17 November 2022

Why are birth rates dropping in the UK?

Becoming a mother

Cesar Diaz MEDICAL DIRECTOR IVI
Medical Director
Cesar Diaz-Garcia
MD PhD Assoc Prof
IVI London

 

  • A third of women (33.1%) say insufficient finances is putting them off kids, while 1 in 5 say it’s due to difficulty achieving a work-life balance
  • New survey points to competing social, cultural and economic factors in a woman’s decision to have, or to not have kids

IVI recently commissioned a nationwide survey of women aged 25 – 45 to illustrate the many different perspectives, concerns and motivations towards motherhood. This section of our research asked women about their attitudes to have, or not to have, children.

Reasons to try – or delay – starting a family

When asked why they wanted kids, a number of reasons stood out in our survey findings. The majority of women, across all ages, say simply the desire or need to become a mother is their main, and traversal, motivation to have a child. This proportion was significantly higher among women who already had children (77.9%)

Meanwhile, our data showed that women who wanted children had an average of 2 to 3 reasons why they had not yet starting their families, pointing to the fact that there are multiple factors involved in this decision.

Work and job stability

Our survey found that work is the single largest factor causing women to delay motherhood. Nearly half (42.6%) of the reasons were work-related, with 1 in 5 women having difficulty achieving a work-life balance (21.3%) or with the circumstances of their or their partner’s work (20.8%). While employment rates and salaries have been shown to decrease substantially for women after they become mothers, it is not surprising the decision to have children while pursuing a career poses challenges for many women.

Insufficient finances and money worries

A third of women who want children (33.1%) mention insufficient finances as a specific reason they are delaying having children. While the latest data shows raising a child to the age of 18 in the UK costs a total of £202,660 – the equivalent of £900 every month – it is clear that, in the current climate, money worries are an obstacle stopping women from having children.

Health concerns

Just under a third of women (32.2%) are delaying for health reasons, such as concerns about pregnancy and childbirth, fears that their child will be born with health problems, or health problems that they themselves have.

Loss of freedom

Over a quarter of women (25.9%) view having children as a loss of freedom and time, which in turn is a reason to postpone parenthood. According to a 2021 survey of over 1,950 US adults, nearly two-thirds of respondents without children (65%) agree that the freedom that comes with not having kids brings them happiness. Among childless millennials (the cohort born between 1981 – 1996), this increases to three-quarters (73%). Having a child is a life-changing event which dramatically impacts every aspect of life, and a perceived loss of freedom is becoming an increasingly common factor in postponing this decision.

The answer is that women do have choices now. Many of us decide to prioritise things other than motherhood, such as our professional careers, leisure or owning a house. That is totally fine. It is right to have choices, ” explains Dr Mireia Galian, IVF Consultant at IVI London. ” But if we know we may want to have children in the future, then we must seek advice to make informed decisions so we can be prepared for them. Fertility preservation is an excellent option to consider in these cases.

Women who have had children are not having more for many of the same reasons, our research found. While insufficient funds was one of the most common reasons, this was highest among women under 36 (42.5%) followed by difficulty in achieving a work-life balance, which was more significant among women between 36-39 years of age (17.4%).

Finding the right partner: is settling down more difficult today?

The world of modern dating has changed how we meet potential partners. Across many countries and cultures, people are dating casually more than before, and serious relationships are taking longer to find and grow compared to previous generations.

While the dramatic evolution of modern dating affects men and women equally, it has meant women feel more pressure to settle down quickly as they get older. Our survey found nearly a quarter of women (24.2%) – or 1 in 4 women – who plan to get pregnant one day haven’t had children because they don’t have a partner, or haven’t found the right one yet.

It is clear that having the right partner is a relevant factor in the decision to have children, and it also greatly affects their economic (29.2%) and employment (42.6%) situation. While our survey found building a family is still seen by many respondents as a two-person project with a partner, it is revealing that two-thirds of women (66%) are prepared to become a single mother by choice.

Why women are choosing to be childfree

Although they represented a minority of our respondents (7.6%), a growing proportion of women are choosing a life without children. And this isn’t something unique to women: in a 2021 US survey, 44% of people ranging from 18 to 49 years old who didn’t have kids said they didn’t expect they’d ever have a child. Yet it is often a woman’s conscious decision not to have children that invites negative criticism. 

While over half (55.4%) of our respondents who don’t want kids said they simply had no desire to become a mother, there were multiple factors involved in this decision for many. Not liking the current state of the country and the wider world (27.2%), having insufficient financial resources (20%) and not wanting to lose their freedom (18.2%) were among the top reasons, while nearly 1 in 5 (18.2%) reported that pregnancy and childbirth are hard for women.

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