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Women not ignorant about fertility - housing and financial concerns key factors in women waiting to start a family

Women not ignorant about fertility - housing and financial concerns key factors in women waiting to start a family

  •          Survey of 1,000 women shows most acutely aware of their reproductive window, with younger women needlessly concerned about infertility
  •          Risks of waiting to have a baby should never be overstated
  •          Right relationship, financial stability, home ownership are the key factors in women’s decision to become a mother

The average age of first time motherhood has been steadily increasing. Some 40% of first babies in England and Wales are now born to women 30 and above and more than one in 8 women starting their families are aged 35 and over. Women are frequently warned that postponing motherhood may mean they are unable to have the family they want, and there have been calls for lessons in schools to address women’s apparent ignorance on the risks of waiting to have a baby in order to avert a “fertility timebomb.”

However a report published today by the British Pregnancy Advisory Service (bpas), Becoming a mother: understanding women’s choices today, shows that far from sleepwalking into infertility, women are aware of their reproductive window and more than 60% feel there is now pressure on women to have a baby before they are ready to do so. The time it takes to secure a home and concerns about the financial costs of raising a child are key factors in women waiting longer to start a family. 

Bpas surveyed more than 1,000 women aged between 20 and 40 who planned on having children, or who had not ruled out doing so.  Fewer than one in 10 of women felt the availability of IVF made them less concerned about delaying having children, despite recent suggestions that access to reproductive technologies made women less worried about later life infertility. Nine out of 10 women (89%) were aware that the risks of pregnancy increased with age, both for mother and foetus, and for the majority (65%) this was a factor in their decision making around when to try for a baby.  

Many women were concerned they were “running out of time” to have children, including a third (32%) of women aged 25-29, and more than one in 10 (12.4%) of the youngest women (20-24) polled. That women who are at their most fertile are concerned speaks to the prevalence and power of current messages around fertility and infertility.  The best available evidence shows that even for women in their late 30s (35-39), more than 80% having regular sex will become pregnant within a year.

The three most important factors women for starting a family were being in the right relationship (82%), having financial security (77%) and owning their own home (40%). Among those not planning on starting their families soon, 50% said concerns about the costs of raising a child were a reason, and more than one-third (37%) said the fact they did not own their own home was a barrier.

The perception that combining paid work with children was difficult was prevalent (70%), and women were most interested in policy measures that would support them as working mothers – improving access to affordable childcare (supported by 62% ) and flexible working (50%).  Support for allowances to care for children at home was much lower (26%).

bpas would like to see more measured discussion on the risks of waiting to start a family, and how women’s choices can best be supported. We believe women deserve evidence-based information about fertility to inform their decisions, and advocate for healthcare services organised to support women at every stage of their reproductive lifetime. This should include swift access to IVF in accordance with Nice guidance, alongside policy measures that would better support women to have their children earlier, if that is their wish. 

 Clare Murphy, Director of External Affairs at the British Pregnancy Advisory Service, said;

"The rise in the age of first time motherhood reflects so many positive developments in women’s lives – access to higher education, the ability to progress in a chosen career, all backed up by being able to control their fertility through contraception and abortion. These gains should be celebrated. People take the decision to have a child extremely seriously indeed, and for the majority of women, finding the right person to do that with and ensuring that a child is being brought into a situation of financial stability is what matters most.

"While the risks of pregnancy and birth may increase with age, these are manageable with support from healthcare professionals and should never be overstated. It is however the case that some women would like to start their families earlier than they are currently able to do‎. Measures to improve access to affordable childcare and housing may make a real difference to some. Rather than continually warning women about the risks of older motherhood, it would be more productive to push for policy measures that enable women to better combine paid work and motherhood, as many clearly want to do, while ensuring the healthcare services are in place to support the needs of those who wish to or need to wait.”

Other findings of the survey:

79% felt the responsibilities of caring for children still largely fall to women

58% felt the new shared parental scheme leave would make it easier for them to start their families, while 42% felt it would have no impact. Older women (aged 30-40) were much more likely to feel it would make no difference.

50% of women were worried about the costs involved of having a child

42% said the current economic climate made them feel less likely/much less likely to have children at this stage of their life

The report Becoming a mother: understanding women’s choices today can be found here.


For more information please contact bpas at press@bpas.org or 07788 725 185 or 0207 612 0206

Notes for editors

Bpas commissioned Censuswide to survey 1,005 Women aged 20-40 who plan, or who have not ruled out, having children – but not those who are already mothers, or who know they do not wish to have children, living in the UK, between 4 February 2015 and 9 February 2015.