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HomeNewsLaura Keynes: Commitment-shy men lie behind the fertility crisis

Laura Keynes: Commitment-shy men lie behind the fertility crisis


One of Britain’s top fertility experts has warned women to start trying for a baby before they’re thirty, or risk infertility. Professor Geeta Nargund has written to Education Secretary Nicky Morgan to ask that teenagers be taught about the risks of delaying parenthood.

Approximately 50,000 women undergo IVF each year, with the average cost of an IVF baby to the NHS being £20,000. Fertility issues place a huge burden on the NHS, and much of this is due to women leaving it too late to start trying for a family.

I feel lucky that I just scraped in under the post, having conceived my first baby naturally at 35, but that’s not the case for many of my generation. As I’ve hit my mid-thirties the number of friends and acquaintances having IVF has risen alarmingly. It’s not something we talk about, it’s just whispered about over a glass of white wine: “Oh yeah, so and so, she’s doing IVF now you know.”

It’s widely assumed that the women of Generation X have been too busy concentrating on their careers to start a family. Feminists will talk about ‘using fertility as a stick to beat women with’ to scare women out of the workplace and into the home.

In my experience, and from talking to friends, most of us were actually ready to start a family in our late twenties. The problem wasn’t career development but men. Very few of us, at the age of 28 or 29, were in a stable relationship with a man mature enough to accept the responsibility of a family. Thanks (or rather, no thanks) to contraception, women have to wait for their man to give a green light before coming off the Pill or risk him turning around and saying “But I thought you were contracepting?”

One male friend of mine, at the age of 35 and in a steady relationship of a few years duration, described it as “the baby fait accompli” – in other words, he was waiting for his partner secretly  to stop contracepting and ‘stitch him up’ by getting pregnant, and he’d have to do the right thing or look like the playboy he was actually revealed to be.

No one is talking about this. Talk focuses on women delaying motherhood to get their careers going, and that’s a large part of it, but no-one is looking at the responsibility men have to play in this too. It takes two after all.

The fact is, men in their mid-thirties have got it all their own way: they’ve got women who’ll sleep with them with them free of any consequences, thanks to the sexual revolution and contraception. They’ve got women who’ll shack up with them with no commitments, thanks to the co-habitation culture.

The result is a generation of women who suddenly wake up in their mid-thirties and realize that although they might have been living with a guy for the last few years, he’s nowhere near ready to get married or have kids. Savvy girls do the ‘baby fait accompli’ and their blokes reluctantly walk down the aisle a few years later. Honest girls – the ones who see decisions about when to start a family as a two-way street – will be left waiting, and risk infertility.

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Laura Keynes
Laura Keynes
Dr Keynes is a Cambridge-based academic, writer and critic with two very young children. She writes for Standpoint magazine, the Catholic Herald and The Tablet. Find her on twitter @LMKeynes.

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