Greater Expectations: Careers, Fertility And Childbirth
Published on 23 January, 2023 | Katie Welton-Dillon
It is sometimes bewildering to think of the speed at which home life in the UK has changed.
Not so long ago, for instance, there was an expectation that women would marry young, have children and remain housewives.
Yet that notion continues to be challenged.
Both women and men now marry 10 years later on average than their counterparts in 1972 did (https://www.ons.gov.uk/peoplepopulationandcommunity/birthsdeathsandmarriages/marriagecohabitationandcivilpartnerships/bulletins/marriagesinenglandandwalesprovisional/2019#age-at-marriage).
Marriage statistics, of course, fail to take into account the acceleration in individuals who choose not to enter a formal relationship.
Within the last decade, the number of cohabiting couple families has increased by more than one-fifth, compared to a rather more modest rise in those opting for marriage or civil partnership (https://www.ons.gov.uk/peoplepopulationandcommunity/birthsdeathsandmarriages/families/bulletins/familiesandhouseholds/2021#:~:text=In%202021%2C%203.6%20million%20people,from%2024%25%20a%20decade%20ago).
Another key indicator of the shifting domestic dynamic is childbirth.
The Office for National Statistics (ONS) has just released data drawn from the latest national census showing that women are start families later than at any point since records began (https://www.ons.gov.uk/peoplepopulationandcommunity/birthsdeathsandmarriages/livebirths/bulletins/birthcharacteristicsinenglandandwales/2021).
On average, women who gave birth in 2021 were aged 30.9 years – a rise of four years since the mid-1970s.
Furthermore, twice as many women over the age of 40 gave birth two years ago than teenagers.
As I’ve been telling James Beal, the Social Affairs Correspondent of The Times, I believe that those patterns represent something of a substantial shift and one which can be attributed to a couple of different factors (https://www.thetimes.co.uk/article/f45fa9a2-9814-11ed-a130-baced48eb788?shareToken=c6fcad51d2be33dc9afead14b9865ad1).
Firstly, women have made undeniable progress in the workplace.
A report published by the House of Commons’ Library in March last year concluded that there were two million more working women than in 2010 (https://www.gov.uk/government/news/two-million-more-women-in-work-since-2010-as-uk-unemployment-remains-low).
What is more, the same period saw 40 per cent increases in the number of women taking up roles within professional, such as the law, and technical applications, including science, technology, engineering and maths.
Perhaps because of the opportunities to establish a career, women are putting off the decision to have children – if they have them at all.
Whereas such deliberations might in previous generations have been influenced by the ticking of the body clock, considerable advances in fertility have enabled women to at least consider having children later.
The Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority (HFEA), is the body which regulates the provision of fertility treatment in the UK.
It recently issued data showing that the number of cycles of In-Vitro Fertilisation (IVF) had increased more than 10-fold in the last 30 years (https://www.hfea.gov.uk/about-us/news-and-press-releases/2021-news-and-press-releases/ivf-cycles-surpass-1-million-and-uk-fertility-treatment-is-more-successful-than-ever/).
At the same time, the number of successful treatments for women in their mid-thirties had risen from six per cent to 25 per cent.
Above and beyond the professional and the medical reasons impacting households, we shouldn’t ignore the factors which allow couples to have a home of their own in the first place.
In November last year, the average UK house price was £295,000 – £28,000 higher than the same month in 2021 (https://www.ons.gov.uk/economy/inflationandpriceindices/bulletins/housepriceindex/november2022).
It is no surprise that faced with the commitment of time and expense which comes with starting a family, many young couples do not feel sufficiently financially secure until slightly later in life.