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Ambivalent About Having A Baby

Intention and ambivalence are very different on a statistician's ledger. But are they always all that different in real life?
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Deciding to have a child is a complicated equation, and each of us weighs and measures our own individual factors. We worry about timing: Will a baby fit in our lives? When to conceive so that we can take time off from work? And so the baby's birthday will fit with the school district's kindergarten cutoff?

As I neared my 30th birthday, my gynecologist sat me down at my yearly checkup and asked whether I was planning to have a family. I thought so, I told her, but I wasn't completely sure. I was excited at the idea, but terrified. There was nothing I wanted more, and nothing I could imagine less. I thought there could be no better time, but also no worse one. I wanted to wait until I was certain.

When it comes to this "85 percent sure means you jump," she told me.

So I did.

According to data released today by the National Center for Health Statistics, 37 percent of all births in the US were "unintended at the time of conception." (The National Survey of Family Growth defines that as one that is either mistimed or unwanted.)

The more officially committed the couple, the more likely a pregnancy is planned, the data show. More than three-quarters of all births to married women were intended, compared with about half of those to women who were living with partners but unmarried, and just a third of those to women who were unmarried and not sharing a home.

Perhaps the most interesting bit of data in the report is that the percentage of births to unmarried women who are living with their partners has jumped. In other words, the birth rate is increasing most in a group where about half of pregnancies are "unintended." In 2002, new mothers who were "cohabiting" comprised 14 percent of all births; between 2006 and 2010, that percentage increased to 23 percent. In all, separate studies which indicate 40 percent of births in the US are now to women who are not married.

So this reflects a new set of priorities, right? A determination by a generation that one need not be married in order to create a family? A clear statement of intention and direction?


Or maybe it is just a different way of deciding to jump.

In her article about today's report, Sharon Jayson, of USA Today interviews Karen Guzzo, a sociologist at Bowling Green (Ohio) State University, who suggests that it is not decisiveness that is leading more cohabiting couples to become parents, but quite the opposite.

"A lot seems to have to do with the fact people are increasingly ambivalent about whether or not to have a child," Guzzo says. "They're in this committed relationship and are often cohabiting and not trying hard to avoid having a child, but they're not trying to have one, either."

Intention and ambivalence. Very different on a statistician's ledger. But are they always all that different in real life?