We should be celebrating that women under 30 aren’t all having children
PUBLISHED: 10:49 23 July 2020 | UPDATED: 10:49 23 July 2020
No kids by the time you hit 30? You should be celebrating rather than thinking that you’re missing out, says Rachel Moore
Headlines this week that the number of women under 30 having babies had dropped to a record low seemed to imply it was a negative shift.
Nearly half – 48% – of women in England and Wales had no children by their 30th birthday last year, in contrast to the previous generation when eight out of 10 of them had at least one baby by that age.
Surely this is success? A cause for celebration and not lament that the average age of childbirth has risen over four decades to 30.7 from 26.4 in 1973 illustrating how the role of women has changed.
It’s proof of progress and a positive sign, at last, of women’s contribution to and expectation in society. Motherhood matters less and less to women. They no longer feel they need to be defined by their motherhood status.
Having children is just one of a multitude of life choices for women today. How far we have come from when it was the expected, and their accepted, route to being a ‘whole’ woman.
The news is a triumph for education, career trajectories, contraception, gender parity, society’s shifting views, and also the climate change agenda.
Women finally have the confidence to shake off the pressure, make the most of opportunities, education, travel and work in their twenties, and thirties before even thinking about children. For some, the choice is not to have children at all because motherhood is not for them, and they’re comfortable to voice that. A positive choice for their life, not a negative which means ‘missing out.’
The Office for National Statistics says the number of child-free women is on the rise.
These women understand the joy that children can bring but just don’t want or need it for themselves. It doesn’t mean they are Cruella de Vil child-haters, who hiss to keep small people away from them. They enjoy being aunties, and love their friends’ children, but are happy to leave their relationship with toddlers at that. Love them but not have their own.
Spinsters and childless are words of long ago. Single is no longer viewed as sad and choosing not to have children is an optimistic life direction, not a ‘left on the shelf’ sadness.
For some, it is an issue of saving the planet, to refuse to become parents so they are responsible for using fewer resources and fewer emissions, and not wanting to bring children into the world we live in.
Medical journal the Lancet found that the global population is set to plummet, according to one academic, at a “jawdropping rate”.
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Covid-19 will see more child-free women on the rise. Money and coming to the ‘right time’ bank balance and career-wise play large in decisions.
The job market has never been more precarious, and the current crisis has hit women’s employment hard. Delaying having children until they are financially stable might turn into having no children at all. The eye-watering cost of childcare also puts women off. Only the high-earning can afford to drop to one or one and a half salaries today.
The thought of the struggle to make ends meet through maternity leave, going back to work to pump milk in the staff loos and be left with just £7.50 a month after nursery of child minder fees isn’t the most attractive prospect for women.
People’s – especially older people’s – reactions can still sting though, however ‘shifted’ towards enlightenment these figures might look.
“You might regret it when you’re older,” they say. “Then it will be too late.”
“It’s a bit selfish,” they say, quickly followed by the contradiction, “Who’s going to look after you when you’re old?”
In one pity-filled breath they assume women could never find fulfilment without children, and in the other implying that children are only born to care for their parents in old age.
I have friends in their thirties, forties, fifties and sixties who have chosen not to have children and live wonderfully full lives, without a hint of sadness, loneliness or regret.
For most it was a choice, for others it never happened and for some it was an issue of fertility, which they accepted.
Their twenties and thirties have been spent enjoying life before ‘settling down’ – a hideous phrase which implies giving up rather than starting a whole new adventure.
When the rest of us were running our children around to fulfil their dreams and needs at dance, sport, singing chess or whatever, they were doing their own things, focusing on their jobs with loads of hobbies, volunteering, holidays and friends.
They are some of the most selfless women I’ve met, while mothers I’ve met have been far more selfish putting their needs before their children throughout.
Women are having children older because they are healthier, wiser and have worked out that old age could be long haul – with more than 25 years after retirement age – so there is no hurry.
There is also less pressure from parents to become grandparents today. As women have to work for longer, free granny childcare is becoming more scarce, and dear old granny is far more likely to be dashing off to pilates after work and gadding on city breaks abroad than sitting knitting and babysitting.
If it means everyone is thinking more carefully about having children, it has to be a good thing.
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