Sunday, April 29, 2007

Educated Women in UK Less Likely to Be Mothers. They Ask Why . . .

Motherhood On Hold: Where have all the babies gone?

A recent study has shown that women in the UK with graduate degrees (am I misconstruing the term 'graduate women'?) are far less likely to have children.

When information like this comes out, it often goes one of two ways. Either people make a Hewlett-style assumption that of course we all yearn for motherhood, so society must be standing in our way. Sometimes people are more rational, and realize that childless-by-choice accounts for at least part of the phenomenon.
The author Lionel Shriver, 49, chose not to become a mother. "For me, establishing myself as a writer was so important, and took so long, that it consumed my entire reproductive lifetime ... I didn't feel I could afford the distraction and emotional energy that it would have taken to try and raise a family at the same time."

Shriver, who won the Orange Prize in 2005, believes that had she become more successful earlier in her career, she would have been more likely to have had children. But she is at peace with her decision. "I think that's because I've never had the experience and so I don't know what I'm missing. There is an element of ignorance being bliss. It does mean that in terms of my emotional support system, it's rather narrow. If anything happens to my husband, who is older than I am and smokes, I'm really by myself. So the chances are very good that I end up living the last 20 years by myself."
This article thus deals with a third category whom I will call the 'postponers' - those for whom the timing was never right. Although people tend to treat these women as victims of a child-hating workaholic society, I think this attitude does a disservice to women. We are just as capable as men of making life choices. I would instead categorize these women as semi-childfree; people who did not have the same conviction that they did not want to be mothers, but for whom it was not a top priority.

I was happy to see here that the article referred to her circumstance as a choice.
Others, meanwhile, are more concerned about Britain's low birth rate. David Willetts, the Tory education spokesman, is one who suspects that not everyone is as content with their childlessness as Shriver. "I think high house prices are a very powerful contraceptive," he says. "I think one thing that's going wrong with our country is negotiating the stages of the cycle of a life course. Leaving the parental home to create a new parental home, which a generation ago happened without thinking for many young people, has become much harder.
I have seen people blame the workforce, lack of childcare, lack of spousal support, and paucity of government handouts. This is the first time I have seen people blame the real estate market.

Still, my husband and I bought when we were 26. While most in NY don't have kids at this age anyway, it was nice being able to buy a one bedroom without having to worry about needing a bigger place later. (Well, wanting perhaps, but that is different . . )
According to many women, a principal reason for not having children, often overlooked by academics, policy wonks and politicians, is that they do not find someone they are content to settle down with.
This might be true, but I like the recognition of this cause for one other reason. It mitigates against putting the blame on government, and thus lessens the justification for handouts to encourage procreation.

Like real estate, this may be another way in which being childfree just makes life easier. It is no fun to hunt for a mate (among those of us who choose to) but it is much less fun when you have a deadline. A friend of mine finally met her husband at age 39. If she had not been childfree, it would have been bittersweet. As it is . . it was just sweet.
It is not always the case, however, that lack of money, or lack of a man, prevents women having children. Some say they simply lack the maternal instinct. Actress Dame Helen Mirren, 61, said: "It's just not something that interests me. An awful lot of women don't want children, but have them because there is such pressure to do so. They think there's something wrong with them if they don't want kids. It's not right."
I think I have a new heroine. Dame Helen, take your place alongside Felicity Huffman, Steve Martin, and Salma Hayek. I know Hollywood, is not quite important in the larger scheme of things, but it can serve as a useful barometer of changing attitudes.

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Unknown said...

"I think high house prices are a very powerful contraceptive," he says.

"Hop up on the table, here, miss."

"Doctor, I've tried every form of birth control there is. I want to get sterilized."

"There's something new on the market I want you to try first."

"Is that the Real Estate section of the NY Times?!? I don't think I like where this is going..."

"You can say that again!"

Ann (bunnygirl) said...

If anything happens to my husband, who is older than I am and smokes, I'm really by myself. So the chances are very good that I end up living the last 20 years by myself.

What an odd thing to say.

Unless you fail as a parent and raise parasites, you end up living alone, regardless. At least by not having kids, you don't have a chance to delude yourself that it will be any other way.