This delay in family formation has been a trend across the West. It comes with some obvious problems, one of which is compromised fertility. It's now known that a woman's fertility begins to decline at age 27 and a man's at age 35. So if family formation is pushed back to the mid-30s, then many people will miss out on children they wanted to have.
Professional women have been hit the hardest. In the US, for example, 47% of women aged 40 to 44 years with graduate or professional degrees are childless. Nor have these women deliberately chosen this outcome; one researcher found that only 14% of such women had the intention as young women of remaining childless.
The female response to all this varies. There are women, like Lori Gottlieb, who admit that they made mistakes when younger. I recently watched a video of Gottlieb discussing her regrets at having passed up a number of men who were "eights" when in her twenties in order to hold out for a non-existent "ten". She also made the good point that it's a mistake to look for someone who is your mirror image, the opposite sex version of yourself.
But there are also women who argue that they have no control over the delay in family formation and simply haven't had the good luck to meet the right man. This is the response, for instance, of Jill Stark:
For many women in their 30s and 40s the reason they are not mothers has very little to do with partying, playing the field or breaking through the glass ceiling. Not one of my wonderful, intelligent, vibrant female friends who does not have children values a night [drinking] over starting a family. Almost all want to be mothers - some had hoped they would be by now.
But it takes two to make a baby. Finding the right partner is a lottery and it can be a long wait for your numbers to come up. When they do, making it work is not guaranteed. For some, love will come too late.
However, instead of being afforded the same support and compassion as the medically infertile, these women will be forced to accept the fallacy that it's their fault.
Tough luck for them. They chose to hold out for Mr Perfect when they could have settled for Mr You'll Do. They were just too picky.
This pernicious phrase is one that single women start to hear a lot after their 30th birthday. But what does it mean? Is it ''too picky'' to not stay with someone who is non-committal about children? Or should you persevere in the hope that you can wear them down? If he doesn't come round you can always ''forget'' to take your birth control pills, right? Perhaps ''too picky'' is not being prepared to bring children into a loveless or abusive relationship. Or maybe it's rejecting an unfaithful partner or one whose fascination with himself far exceeds his interest in you.
I don't really buy this. If Jill Stark's friends are really such wonderful, family oriented women, then why are they stuck in relationships with unsuitable men?
Either they have chosen the wrong sort of men to start a family with, or else there is a terrible shortage of family oriented men to begin with.
No matter which of these is true, something dysfunctional is happening. If it's a problem of women choosing unsuitable men, then Jill Stark has to ask why she and her friends would do this. If it's a problem of men rejecting marriage and fatherhood, then she ought to think about why this might be so.
Instead, she argues that the problem is that relationships are just a lottery, a matter of luck, which suggests that we have no control over our own prospects.
What might women do to improve the situation? Here are just a few things that spring to mind:
a) Be decisive. There are a lot of wavering women out there. They're not sure if they want to be mothers. They're not quite able to get over a poor relationship with their own father. Not being quite sure, they tend to either withdraw or go out with "placeholder" men who won't ever bring things to the point of commitment.
b) Partner up early on (by your mid-20s). We tend to have the widest social network in our early 20s. We're also propelled by our emotions and biology most strongly toward the opposite sex at this time. Men are unlikely prior to their mid-20s to have settled comfortably into bachelorhood or to have high-level resentments toward women.
c) Make marriage and children the priority they ought to be. It does register with men when women relegate marriage and children as items on their life list. Men too will start to reorient psychologically to other things. Don't think that men can be easily brought back a decade or so later on.
d) Reward the family guy. This is what women used to do. It was the family guy who got the love and respect of women.
e) Encourage men to be masculine. It is a masculine instinct to take on the responsibilities of being a husband and father, not a weakly androgynous one.
e) Support a culture of family life however you can. This includes rejecting laws or policies which undermine the position of men within family life.
Reading Jill Stark's article, you get the sense that things have gone dramatically wrong for a layer of Western women. They've ended up with men they can't form families with and they seem to accept this as the way things must be.
The triumphalism is gone, replaced by a fatalistic sense of being caught within narrowed life options.