Here’s why South Africans might be having fewer children

Over a 10-year period the number of live birth registrations occurring within a specific year in South Africa has varied, though since 2014, it seems women have been having (or registering at least) fewer children. Stats SA reports that the amount of current registered births (live births occurring in a specific year and registered within the same year), as registered by the Department of Home Affairs (DHA), has decreased from 954 385 in 2014 to 876 435 by 2016.

Graph: Parent24. Stats: Stats SA.

The report also specifies that in 2016 Gauteng had the highest number of total registered births (235 218) and the highest percentage of registered births within 30 days after a baby was born (73%), while most births occurred to women aged 25-29 (26%).

That said, the report doesn’t explain why particular provinces or women at specific ages are having more children than others, nor does it explain why, overall, women are having fewer children. We did, however, find a study conducted in the US that might shed some light on the situation in South Africa as well.

Why are people having fewer children?

According to a new study conducted by Morning Consult for The New York Times, adults are having fewer children than they considered ideal, while others didn’t want children or were unsure of whether they did, for various reasons ranging from the all-to-relatable cost of raising a child to the desire for more leisure time. The survey measured the responses of a nationally representative sample of 1 858 men and women between the ages of 20 and 45.

Data courtesy of Morning Consult for The New York Times.

The survey reported that about a quarter of the participants who had children or wanted to have children said, due to various reasons, they might not be able to have the amount of children they considered ideal.

For the most part this had much to do with money as 64% of the sample group stated that child care is just much too expensive, while other top reasons were that they were worried about the economy (49%) or couldn’t afford to have more children, even if they already had children (44%).

At 54%, second to child care being too expensive, was the reason that people wanted more time for the children they had, linking to another theme that came through: the difficulty of having to balance work and family life (36%). Many people also stated they don’t get enough paid family leave (38%) if at all (38%).

The study noted, on a topic we’ve spoke about before, women also now have more agency over their lives and opt to further their careers instead of having children. This is because they fear having to suffer the motherhood penalty – when working mothers are considered less competent because they may not be able to do or handle the same work as a man or non-mother while having to take care of her children, thereby resulting in less pay.

What does this mean for future generations?

The responses from the participants revealed very specific themes that we think may also be the reason fewer South Africans are having children, or rather, aren’t having as many as they used to.

The good news: those who aren’t sure if they want to have children or are completely certain that they don’t want to start a family, don’t have to. Things have especially changed for women who have broken away from traditional roles and no longer find complete fulfilment in being a wife and stay-at-home mom. So one can choose leisure time and a career over having children.

But the bad news is, others who do want more children aren’t able to have them, and not necessarily because of any personal reasons, but because it’s incredibly challenging to financially support the children they do have by showing up for work every day, and then having to go home and spend as much quality family time with them as possible, or at least, as much as the job will allow.

Money, work and time, and perhaps a combination of the three, therefore seems to be the main reasons why people who want to expand their families aren’t.

But all is not lost! If anything it provides the government and companies with an opportunity to better their policies so as to accommodate moms and dads and future parents.

And we can start by tackling the wage gap and motherhood penalty, making sure fathers get those 10 days of paid paternity leave as the bill was passed in November 2017, and assisting and educating young couples who aren’t sure about what starting a family will entail or older couples who think they are completely out of options.

So although our numbers have decreased, our options and choices haven’t, or rather, shouldn’t have. And a policy change or two might be well worth completing one family and providing others with, at the very least, the option.


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