Saturday, October 16, 2004

Growing up at 40?

The Age newspaper this morning has an article on childlessness amongst professional women. It seems that a large percentage of women in some professions remain childless, including 76% of engineers and 79% of architects.

The question is why? As expected, the Age suggests that workplaces need to be more flexible to cater for working women. But the childless professional they interviewed for the story begged to differ.

Architect Roberta Esbitt explained her childlessness this way:

Your 20s are used largely for partying, your 30s are for building up a career and then in your 40s you decide what you want to do when you grow up.

When Roberta eventually decided to think about family in her early 40s it was too late, despite efforts to use IVF treatment.

I find Roberta's account of her life trajectory convincing, because it's similar to what I observed about the university educated women of my own generation. They had been brought up to believe in the "independent modern girl" ethos in which the liberal goal of autonomy was paramount.

Family life wasn't rejected entirely, but it was shunted off to some vague time in the future, after the goals of single life and careerism had been met. In line with this, these women often preferred to consort with men who were unsuitable for marriage or fatherhood.

I doubt if any amount of child endowment or subsidised childcare or workplace flexibility would have convinced such women to have children. The problem was a cultural/political one. It was their ideas about how their life course should run which was the main barrier to marriage and motherhood for such women.

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