First, some numbers.
Couples today are waiting until they’re a bit older to start families, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC) National Vital Statistics report. The number of births declined for almost all age groups of women under 40 from 2016 to 2017, while birth rates rose for women in their early 40s. Data from the CDC shows that the provisional number of births in 2017 in the U.S. was 3.8 million – the lowest it has been in the past 30 years.
In 2015, the national birth rate dropped to 12.4 live births per 1,000 people from 12.5 in 2014. In the same time period, Pennsylvania’s birth rate dropped to 11 in 2015 from 11.1 in 2014. It fell again in 2016 to 10.9, according to the state Department of Health.
Though there’s not a single cause for the decline, career trajectories certainly carry some weight, according to young professionals like Lara Match.
Lara Match met her husband Ezra at an after-school literature group when they were teenagers growing up in northern Dauphin County.
“We met when were were 15, started dating and never broke up,” she said. “We married young, by today’s standards, at 23, but waited to start a family until our education was complete and our careers kicked off.”
Three days after getting married, the Matches moved to Chicago where Lara had been accepted to optometry school. Ezra pursued a career in computer information systems.
While the Matches both agreed they wanted children, they didn’t want to bring a child into their family picture until Lara’s schooling was finished. Choosing to go into the field of optometry also offered a variety of benefits, she said.
“It’s so fulfilling. It serves a need and is low emergency. You either schedule patients or you don’t. I’m able to work part-time if need be,” she said.
As products of a home-schooled environment, both Lara and Ezra Match planned to follow the same route with their own family. Both grew up in larger families and wanted to pass those experiences on to children of their own.
Once Lara finished optometry school, the couple moved back to the Harrisburg area. They welcomed baby Ronen last year. Lara, now 29, works today at her father-in-law’s practice, Family Vision and Eye Care, in Halifax Township. Ezra, now 28, has continued his career in computer information systems.
Having both sets of parents living one mile apart from each other was one reason to move back to their hometown.
“I can’t imagine if we were trying to raise Ronen out in Chicago, on our own, without that kind of support,” Lara Match said.
Indeed, having family nearby can buffer the high costs of child care. A report prepared by the U.S. Department of Agriculture estimates the cost of raising a child born in 2015 – from birth to age 17 – is $233,610 for a married couple earning between $59,200 and $107,400 with two children. Families with incomes of less than $59,200 are expected to spend $174,690, whereas families with incomes higher than $107,400 are expected to spend more than $372,210.
But despite being more educated than generations that have come before them, millennials are making less money. Information collected by the U.S. Census Bureau shows that the amount of people aged 18 to 34 living in poverty increased in Pennsylvania by 18.6 percent between 2009 and 2013.
And with a median household income of $40,581, millennials overall earn about 20 percent less than baby boomers did at the same stage of life, according to an analysis of Federal Reserve data by advocacy group Young Invincibles.
Still, the Matches plan on expanding their family in the future.
Derek and Amber Whitesel met while studying elementary education at Shippensburg University. He was 20 years old and she was 22. Two years later in May 2011, the same month Derek was graduating from the university, the couple got married.
“Amber was going on to graduate school and I had just finished school. May was a busy month,” he recalled. “Even before we were married, we had talked about wanting to have kids someday, but with no real timeline other than being done having children by the time we are in our mid-30s.”
Right after the Whitesels were married, the couple moved into a cabin while working together at a summer camp for kids. Amber continued graduate school part-time. Shortly after, Derek accepted a position working for the Boy Scouts and Amber at a child care facility. During their first year of marriage, Derek said he fielded questions from family and friends about when the couple might plan to start having kids.
After working with the Boy Scouts, Derek accepted a position as a member services manager for the Harrisburg Regional Chamber of Commerce.
Three years into their marriage and a little further into their careers, the Whitesels started noticing their friends having kids and decided it was time to start a family of their own.
“Some financial and external things came into consideration, but ultimately we realized we would have been in our mid-40s and trying to have kids if we wanted to wait to be financially ready,” Derek said.
Because childcare is rather costly, the couple struggled with whether Amber should continue to work or stay at home. The couple was also still working to pay back their student loans and was renting an apartment. Ultimately, a good community support base and health insurance led to the pursuit of a family for the Whitesels. The couple welcomed Finley into their lives three years ago – Derek was 27 and Amber was 29.
Amber now works from home teaching English as a second language online, and Derek is the executive director of Harrisburg Young Professionals. The couple resides in Perry County. In the future, the couple may have more children but doesn’t have a set plan.
“I think there’s varying factors for everyone as to why people are having less kids and kids later in life, but it all comes down to what people want out of their life and what their goals are to help shape that vision,” he said.