These specialists denied that women were deferring motherhood in order to pursue other ambitions. Their evidence was not very strong, but it was interesting. They drew on some research into attitudes toward motherhood amongst women aged 30 to 34.
The research showed that nearly all women want to have children:
We found that almost all the women we interviewed wanted to have children. Only 20 (less than 4 per cent) had decided they definitely did not want to have children.
However, a very large percentage of women aged 30 to 34 did not have the number of children they wanted:
However, many of the women (80 per cent) had fewer children than they desired. The women were still of reproductive age but when asked if they were likely to have children in the future, more than half (54 per cent) said this was unlikely because of circumstances often beyond their control.
What was stopping them? Mostly the lack of a husband:
Those who did not have a child said the main reason was not having a partner, or being unable to find a partner willing to commit to fatherhood. Very few women wanted to have a child while single.
The conclusion of the researchers is that:
Our research suggests that the selfish, career-focused woman who chooses not to have children or delays childbearing is a myth.
But that's not a logical conclusion to draw. No-one doubts that once women get into their 30s that they want to get married and have children. The issue is what women are choosing to do in their prime childbearing years in their 20s. Are women in their 20s taking motherhood and family formation seriously? Are they selecting men for being good husband material?
What do the female specialists recommend to fix the situation? They want men to be educated about the dangers to female fertility of delayed motherhood:
education for men about female fertility and the risks to their partner's health of postponing childbearing.
But that leaves out the first part of the problem, namely women finding a willing husband. So the question is what can be done to help these women find a family oriented man to marry. And that requires women to think through the reasons why there might be a shortage of such men, including the following:
- Do women in their 20s respect the more family oriented men? Do they pay attention to these men?
- Do women defer a serious consideration of marriage and children until the age of 30? If so, aren't they habituating men to a bachelor lifestyle?
- Is there a distinctive and respected role for men in the family as husbands and fathers?
- Are divorce rates too high? Are young men likely to fear the ease with which a woman might use divorce laws to remove them from the family whilst keeping them to their financial obligations?
We can't live forever on the social capital of the past. When men were raised to have some pride in masculinity; when they were given an honoured and responsible place as husbands and fathers within a family; when they had a tradition of their own to perpetuate; and when they were rewarded emotionally and physically within marriage - that's when a culture of marriage was likely to flourish amongst men.
The current culture is too emasculating and rewards men for being players rather than fathers. It's inevitable that some men will become demoralised and fall into a more self-oriented lifestyle, leaving women more vulnerable to remaining single in their 30s.
This issue isn't going to go away. Nor will it be fixed by a simple educational message. A more promising option is for groups of people to start self-consciously modeling a different set of values, in which the conditions for a healthy family life are better understood and respected.