Hmm. I find this really thought provoking. As an educated, middle class, single woman myself, I can,t help relating to this story. In my case, I am not single out of choice but circumstance and I think a large number of Nigerian women in my shoes will say the same thing (what do you do? Propose to a guy?!). But in the article below, some of these women are single or childless by choice and it is gradually impacting the demographics. It’s a really interesting read.
- Educated women deferring motherhood for so long they’re no longer fertile
- Bearing children ‘has largely become the province of the lower classes’
- TV historian Dr Lucy Worsley is poster girl for intentionally childless women
Helen McNallen longs to have a child but, at 45, she knows her chances are slim. She also realises that, had she not spent her most fertile years in a lucrative City job — earning a six-figure salary but eventually burning herself out — she might now be a mother.
Instead she gained a degree, then traded the freedom of her 20s and early 30s for the wealth and status that comes from being a high-achieving woman in the predominantly male world of a global investment bank.
When she reflects now on the sacrifices she made for her glittering career — the punishingly long hours she worked, the maternal urges she suppressed and the health, peace of mind and marriage she eventually forfeited — she regrets becoming ensnared by her professional success. And although it is a controversial admission, she also wishes she’d had fewer opportunities instead of so many.
That way, she believes, she might have put motherhood first and now have the children she so covets.
Helen has joined the growing ranks of the UK’s involuntarily childless. Not since the 1940s, when the male population was depleted by the war, has there been a comparable number of women without children.
And there is a specific reason for the current rise: educated women like Helen often defer motherhood for so long that they are no longer fertile. And if they do procreate, because they start their families later, those families are inevitably smaller. The result has been a dramatic change in the social landscape of the country: middle-class Britain is becoming barren.
The effect has already been noted in the U.S., as author and demographic expert Jonathan Last observes in his controversial book What to Expect When No One’s Expecting:
‘The bearing and raising of children has largely become the province of the lower classes. It’s a kind of reverse Darwinism where the traditional markers of success make one less likely to reproduce.’
Helen has her own view on why this is happening.
‘The problem is, women have so many options; too many to make considered choices,’ she says. ‘We can go to university, hold down top jobs, earn as much money as men; pursue rewarding careers. We’re overloaded with decisions on a daily basis.
‘Yet it’s ridiculous because the one thing we were put on earth to do is to procreate, yet more and more of us find we haven’t had the time to do it. We’ve assumed we can put it off indefinitely. Choice is a blessing, of course — but it can also be a curse.’
Statistics support Helen’s assertion. Women in Britain are having babies later and later.
The number of births to women over 40 in England and Wales has more than quadrupled over the past three decades, from 6,860 in 1981 to 29,350 in 2011.
Significantly, female graduates are delaying the age at which they have their first child until 35, while those who do not take degrees typically become mothers at 27.
What we are also witnessing is a divide between the dwindling numbers of children born into affluent families and a corresponding growth in those born to the less well-off.
Anthropologist Dr David Lawson of University College London, contributed to a study which bears this out: ‘Poorer households have relatively little to gain by limiting fertility, perhaps because the success of their children is more determined by broader societal factors, rather than investment and inheritance from parents, which is in short supply.’
The phenomenon has become more marked because the number of female students has more than doubled in the past 20 years.
So now, for the first time in history, a baby’s social class can be determined by the age of its mother.
Danny Dorling, professor of human geography at Sheffield University, whose research identified the trend, explains: ‘Birth age used to be similar at all levels of society. Now society has split into two groups.
‘One group of women graduates and is having children very late — and the rest are having them at much the same age as their mothers and their grandmothers did.’
Another group, of course — either inadvertently or deliberately — is failing to have children at all.
The TV historian Dr Lucy Worsley, 39, who recently asserted that she has been ‘educated out of the natural reproductive function,’ is a poster girl for the new breed of intentionally childless women.
Yet the social outcome is the same for both those who consciously chose to not have children, and those, like Helen, who have probably left it too late: an increasingly infertile middle-class Britain.
London-based psychologist Leila Collins laments the fact that those women who are best equipped for parenthood are often the ones who have fewer or no children.
‘It’s very regrettable indeed, and a waste of opportunity for the nation,’ she says.
‘Children tend to do better with educated mothers, and better-informed mothers are more likely to think harder about how many children they can afford, rather than having lots they cannot provide for.’
Helen is typical of the new breed of would-be mums who prioritised their careers over family. She left Bristol University and was head-hunted by Goldman Sachs where, as a woman trader in the early Nineties, she was a rarity.
Twelve-hour days were standard; routinely she began work at 6am. She married her husband Duncan, a freelance cameraman, when she was 30, and continued to work.
‘I did want a baby. But I was on this merry-go-round and I couldn’t get off,’ she recalls. I visualised a future with children but you bury your head in the sand and hope these things will sort themselves out. But they rarely do.’
For Helen, the consequences of delaying motherhood were catastrophic. When she began a new job with a £200,000-a-year salary in the London office of a German bank, she worked even harder to warrant her huge earnings.
But her stress levels soared commensurately. Finally, in 2001, aged 33, she suffered a nervous breakdown and was diagnosed with depression.
She then wanted to try for a baby, but her medication would have been harmful to an unborn child.
Meanwhile, her marriage, stretched to breaking point by her illness, collapsed. It took six years before Helen stopped taking medication for depression and by then she was almost 40 and single.
Today, she lives in Yorkshire with her partner of two years, who’s also 45. Helen works as a depression counsellor and runs her own website, Depression Can be Fun.
‘We both hope for a child. It’s something I think about every day,’ she says. ‘I try to live without regrets, but, looking back, I should have bitten the bullet. I should have just got pregnant when I was younger.’
Lisa Nelson, 45, is a former university lecturer who lives in Watford, Herts. Single and childless, she has always recognised the difficulties of reconciling a career with parenthood.
She opted not to be a mum because she feels she could not do her job and bring up a child adequately.
‘I saw women who were unable to finish their degrees because of their children’s needs; they were torn apart by the effort of balancing their responsibilities.
‘I give 100 per cent to my work and I would want to give the same to a child. But you can’t do both without making sacrifices. We have to realise that our bodies are only really designed to have babies in our 20s and 30s, and be pragmatic.’
Pertinently, it is often the women who take the idea of motherhood seriously — those who would be conscientious and caring parents — who balk at the enormity of the task.
Elizabeth Corlett, 37, single and childless by choice, is among those who believe a mother’s role is of paramount importance.
Childless: Elizabeth, left, thinks being a mum is the toughest job in the world while Lisa didn’t have enough
time to devote to motherhood
Elizabeth, who left Cambridge University with a first in English, says: ‘There is no “just” about motherhood. It’s the toughest, most formidable job in the world. It’s not a lesser option. Getting a cat was a big enough deal for me.
‘Having a child is the end of the person you are, the end of one incarnation. You have a secondary role and this new person needs 100 per cent love and devotion.
‘To me, motherhood is a huge responsibility and it’s heartbreaking when you see kids with issues stemming from neglect or abuse.’
For Elizabeth — a writer who lives on the Isle of Man, where she works for a holistic health company — says there are compensations for remaining childless.
‘Life is about making a contribution, in whatever way. I enjoy countryside conservation work; I’ve taught adult literacy. I consciously fill my life with things that I couldn’t do if I had young children,’ she says.
Today’s female graduates, like Elizabeth, grew up in the wake of the 1975 Equal Opportunities Act.
However, no amount of equality has altered female biology: it remains an incontrovertible fact that a woman’s fertility declines sharply after she turns 35, and the chances of getting pregnant naturally over the age of 40 are around five per cent.
What can be done? As psychologist Phillip Hodson points out: ‘Education is not biologically limited — there’s plenty of time to do a PhD later in life — but procreation is. Society has to find a way to value parenthood more highly.’
For Kristina Howells, 40, studying became a substitute for the child she didn’t have. In her 20s, she was head of music at a school in Kent.
‘It was the prime age for having babies, but work consumed me,’ she says. ‘When I wasn’t teaching, I was planning lessons, taking after-school activities; organising festivals and concerts. It was rewarding but stressful. I remember thinking, “I’m still very young. I can find the right man in my 30s.”
‘You think you’re invincible. Then I reached 30 and was almost panic-stricken. I had a career but no man to have children with, and I didn’t want to be a single mum.’
Kristina, now an author and English language trainer, divides her time between her homes in Bedfordshire and France. She met her partner Frank, 45, an industrial chemist, nine years ago.
But he already has a 23-year-old daughter from a previous relationship and didn’t particularly want more children. For Kristina, it seems any decisions about motherhood have been taken out of her hands.
‘I didn’t try not to conceive. It just hasn’t happened,’ she says. ‘So I studied for a PhD, which took my mind off what should or could have been. I just got involved in something else. I suppose I’ve gone through stages: panic, sadness, resignation. If I could have my life again, I’d have had children in my early 20s. But I have my degrees. And my books are a sort of legacy.
‘I try to feel liberated by my childlessness. I can go on more exotic holidays. I have more disposable income. I write. I play in an orchestra.
‘Writing is a creative process in the same way that having children is, but I don’t think the two are compatible. And at my age I feel it would be impossible to do both.’
It is a wistful admission. Kristina is making the best of her childlessness. But the feeling of regret prevails, and the sense that, like Helen McNallen, she may just have had too many choices.
Story culled from dailymail.co.uk