Monday, July 15, 2024
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Laura Perrins: Where work trumps family, nice girls don’t bother to have children


All week, the newspapers have been packed to the rafters with opinion pieces on the necessity of warning teenagers of the difficulties of having a baby post 35.

First, the only reason we are discussing this is because nice middle class professional women are delaying childbirth and people seem to think this is terrible.

Those on the lower rung of the socio-economic scale (I don’t know what the PC term is now – I can’t keep up) do have children before they are thirty and I think most of them can support themselves (contrary to myth). They do so not because they have nothing better to do with their time but because family and children are important to them. This group have children because they want children.

Secondly, it really is not necessary to issue dire warnings on dwindling female fertility post 35 as these educated professional women would have to be living in a cave to miss it. They know the drill and dangers of waiting until post 35; they have heard it all before.

The cost of having a child is a big issue for couples now. But this is because government is over regulating two key areas – planning laws, which have contributed to ghe housing crisis and the childcare market, which has seen costs soar.

The folks over at the Institute of Economic Affairs will inform you that contrary to what Daily Telegraph columnist Allison Pearson thinks we need less government regulation, with generous child tax allowances, to help your average couple become a family. Allison Pearson says that Germany’s fertility rate has plummeted because it is too conservative and women are expected to become stay-at-home mothers. Ok, this works until you look at Denmark that has a vast state run childcare system and a huge percentage of working mothers but their fertility rate is down the pan also. So figure that one out.

Ultimately I have settled on the belief that for many, the reason why professional highly educated women do not have children either before 35 or indeed ever is because they don’t want to. These women have ‘made it happen’ all their lives – if they wanted to make the baby thing happen they could. They just choose not to.

Children are not a check-list; they are not a box to be ticked. And in fairness to the childless women they know this. You can throw as much free childcare at them as you want. One can have a very supportive ‘equal parenting’ partner but ultimately these women know that the buck, or indeed the baby, stops with them.

Some men and women are just not willing to make the sacrifices necessary to have children these days. They love their careers and their life the way it is, thank you very much. And who can blame them when work culture is so dominant and pervasive.

The reality is work Rules, Ok? Now don’t get me wrong there is of course a dignity to paid employment. I understand how soul-destroying it can be to be without a job when you are young or indeed must provide for a family. But what we have seen over the last three decades is different. This is where work is a source of identity, status and power. Family comes a lowly second.

A person these days is judged entirely on their profession, not whether they are a good father or mother. Perhaps this is just respecting the privacy of the family but I believe it is more than that.

Full-time mothers are the very lowest rung on the status ladder because they are not ‘working’ so who the hell would want to go there? Working mothers are respected but only for the working bit, not the mothering part. It makes perfect sense for women to respond to this and do a lot more working and a lot less mothering – perhaps just dispensing with the mother bit completely.

The truth is having a baby is a leap of faith. It is life changing – who knows what might happen? For people who are used to success and control all their lives, taking that leap is often just a step too far.

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