“It could be good news if women feel like they have more control over their fertility,” she said. “But it is not good news if having a child is just becoming harder than it was because jobs are more precarious, and families just can’t make it work in a minimally functional way.”
Tess Jackson, 28, an English teacher from Hurricane, W.Va., has experienced both. She has a 10-year-old, the result of an unplanned pregnancy in high school. But birth control got better, she said, and for years, she did not have another. Recently, she and her partner decided that they did not want another child, and she got sterilized.
“My mom and my grandmother could not imagine having an adult life without having children,” she said. “Now there is less of a social requirement to have them. There are other options on the table.”
The generational change has been profound. Angie Willis, 57, a retired schoolteacher from West Virginia, said she had her first child when she was 20 in 1983. She went to college — driving nearly two hours each way from rural West Virginia to a university in a different part of the state — but said she did not get to experience college life because she had to care for an infant.
“I was a baby,” she said, remembering her years as a young mother.
Her daughters are different. Her youngest, who is 29, went away to college and now has a master’s degree and works in information technology at a large hospital in Charleston, W.Va. She got married last summer and does not have children.
“I am glad that they have waited and gotten their careers going first,” Ms. Willis said of her daughters. “It’s a good change.”
She said that her youngest, Cortney Jones, “is getting to live her life.” “And being more mature, being sound financially,” she added. “That’s a big deal.”