love, Bonito. Rachel delves into her journey through her initial fears over having a child, how her marriage has evolved since childbirth, and the negotiation of her identity as a mother and a businesswoman.
Whilst not sugarcoating the realities and challenges that come with motherhood, Lim still conveys to viewers the innate joy and satisfaction that being a mother brings to her life. Such content provides insight into how mindsets toward having children are highly personal.
Alicia, 24, notes: “Having kids for me is definitely not a must or a necessity. I will decide whether to have kids when my partner and I are financially capable and emotionally ready.” She adds, “In general, society as a whole is definitely moving towards kids not being a necessity.”
Shu Hui, 24, shares: “Having children is such a big financial and emotional commitment; [it] really requires proper decision making. There is also the worry if I would be able to raise them well. I really have respect for those who are able to juggle both work and their family; I doubt I would be able to do that myself.”
Financial concerns and concerns about having the emotional bandwidth to handle taking care of another human being play a significant role in influencing young women’s decisions on childbearing. Furthermore, there is also the worry of being able to cope with the demands of parenting and holding a full-time job.
Children — to have, or not to have? There is no magic answer to the question. This decision, after all, is a highly personal one that is dependent on one’s circumstances and environment. Perhaps, what society needs to focus on, is how to support women, no matter their decision.