Jane is a 30-year-old Canadian woman who works at a marketing company in a downtown city office. By all appearances, she seems normal. She lives with her partner in a one bedroom apartment and has pets. She enjoys yoga, works Monday through Friday, 9 am to 5 pm, she commutes and she buys groceries. She is living like most people hope to, but there is a hint of underlying struggle.
Student debt and internships
Jane gets home at 5:36 pm with a brown envelope in her hands. She tears it open and throws it onto the table beside the door. “Oh good, less than $20,000 to go,” she says with a smirk.
Jane peels off her black, pleather jacket that she found in a lost and found. She puts down her battered bicycle helmet and hangs up her keys on a golden, metal hook with an image of a horse’s head, a gift from her partner’s grandmother in Ireland.
She sits on a used couch that she got from her cousin who lives down the street. She turns on the television that she and her partner bought from a friend and pulls up her Netflix account. She scrolls through the Watch It Again list. She thinks about what kinds of things she has in the cupboards to make dinner.
Living in a major urban centre has been easier in some ways as Jane is close to some of her family and is more familiar with the terrain. She could live in a more affordable suburb, but business opportunities are a bit scarce and this has been home for so long. She often dreams of living in the countryside.
Jane first moved to the city when she was 18 years old. Later she attended a university outside of the city but decided to move back to receive her post-secondary degree at a major institution. She travelled abroad and worked without pay for internships so she could, as she explains, “get ahead.”
“They taught me valuable skills and gave me experience in the field. But by the end, I was so broke… I still try to remain positive about everything,” she says.
She receives a text from a friend: “Come out to a show! xx”
“Can’t. In power saving mode xxx,” she texts back.
Jane wants to go out, but she doesn’t plan too far ahead. She explains how she needs to budget everything tightly but still tries to have a life.
“It’s like living a semi-retired life, like living on a small pension or something. Your fun money is pretty limited. Even your grocery money is limited with the prices these days,” she says.
Marriage, relationships, and career
She knows that she has to budget for one wedding this summer. In the past five to six years she has attended well over ten of these major life events.
She considers herself lucky to be invited to so many.
When asked if she is interested in getting married, she says, “I never really thought of it, to be honest. I was never a fan of getting up in front of so many people. I think I’d like to have a small ceremony and a big party. I never really thought about it until I met my partner, but he’s a lot younger than I am so we have lots of time.”
When asked what she really feels is holding her back:
“My student debt, hands down. I left school with almost $40,000, fought it for a few years while I was off doing internships and making just enough money working side gigs. The original amount they wanted me to pay was $980 per month. I couldn’t even afford that much in rent at the time. After years of fighting with them, they sent [the loan] to collections at the Canada Revenue Agency. Any taxes that the government owes me they keep and put towards the loan, which is good, I guess. I now pay $435 per month and have to really watch what I spend.”
According to the 2006 census, 60% of women between the ages of 25 and 29 were university graduates. A couple of years before that, in 2004/2005, the number of women who graduated from a post-secondary institution was 94,596 whereas for men it was 66,435. We assume that the number of graduates for both sexes increased in 2009, the year that Jane graduated from university.
Of these female graduates, roughly 68% left school with some sort of college debt compared to 63% of men. It is uncertain exactly why a higher portion of women had to take out loans, but some guess that coming from lower-income families may have something to do with it.
Upon leaving, women are more likely to make less than their male counterparts. On average, women make 21 cents less to each man’s dollar earned. Fewer women hold higher positions in their careers, again, causes are unknown. Two theories put forth are that women a) do not receive promotions, or b) do not accept promotions because they want to start families or have other family obligations.
At this moment, Jane considers herself lucky to be making a moderate income at a full-time job. She also lives with her partner, which means they split half the rent. Once a week, Jane revises her budget: rent, health insurance (her job does not offer benefits), transit, phone, internet, groceries, the usual. At the end of her budget, she is still spending $100 more than she makes per month.
When asked why she doesn’t have any money:
“Well, I did just use all my savings to finally get my wisdom teeth out. My insurance only covers $400 of any dental work. I’ve never had enough money to get them fixed before,” she explains. “My mouth feels really great now, though.”
Having a family
Jane expects to be done paying her student loans by the time she is 34 years old. At that age, she feels like it would be alright to start thinking about kids.
“My partner will still be pretty young, but we have to negotiate. As a man, he has more time to become a dad. Even though I do have options later in life, those options are expensive and my chances of having a healthy baby start going down. Again, it’s not something I really have the time to think about,” she laughs.
In 2008, the average age of women at childbirth was 29.8 years of age and first-time mothers gave birth around 28 years old. Fifty years ago, the average age was 23.5 years. With advances in medicine, women above the age of 30 are more than able to have healthy, happy babies.
Even still, more and more women are waiting until their 40s to start their families, although there is an increased risk of complications for the mother and baby.
These decisions do not seem to hinder men as much, even though that is shifting, too. One study in the UK — unable to find sources in Canada — shows that 75% of men with families received a promotion versus 65% of men without. It seems to be in the male’s favour to demonstrate a stable, at-home life. It is not currently the same for females. There are no statistics to show this, rather a slew of articles explaining how it is still a woman’s right to get promoted even when pregnant. For this reason, some career-driven women may have decided to wait to have children.
Women who wait until their late 30s to early 40s sometimes have a better grasp on their careers and finances, which is appealing to those who want to stay in the workforce. However, as explained before, the chances of complications for both the mother and child rise at a much higher rate.
Student loans, equal pay, career advancements, and yes, babies, are all on the mind of Jane, a 30-year-old, Canadian woman.