Coloradans Are Having Fewer Kids, and They’re Attributing the Baby Slump to Climate Change, Finances and “the State of the World”
When Dana Hoffman’s childhood friends fussed over their toy dolls, Hoffman wondered where the fun was in pretend mothering. When she was roped into a last-minute babysitting gig as she got a bit older, she wished the experience would end.
“It’s been as long as I can remember,” said the Denver resident, now 31. “I never felt attracted to or excited by babies. Having children didn’t feel right.”
Hoffman’s introspection on not wanting kids solidified as she developed concrete reasons to bolster her gut instinct.
She and her partner are buying a home next month and planning for a trip around the world in two years — accomplishments they’re not sure they could achieve while financing and caring for a child. Most distressing, Hoffman’s work as an environmentally focused urban planner heightens her climate change concerns.
“I don’t know how much in the past people felt like the world was going to hell, but what we’re seeing in terms of science is pretty unmatchable about the dire straits we’re in,” Hoffman said. “From a climate footprint, having a child is by far the worst impact one can have on the earth.”
A new member of the family is already in the works for next year, and its pattering puppy paws are sure to help transform their house into a home.
For boundless reasons, Coloradans are having fewer children, contributing to a decades-long, steep decline in fertility. The Centennial State ranks eighth in the nation for the largest fertility rate decline , according to the Colorado State Demography Office . The baby slump coincided with a national trend, but it happened faster here than in the rest of the country, leaving the state with a general fertility rate — the total live births per 1,000 women ages 15 to 44 — that fell nearly 21 percent between 2006 and 2017, according to Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment data.
State demographers have identified factors contributing to the decline — better access to long-acting reversible contraceptives, the slowing pace of international immigration and women’s increased educational attainment — but Coloradans making a choice to forego children have their own reasons.
Millennials have their reasons
About 350 Colorado millennials who said they have decided not to become parents responded to a Denver Post inquiry asking what led them to that outcome. Here are the nonscientific results:
Nearly half — 48 percent — said finances were the prevailing factor.
Twenty-nine percent said they valued their independence too much to part with it: the ability to sleep in, take last-minute trips and spend time with their partners or by themselves.
Twenty percent made a reference to the “state of the world” being too awful to subject a kid to, referencing divisive politics, hatred and racism that they feel is only going to worsen.
Climate change and worry over the future of the planet were cited by 17 percent.
And 12 percent said they preferred investing their time into their career or education.
Hoffman and her partner were open about their reservations on parenthood from the start. It’s a conversation they revisit monthly.
“The biggest thing I worry about is regret,” Hoffman said. “I’m really close to my family, and I know a way to carry that on is through having a family.”
Hoffman and her 35-year-old sister, Della Hoffman, used to be on the same page, agreeing that neither were “baby people” and both enjoyed the freedom of living child-free.
But the same sentiment Dana mulls over — the idea of cherishing her parents and family unit so much that she wants to build her own — caused Della to have a change of heart.
Della smiled down upon her 8-month-old son as he swayed on a rocking horse earlier in the month.
“In most ways, it’s exactly what I expected it to be,” Della Hoffman said. “It’s exhausting. Life is very different, and I often miss the freedom of life before children — even just being able to sleep and go out to dinner with my husband when we wanted. But I love my son. There is an amazing protective feeling and love and concern about him.
“I have been holding out hope that at some point, I would get that moment of ‘Oh, yes, this is exactly what I should be doing. I should be a mother.’ That never really came.”
Leila Qari, 36, doesn’t know how parents do it. The idea of running from school to play dates to soccer practice to homework time and family dinners leaves Qari drained just thinking about it.
“I barely have time for a relationship aside from my work,” Qari said.
Finding joy in their careers
Qari, a former attorney, founded the Denver Cat Company in 2014 and spends most of her time tending to its unique needs — making sure the beverages are stocked, the social media presence is engaging, the cats that cafe attendees get to mingle with are healthy, happy and adopted with proper paperwork.
“If I didn’t have this, maybe I would want kids, but the cafe is my joy,” Qari said. “I’m obsessed with it. I would hate to have to compromise that in order to raise children the world doesn’t need.”
Katherine Huston represents the nearly half of respondents to The Denver Post’s inquiry who felt financial barriers were keeping them from choosing parenthood.
Becoming a mom has always been a dream for 26-year-old Huston, but to do so responsibly, Huston and her 28-year-old boyfriend would have to win the lottery or move out of Colorado, she said.
“When we sit down and talk about our future, children have always been part of it, but when we look at financials and where we currently live, that takes a back seat,” Huston said. “It breaks my heart to think that having a family is simply something that might never work out. … Millennials are having to choose between having children and having enough money to not be in debt, own a home and not live paycheck to paycheck.”
Housing costs in Denver are particularly daunting, with a median purchase price of $430,000 in the third quarter, according to Attom Data Solutions. That would require an annual income of $117,148 to buy, Attom’s study found — far above the average yearly salary here of $68,419.
Andrew Hudson, founder of popular online job board Andrew Hudson’s job list , said he sees the challenges millennials are up against.
“If you have a baby today, and you want that child to go to CU Boulder in 18 years, based at an annual increase of 5 percent, it’s going to cost $64,000 a year to go to CU Boulder,” Hudson said. “For four years, that’s going to cost about $280,000, and what they will tell you is that if you have a baby today, the best thing you should do is start saving $1,000 a month up until they’re 18 to afford college.”
And that’s just one expense for parents.
Kids always sounded like something 33-year-old Nick Meyer would eventually come around to, but as he watched his friends become parents, he and his partner figured it wasn’t the lifestyle for them.
“There are so many places to go and so many things to do,” Meyer said. “This may sound selfish, but it is how we feel.”
Meyer and his partner haven’t ruled out adoption down the road because becoming parents to a child already in the world would ease his other fear about contributing to the strain on the planet.
“I know there are many kids out there that need a good home, but as my 23-year-old self would say, ‘I’m just not ready and too young.’ ”
Family planning is accessible in Colorado
Colorado residents who join Meyer in feeling too young to have a child have access to one of the most successful family planning programs in the country for preventing unwanted pregnancies. The program is credited by demographers as a major reason for the fertility rate decline.
Run through the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment, the program has been particularly promising for teens by removing cost barriers to long-acting reversible contraceptives like IUDs or implants. Since the program has focused on increased access to birth control, the birth rate for young women 15 to 19 in Colorado dropped nearly 60 percent from 37.5 births per 1,000 teens in 2009 to 15.5 in 2017.
Last year, federal funding for the program was in jeopardy under the Trump administration , but Jody Campy, a CDPHE official, said the financial situation has settled down due to an increase in state funding.
It’s also possible that the reduction in babies born in Colorado doesn’t reflect a permanent dip but rather a delay, theorizes Amanda Jean Stevenson, a demographer and assistant sociology professor at the University of Colorado Boulder.
Women are having babies later in life, Stevenson said, but younger women’s future kids aren’t counted yet.
“We’re seeing delaying fertility as a trend worldwide, and that’s important because as people have their kids later in life, we see an artificial depression of fertility rates,” Stevenson said.
The declining births and increasing number of deaths as Colorado’s population ages are predicted to cause long-term slowing of the state’s population growth. The baby drought is expected to hit Denver the hardest, with the state demography office forecasting a continued fertility rate drop in the city from 2015 to 2050 that will keep the Mile High City’s fertility below the rate at which a population replaces itself from one generation to the next without migration.
The growth of the labor force relative to the total population is expected to slow as a result, according to the state demography office.
While officials wonder what impact fewer children will have on Colorado’s future, Dana Hoffman contemplates the impact a child might have on her own future. She is annoyed by people she barely knows asking when she’ll have kids. The new aunt is grateful to have friends who share her child-free mentality so they can commiserate when the questioning gets to be too much.
Hoffman admits if anything were to change her mind about having children, it might just be her 8-month-old nephew.
“Maybe I’ll hit 35 and think this is the biggest meaning in life, and I don’t want to miss out on that,” she said. “I guess I’ll keep playing an active role in my nephew’s life and wait and see.”