Marriage and motherhood? No thanks!
“MY womb is not for rent, and I’m protecting my mental health by not sharing my life, shackled to a man legally.”
“We will not make the same mistakes our grandmothers made.” “Have out your lot? No sane woman is doing that nowadays.” “Marriage and kids are such 1980s concepts. Those concepts don’t vibe with today’s economic or social realities.”
The group was small, but the sentiments expressed by the 15 young women gathered informally before the start of church services in Portmore a couple weeks ago are reflective of what has been the tune on social media; in discussions with young women; and even noted in official statistics — young women are turning away from marriage and motherhood.
“Various factors contribute to this trend, including changing societal norms, increased focus on education and career pursuits, economic considerations, and evolving perspectives on personal fulfilment,” explained counsellor David Anderson, who confirmed that he has also seen this trend in his own church’s youth groups.
“Many young women today prioritise independence, personal growth and career achievements, influencing their decisions about marriage and motherhood.”
Today, Jamaica’s average birth rate per mother is about 1.8 per cent, and Health Minister Dr Christopher Tufton has said the ideal number should be just about two or a little over two. “It means that we have a population that is currently almost net neutral and on the verge of declining,” Dr Tufton said last summer at Mandeville Regional Hospital’s baby-friendly accreditation ceremony.
Dr Tufton added that the “Two Is Better Than Too Many” campaign of the 70s and 80s has brought challenges — “Two is not too many, so we need to change the slogan. A lot of women have decided that they are not having any [children] at all… People who are pursuing professional careers, the data is suggesting that they are either having none or less than two [children]…”
The National Family Planning Board said the campaign has been highly successful in reducing the number of unplanned pregnancies. In 1974, the Government officially integrated family planning services with the Ministry of Health. Mass media (radio, television, billboards, and print) became an important information dissemination channel for launching the campaign, and by the end of the decade an islandwide network of family planning clinics was operating and birth rates had decreased from 34 per 1,000 in 1970 to 28.
But it’s not just childbearing that women are shunning today, it’s marriage too, and divorce rates are up, with the majority of those filing being women.
“In the past, societal expectations and norms placed a strong emphasis on marriage as a lifelong commitment. Divorce was often stigmatised, and there were fewer social and economic opportunities for women outside of marriage,” explained PhD gender studies student Halayne Strachan. “Cultural attitudes and religious beliefs also played a significant role, reinforcing the idea of enduring marital difficulties for the sake of societal and family expectations. Additionally, legal and economic barriers made leaving an unhealthy marriage more challenging for our grandparents.”
But, she said, all of this is changing, thanks in part to explosive revelations on social media as well as the sharing of trauma-dumping stories, and women are beginning to see that the once-lauded lengthy marriages of their parents and grandparents were fraught with abuse, cheating, disrespect and other ills, that women today are unwilling to endure.
“So screw love and standing by your man. Once he hits her he’s out, once he cheats he’s gone — no woman is going to sit, being unhappy, while her husband goes out to have several outside children or have a harem of other women, because the financial dependence, the stigma, is gone,” Strachan explained.
Anderson said several factors contribute to the trend of some young people delaying or choosing not to embrace marriage and/or motherhood. “These include changing societal values, increased focus on individual goals and personal development, economic pressures, and a desire for greater autonomy. Additionally, concerns about work-life balance, environmental considerations, and a shift in traditional gender roles influence decisions about motherhood among this younger generation.”
For the young women in the group, the general theme was commitment to self, above all else.
“I want financial stability and independence,” Jaydene H, a 21-year-old college student, said. “I am prioritising academic achievements over starting a family early. I’m also more interested in prioritising the meaningful relationships in my life without feeling forced to formalise them through marriage.”
For Hillary W, a 22-year-old master’s student, it’s all about protecting the environment — “There’s already overpopulation, and I am concerned about the environmental impact me having children will have on the world.”
Also, she added, “I am more about personal fulfilment and focusing on my personal growth, my mental health, my hobbies, and other passions. So I am seeking fulfilment outside the traditional family structure.”
Gillian F ended by relating her own trauma. “I witnessed and experienced so many unhealthy relationships and family dynamics that I am opting out of marriage and motherhood,” the 24-year-old law student said.