Women's minds are just as valuable and just as needful of good education as those of men. Young women hunger intellectually just as young men do and are just as capable (at least as capable!) of benefitting from full educational opportunities.
That should go without saying, but it had to be said — in fact it has had to be asserted recently, and within living memory of probably the majority of women who will read this, so I am beginning this piece with this assertion in order to forestall some anticipated objection to what follows.
The educational opportunities and career choices available to young women today are amazing — given the history of these things — and not to be taken for granted. They were fought for and we deserve them. And those of us who remember that, as well as many too young to do so, are justly suspicious of any hint that we might "roll back the clock." Therefore, I expect to be suspected and I welcome robust criticism of what I am about to say — but I think we might begin talking and thinking about it anyway.
The current "normal" way we are educating young men and women is pretty much a parallel track going from high school to college (at age 18) to entry into a career (4 or 5 years later). Marriage is often delayed until this track is completed and the young man and woman are "established" in some field or other. Once the career is in place all the "mommy track" issues suddenly become pertinent for the woman, should children come along — which is generally considered to be optional, albeit desirable, for what is still a majority (though a shrinking one) of couples. There doesn't seem to be some kind of "faithful Catholic" exception to this plan, other than the robust objections to artificial birth control. In other words, even very faithful, spiritually astute Catholic families seem to generally have their boys and girls on this same educational/career track.
I want to question whether this is something we are considering deeply or whether we are just kind of going along with the ride that our society seems to have planned out for our kids' lives. I especially want to ask if it is wise or prudent to automatically assume that our sons and daughters should be on the same track. Is there something to consider about our daughters that might give us pause here and prompt a different consideration?
I submit to you that there is something to consider and to put it very bluntly, it is fertility. Infertility within the population is a serious problem and becoming worse. There are many factors — use of "the pill" and diseases caused by sexual immorality are certainly factors — but one thing we do know: all other things being equal, delaying motherhood in a population of women will decrease the number of women who can give birth at all. Fertility wanes with age and it wanes fast, with increased risk of fetal loss in women over the age of 30. Yes, 30. Some women will find that waiting until age 30 to have a child means that they will never have one. A U.S.-Italian Study — published May, 2002 in Human Reproduction, Europe's leading journal of reproductive medicine — noted that a woman's fertility starts declining as early as her late 20s. The abstract summarizes the finding like this: "On average, the day-specific probabilities of pregnancy declined with age for women from the late 20s onward, with probabilities of pregnancy twice as high for women aged 19-26 years compared with women aged 35-39 years."
So I am just asking here: How much value really are we placing on our daughters' fertility when we encourage them to plan their lives in such a way that their most fertile years are spent getting an education and starting a career? Do we really view their fertility as a gift from God to be used – yes, within marriage, but used! — to bring new human beings into this world? Are we buying into the worldly view of what life is all about and squeezing the gifts of new life that God wants to give us in around the edges after we have filled up most of the space and time with our own materialistic pursuits or visions of secular success? It's something to consider, don't you think?