To have children or not to have children, that is the question that more and more women continue to ask themselves each year as we see a growing trend in the number choosing to remain child-free. This topic has become the focus of much discussion (and many arguments), being presented in the media as highly controversial, something Style of the City wants to question: in our society, where feminism and the notion of women having “choices” is prominent and valued, why is the decision to not have children considered so controversial?
The fact is that society’s views and values are changing. Couples are getting married and starting families significantly later in their lives than previous generations, a survey by Bridebook.co.uk found. The results showed how couples are choosing to focus more time on career progression, travelling and experiencing life before settling down. This is due to a combination of factors, including: people spending longer amounts of time in higher education before starting work; financial pressures from the increased cost of living in recent years; and increased work ethic and desire to progress. In fact, when asked about long-term goals in a recent survey, millennials prioritised “financial stability” and “climbing the career ladder” over “starting a family” , showing just how different their values are to previous generations.
Is it a case of career vs family?
Indeed, very rarely are the two portrayed as being compatible; with news headlines suggesting that women must choose between the two. In fact, a recent study discovered that half (49%) of women felt their current career wouldn’t offer them the flexibility they would need to care for a family, with 65% saying they would retrain if necessary. These are shocking figures, especially considering how important career achievement is to the modern woman. Could this be contributing to the increased number of women choosing to remain child-free?
The important question here, is why do women feel they have to choose between maintaining a career and a family? What about those who strive for both? It is clear, from these results that we need to do more in workplaces to support women who don’t want to choose between the two. We need to encourage flexible working hours and increase opportunities for people to work from home so that – if she wants – the modern woman can do both.
The nitty gritty of the debate
The unfortunate part about this topic is the controversy it raises. Women, or couples, who choose to remain child-free are criticised by others, and by society: labelled “selfish” and “immature”. Critics also claim that women have a moral and ethical responsibility to preserve the future by raising another generation. But in a world which is facing over-population, finite resources and pollution, is this really a viable argument?
And this is what it really comes down to: are we not in the age of giving women choices? Do we not celebrate allowing them to make their own decisions regarding their life path, priorities and their bodies? As Brittany Shoot argues, parenting should be seen as an opportunity to opt into; people shouldn’t have to defend their decision to “opt out”. The fact that women can decide to have children, or decide to instead focus on their career, or decide that they want to do both should be empowering. And we should be supporting other women in their decisions, whether they are the same as our own, or not.
Because ultimately, the choice to have children or to remain child-free is made by the individual, or the couple based on their values, personal opportunities and desires. And it should remain to be seen as just that: a choice to be respected.