Remote work helped boost birth rates for wealthier, educated women
The expectation that women must have and do it all is as outdated as shoulder pads on blazers, but it seems remote work can allow working women to have more: The freedom and flexibility to balance both a career and children a bit better than the office ever did.
Remote work’s benefits for family formation comes from a new analysis by bipartisan advocacy organization Economic Innovation Group. The researchers looked at the family and fertility outlooks of 3,000 U.S. women ages 18 to 44 from two waves of a survey of the Demographic Intelligence Family Survey in 2022.
They found that the likelihood of getting pregnant or trying to become pregnant is 16.7% for women working at least partly remotely and 13.7% for women who aren’t working remotely at all. So much for the baby bust worrying some commentators such as Elon Musk. Instead, remote work could be laying the seeds for a millennial-parent baby boom, fitting for the large generation that echoes the postwar boom that gave their boomer parents their nickname.
Also, 2021 saw a mini baby bump, the first major reversal in fertility rates since the Great Recession, according to a working paper published by the National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER). The bump was most pronounced for women aged 30 to 34 and college-educated women, both groups that had more access to job security and remote work, which the NBER researchers suggest help make it easier to have children.
This was a major reversal from the early years of the pandemic, when birth rates hit a record low, intensifying a pre-pandemic trend; birth rates declined during the Great Recession and continued to stagnate due to several factors, chief among them unaffordable childcare. Birth rates are also falling because women are having children at a later age or simply having fewer than they did in earlier eras, points out Matt Bruenig, lawyer and founder of progressive think tank People’s Policy Project.
The authors of the EIG report, Lyman Stone and Adam Ozimek, strike a balanced tone: “While the long-running decline of fertility rates across the developed world makes it difficult to be optimistic overall about the future trajectory of births, the rise of remote work is one factor that seems likely to help push in the other direction, at least in some subgroups of the population.”
Women working remotely whose finances significantly improved over the last year were 10 percentage points more likely than their non-remote counterparts to report being or trying to be pregnant. There was no difference between remote and non-remote female workers with stable or deteriorating financial situations.
“It’s important to understand that our measure of wealth is women whose household finances have gotten ‘much better’ in the past year, which can include women across the income spectrum,” the authors of the EIG paper explain to Fortune. “However, while we didn’t directly examine this, remote work is more available to women with greater education levels and income. As a result, we would expect it to benefit higher income families more overall.”
Remote work also has a stronger effect on family planning for women who already have kids and those over the age of 35 (and even more so for those over 39). “In other words, remote work doesn’t necessarily trigger women to initiate childbearing, but it may help older women balance the competing demands of work and family and thereby to achieve their family goals,” the authors write in the report.
But it’s not just about babies, it’s also about marriage. Unmarried remote workers (22%) are more likely to be married in the next year than their in-office peers (15.7%). The researchers attribute this to the higher migration rates among remote workers, and guess that remote work eliminates issues of geographic mobility or one partner having to sacrifice their career for their partners’ because of location. This all might lead to less difficulties in a relationship, and potentially pave the way for virtual workers walking down the aisle more.
It could also be that, without the pesky commute, remote workers have an extra 72 minutes a day to spend with their partners and grow their relationship, or more time to dedicate to their family. It certainly gives them more time to dedicate to childcare, data shows, which could also explain why they’re more inclined to have a child. Location flexibility is also often tied to schedule flexibility, which tends to be helpful for working parents. (A lack of such autonomy for non-remote workers, coupled with the ongoing childcare crisis, has been shown to push mostly women out of the workforce.)
Women were also asked if their dreams about what their family would look like lined up with their reality, including if they had the amount of children they expected. Women who had the option to work remotely were less likely to report being disappointed or negative about their future.
A modern revival of “Working Girl” might as well take place from home, because working remotely might just be the way for Melanie Griffith types and women in general to get ahead in the workforce.
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