A record number of women do not have children by the time they reach 30 – and it’s caused an eyebrow-raising discussion.
On Radio 4′s Today programme, presenter Nick Robinson asked if women are delaying motherhood because “they want more fun before coming a mum”.
And as a woman listening, I practically spat out my tea.
Personally, I don’t consider unaffordable housing, excruciating childcare costs and abominable student debt particularly “fun”. Maternity discrimination and the gender pay gap aren’t exactly a barrel of laughs, either. Nor is the current cost of living crisis a knee-slapping hoot.
As one of the show’s guests, Mumsnet founder Justine Roberts pointed out: “There are very rational economic reasons for delaying – a third of people spend more on childcare than on their rent or mortgage.”
She also asked why an entire group of people were missing from this discussion on the nation’s birthrate – and it was this comment that made me cheer.
Why, oh why, does nobody ever ask about the men?
The new Office for National Statistics (ONS) data shows that for the first time since records began, half of women in England and Wales do not have kids by their 30th birthday. A growing number of women are also never becoming mothers or having only one baby.
But notably, the ONS report doesn’t even provide the equivalent figures for men.
If it’s women who are supposedly “delaying” motherhood, it really does beg the question: where are all these men hiding who want to have children under 30? I’ve certainly never met one.
And, it seems, neither have many of the women on Twitter.
There have been scientific studies into male attitudes around becoming a parent, but when do we see this debate foregrounded in the media, or everyday life?
Interestingly, the latest data from the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority (HFEA), which regulates fertility treatment in the UK, show more single women are having treatment alone than ever before.
Sarah Norcross, director of fertility campaign group PET, previously told HuffPost UK that it’s a myth women are delaying motherhood for fun or their careers.
“Research suggests it is the lack of a male partner prepared to commit to parenthood that is the key driver for women choosing to become single mothers,” she said.
“These are not women focused solely on their career and they are not necessarily women who have failed to find the man they want to have children with – it is the absence of a man ready to become a dad that has led to this reproductive choice.”
Some women become mothers alone, others with other women. And, of course, a lot of women don’t want children and it should never be assumed that we all do.
The data suggesting women are having children later or not at all isn’t necessarily a bad thing – it could be a sign of women walking their own paths.
But, for those who do want kids, we clearly need systems that support women to become mothers at the time that’s right for them.
We also really need to stop framing women as the only “baby-makers” in society, and ask what the bloody hell is going on with all the men.