Back in 1971, we did not know that girls born then were seriously going to challenge the role of motherhood. Those women are now 46, and by this time last year, they had only 1.90 children each on average, according to the Office for National Statistics (ONS). Certainly, I know of many women born before that time who have one or no children – by choice.
Statistics are fascinating but they cannot tell us the whole story. Why are so many women having fewer children? Why are so many having none at all? The Guardian attempts to answer. Greater levels of education, starting families later and continuing to work all feed the trend, but there will be other reasons.
As a mother of five, I enjoy the benefits my larger family now brings. I’m never short of news and can watch (vicariously and usually slightly enviously) as they live their lives travelling more than I ever did, doing what they enjoy and basking in the freedoms of ‘singledom’ and a child-free existence. The idea of not being responsible for anyone is rather enticing, as is having more money in the bank, and the time to actually do the things you enjoy, with or without a partner. I think back to the numerous times I stood on the sidelines watching my children sing, dance, ride horses, play football and torture musical instruments. I did rather get my own back by dragging them all ice skating though, simply because I liked it! Parenting involves a lot of standing back, observing your children grow and fall, ideally wrapped within a parental/familial safety net.
Then, when they are independent, there is time to do stuff for yourself or as a couple. By then, it can be too late. It is often at this point that people need different partners for the next stage of their lives. I like to think that people with no children would not have to do this to keep stale marriages afloat, but while children are marital cement, they are also a strain.
The Huffington Post cites statistics that tell us that in 1946, only 9% of women had no children, but 17% of those born in 1970 has none. Finally, maybe young women are being freed from societal expectations that their life’s work involves having children.
Of course, some women want them but can’t have them or leave it biologically too late, but there are many very valid reasons for not wanting children. I certainly never thought about it until I was 28/29. I then got a little excessive and had 5, plus a couple of miscarriages. It could so easily not have happened at all. Anyway, I feel blessed but if I had not followed my path, I’m sure I’d feel equally blessed in other ways.
I’m not sure I’ve ever met a man desperate for children, though, so if you are remotely ambiguous about the idea, then a partner’s lack of enthusiasm may well be the cherry on the top that makes you decide not to bother. Meanwhile, for those who do, maybe this is the answer!