From career climbing to competitive birthing

Via reader Wyndi comes this truly gross NPR piece about how the wealthy are apparently breeding like crazy, in a trend dubbed (seriously) “competitive birthing.” One mother actually says, “Baby number 4 has become the new must-have accessory.”
Given the incredibly high cost of raising children these days — with housing, child care, camps, clothing, and college tuition — big families are apparently now a status symbol. A lot of the NPR story is anecdotal, but the reporter does talk to a demographics analyst, who says that census data shows the number of high-income families having three or four kids has shot up 30 percent in the last 10 years. “It’s an unprecedented jump, and completely counter to 100 years of history,” he says.
I feel like the kids-as-status-symbol story bubbles up occasionally. But what’s new here, if you take the NPR reporter’s word for it, is that having lotsa babies has become a way for super-educated moms who have left the workforce to “justify” their choice to opt out.
In other words, the more kids, the more comfortable these women seem with their stay-at-home status. One mom explains, “I know in some sense I feel more validated to say I’m a mother of four. Of course I’m not working now! What are you thinking? How could i possibly do anything else? This is a full-time job.” Another says that having more kids “gets you a lot more recognition for a notoriously thankless job.”
I have no idea how widespread this “trend” really is. But it doesn’t seem completely far-fetched to me that women who used to be career-driven would want to direct their competitive energies somewhere — and for some women, that’s become a quest to be the best mom. (“Best” in this case, of course, equals “most kids.”) Says one woman, “All that drive gets channeled into the children when they quit their job.”
It’s also easy to see that a formerly successful businesswoman would feel pressured to ensure that anyone could tell, just by looking at the size of her brood, that there’s no way she could have continued to work outside the home. It’s as if more babies are a defense mechanism — not only against the raised eyebrows and judgments of women who stayed in the workforce, but also against any doubts these wealthy breeders may themselves harbor about their decision to opt out.

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