Thursday, May 02, 2013

"We’ve assumed we can put it off indefinitely"

The Daily Mail has a story up about university educated women delaying motherhood for too long. One of the women they profiled explained her situation this way:
Helen is typical of the new breed of would-be mums who prioritised their careers over family. She left Bristol University and was head-hunted by Goldman Sachs where, as a woman trader in the early Nineties, she was a rarity. Twelve-hour days were standard; routinely she began work at 6am.

She married her husband Duncan, a freelance cameraman, when she was 30, and continued to work. "I did want a baby. But I was on this merry-go-round and I couldn’t get off," she recalls. I visualised a future with children but you bury your head in the sand and hope these things will sort themselves out. But they rarely do."

For Helen, the consequences of delaying motherhood were catastrophic. When she began a new job with a £200,000-a-year salary in the London office of a German bank, she worked even harder to warrant her huge earnings. But her stress levels soared commensurately. Finally, in 2001, aged 33, she suffered a nervous breakdown and was diagnosed with depression.

She then wanted to try for a baby, but her medication would have been harmful to an unborn child. Meanwhile, her marriage, stretched to breaking point by her illness, collapsed. It took six years before Helen stopped taking medication for depression and by then she was almost 40 and single.
Kristina was also interviewed:
For Kristina Howells, 40, studying became a substitute for the child she didn’t have. In her 20s, she was head of music at a school in Kent.

‘It was the prime age for having babies, but work consumed me,’ she says. ‘When I wasn’t teaching, I was planning lessons, taking after-school activities; organising festivals and concerts. It was rewarding but stressful. I remember thinking, “I’m still very young. I can find the right man in my 30s.”

You think you’re invincible. Then I reached 30 and was almost panic-stricken. I had a career but no man to have children with, and I didn’t want to be a single mum.’
Solutions? It seems that liberal culture has reached a point at which the message transmitted to women is that what ultimately matters is career: that this is the means to self-realisation.

It makes sense that this message would be taken up more fervently by upper middle-class women, as these women have access to the higher status and higher earning professions.

It's not that these women have entirely rejected the idea of motherhood, but it is not actively pursued - it is something that is assumed will just happen of itself at some indefinite point of time in the future.

So the solution is, in part, for a more realistic view to be promoted within society: a view which recognises that women need to more actively pursue marriageable men in a timely way and to plan for family life whilst still in their 20s.

But even more than this, we need to tweak the culture, so that self-realisation is connected, at least in part, to marriage and motherhood, rather than exclusively to careers. And this is surely possible. We do fulfil ourselves in part in committed relationships with the opposite sex. And we do fulfil important aspects of our being as parents to children.

We have to resist, too, the idea that delaying motherhood until very late is a positive sign of a middle-class identity. The Daily Mail story is good in this regard: it points to the regret and loss and to the negative social consequences of middle-class women "forgetting" to have children.

On a more positive note, I do think there are signs that a younger generation of women are more determined to begin their families by about the age of 27. Hopefully that will start to show up in some of these social surveys.


  1. I think that women assume that they can put it off because most who do still do marry and have kids, even if it is later than they thought it would be. The number of women who reach 40 and have never been married is very small -- almost all women have been married by that stage. The ones who have never been married are some combination of overly picky, relatively unattractive, or more than average unlucky -- but there aren't too many of them. Plenty of women marry in their 30s and have a kid or two. I have a work colleague who had her fun, let's just say, and married at 38, and promptly had her kid. A younger woman looks at that and says "Hmmm, it's not such a big deal if it takes a while", so they don't even worry about getting married until they are in their late 20s or around 30. If it were really the case that a large number of women were having trouble getting married, the cries and shrieks in the culture would be absolutely deafening. It isn't the case -- it's a small number of women we're talking about here, and they tend to be mostly very ambitious, driven, upper middle class careerists. Most other women do actually get married by the time they are 40.

  2. Most women assume that they can delay childbirth and motherhood because most of the culture supports these choices (habits) and constantly in their daily lives they see examples of women, who had 1-3 kids at least in their 30's. But that was the last 40 years. Median male wages haven't gone up since 1975 in the USA for example.

    This delay of motherhood is going to get harder and harder, because if motherhood hinges on consumerism, IVF and other stuff, it isn't going to work.

    We know are in the midst of economical changes (systematic, not just a down-turn) and it's going to change the general picture. The government welfare state, alongside big multinational corporations, will slowly, but surely, decline and money won't be that much available to pass resources to women (apart from fathers, brothers, cousins, uncles or men who are part of their nuclear/extended family or community).

    This generation shouldn't be putting off children, marriage and parenthood until the last minute. It's going to bite them back later.

  3. There's also the whole "wedding day bridezilla" phenomenon, that it (the ceremony) has to be done right and with extravagance to these UMC career women. Like "After I have gotten my degree, then my job, then this and then that, finally will I be able to tie the knot and the perfect day. Then it's mummy time". Marriage comes after success and is a superficial status symbol, it isn't something worthy, of meaning.

    In reality both the ceremony and the marriage are important. Focus on getting married, but being married too.

  4. Well, this from Dr.Helen's blog today.

  5. This is why liberals will never be able to compete with the religious in having children.

  6. Brendan,

    Though aspects of your comment are true the overall effect is misleading.

    The true points: many women do manage to marry and have children in their 30s and some of those who miss out will be those who aren't focused enough on making it happen in their early 30s.

    But your comment glosses over some real problems.

    20% of British women are now ending up childless by age 45, compared to a figure of 10% during the 1950s and 60s. One in five is not a neglible number. And the figures for those with higher degrees are much worse than this (the figure is 41% for Scottish graduate women and 34% for Australian graduate women).

    Furthermore, there is a much larger number of women who manage to have only one or two children before their time runs out. 50% of families in the UK are one child families and the percentage is rising.

    The delay causes other problems. Here's an obvious one. What happens when white 20-something women are told to delay a serious orientation to family until their 30s, whilst large numbers of other women are more pragmatic and have their sights set on getting themselves a white guy?

    And what do 20-something women select for when they are told to avoid serious relationships until their 30s? If they are not selecting for marriage or romantic love then they don't have to worry about long-term compatibility, or assortative mating, or intelligence, or resources or family continuity; instead they can go for relatively shallow external markers or insignia of masculinity. Or they can select men on the basis of what is held to be cool.

    It distorts the cultivation of "family guy" qualities in men, leading to more problems down the track. You end up with numbers of men who aren't fully committed to a masculine role within the family, and numbers of women who find it difficult to switch from a long-habituated single girl lifestyle to a motherhood role.

    Traditionalists ought to be fiercely opposed to a deliberate or intentional delay of family formation to the 30s. The current trend I see is women who partner quite young (often at uni), marry by their mid-20s and start having children by 27 or 28. It might not be perfect, but it's much more sensible than the delay model of family life.

  7. Mark, my point is that you're not going to get highly educated white women to not delay marrying, generally, if they see most women who marry in the 30s doing ok. That doesn't create a sense of crisis. What you need to change the behavior is for true disaster to set in for women who are marrying in their 30s, and that isn't what younger women are seeing, so they aren't changing their behavior.

    That is -- since women no longer have the economic necessity motive, fear of not being able to find a husband and/or have children is the only thing that will drive educated women off delayed marriage. There really isn't that sense of fear currently. I do think different countries are different, with the UK being among the worst, in the US there really isn't a sense of fear among women around 30 about this -- they see women ahead of them marrying and having kids. From what I can tell, the fear really begins to set in only around 35 among the highly-educated set. Unless you can instill that fear in them, they will not be motivated to change the life plan.

  8. Seriously, reading these stories is like porn for men who have had enough post-modern female BS.

    I just started my day at work, and I must say these twats' disaster stories put a smile on my face.

    Keep 'em coming ladies!

  9. Brendan,

    How do you explain the numerous "Where are the good men?" columns and articles? How do you explain Kay Hymowitz's pieces about men being 'Peter Pans'? How do you explain the numerous 'man up' rants? Seems to me that women are already noticing the lack of marriageable men.

    Secondly, it doesn't take a majority to force change; in fact, it doesn't take anything CLOSE to it. Look at the Bolshevik Revolution; that was carried out by what, 5% of the Russian population? What about the American Revolution? It was said that 1/3 of the Colonists wanted to be free of Britain, 1/3 stay with Britain, and 1/3 indifferent. In each case, it was a MINORITY that forced change; in the case of the Bolshevik Revolution, it was a small one.

    We could apply the same principle to economics. Whether you accept the gov't unemployment statistic (about 8%) or the more realistic one of 14%, in each case, the majority of the workforce is still employed. It's either 92% (is using the gov't number) or 86%-both sizeable majorities, would you not agree? Would you not agree that only a minority of people are out of work? Even so, that minority is having a HUGE impact on the rest of us; the rest of us are being VERY careful WRT our jobs, lest we join their ranks! Again, here's a real life example of how a minority can have a huge impact on the vast majority.

    The same applies to the MMP especially. It doesn't take a LOT of men to say 'no thanks'; it doesn't take anywhere close to a majority. Even if only 20% of women end up childless, then that's enough to achieve critical mass for goodness knows what, but huge societal change is in the cards whether we like it or not. IOW, we ain't seen NOTHIN' yet...


  10. How do you explain the numerous "Where are the good men?" columns and articles? How do you explain Kay Hymowitz's pieces about men being 'Peter Pans'? How do you explain the numerous 'man up' rants? Seems to me that women are already noticing the lack of marriageable men.

    Hamster. Western women can't get good men. So they claim there are none to save face.

  11. Funny how it is that women - supposedly so clever that their salaries might as well be telephone numbers cannot see that their very success is going to create an unasuagable loss.

    Of course all men are bastards and motherhood was never their desire - much as some Lions swear they never liked eating Gazelles.

  12. Independent career, lots of sexy sex before the big 'M', women putting themselves off the market.

    I have zero problem with this.

  13. Excellent discussion. I find myself agreeing with both Mark and Brendan. Brendan is right that younger women look at their older peers and (somewhat understandably) don't see any cause for alarm. Nearly all (84%) current early forties women in the UK had married by their 40th birthday*. As Brendan points out the remaining 16% doesn't represent the average woman. This is very similar to the data I've shared for the US. Brendan is also correct in my opinion that young women won't change their behavior unless they witness this plan failing for a significant number of older women. Social pressure by those of us who support marriage won't make a difference beyond our ability to influence our own children.

    However, the problem is the data is backward looking, and young women today are making an assessment based on women from a very different generation. If we look ten years back when present early 40s UK women were in their early 30s, 69% of them had married by their 30th birthday. However, only 53% today's cohort of early 30s UK women had married by their 30th birthday. Today's early 30s UK women are betting on closing that > 15% marriage gap at a time in life when marriage is much harder for women.

    Add in to this the cultural shift regarding marriage which has occurred, and the much weakened grooming process for grooms which Mark alludes to (what I have described as the weakened signal) and this is a very poor bet. It isn't that current unmarried late 20s/early 30s women will fail en masse to marry, but far more of them will find it isn't possible than the cohorts which preceded them.

    I see a fascinating contrast between the younger mindset of the women quoted in this article and the author of this Wapo opinion piece. The older author of the Wapo piece always assumed she would forgo marriage and motherhood, but marriage and motherhood just happened anyway (I would argue the residual culture steered her without her knowledge). The 10-15 year younger women in the Mail piece are the opposite side of the equation. They both assumed marriage and motherhood would just happen, and somehow it didn't. Part of this is selection bias, but given the changing stats for marriage I would argue the Mail women are a good predictor of what many current late 20s and early 30s women will express in 10 years.

    *Source: Appendix Table A1 Cohabitation and marriage in Britain since the 1970s

  14. "And the figures for those with higher degrees are much worse than this (the figure is 41% for Scottish graduate women and 34% for Australian graduate women).

    Furthermore, there is a much larger number of women who manage to have only one or two children before their time runs out. 50% of families in the UK are one child families and the percentage is rising."

    This matches what I see here among the middle class. Large numbers of childless women. If they do have children, it's usually just one. It's a demographic disaster.

  15. Here's a DM article that should be food for thought:

  16. We are often in danger of taking inherent anti-male female-affirmative allegations as facts. Here for example we are told that women trader's were a rarity in the City in the 90s, to which I say, balloney. I say that because my sister was one throughout the Eighties and I never heard her suggest that she was a lone-woman. I don't know how many hours she worked but recently she described the job to me as routine and boring. I am happy to say she married and has a proper family.

  17. A lot of it comes down to social status and how it is perceived. It reminds me of Glenn Reynolds' observation about why people avoid minivans and drive SUVs instead.

    Before feminism, motherhood in a woman's early twenties was a positive status marker, and children were a sign of social success for both women and men.

    After feminism, motherhood is a negative status marker unless it occurs late in life after career success, and children are a sign of failure whenever they get in the way of chic urban living and exotic vacations.

  18. There are some sharp misunderstandings about how many woman marry by age 40. The problem is in the US the average age of marriage for women is around 27, and isn't changing much.

    So, the women who aren't married today at age 40 failed to marry almost 15 years ago now.

    But, in the last 15 years the marriage rate has dropped dramatically in both US and UK. So, 15 years from now the percent of 40 year olds unmarried will be extremely larger.

    I have tried to explain this several times to Dalrock, who otherwise is the best men's blogger on the WEB, in my opinion. It takes a knowledge of calculus to understand this.

    He insists he understands calculus, but then says you cannot apply calculus to human behavior, which shows he does not understand calculus. And, it would be foolish to continue to attempt to explain it to him.

    As long as human behavior follows a curve, instead of totally random numbers changing all over the place, up and down, year after year, you can express it with calculus, and the marriage rate is dropping in a nice, rapidly sharpening curve.

    The percent of women who are not married at all ages is changing very fast, and there is no way to cover up that fact except determined denial, or total lack of understanding of basic calculus.

    Anonymous age 70

  19. Anonymous age 70: I don't read Dalrock's blog, but his post here seems to be in agreement with you. He says that 84% of current UK women in their 40's were married by age 40, but that it is doubtful that today's 30 year old UK women will hit that 84% number in another decade. Not sure where the beef is.

  20. What happens when white 20-something women are told to delay a serious orientation to family until their 30s, whilst large numbers of other women are more pragmatic and have their sights set on getting themselves a white guy?

    We get lucky. You snooze, you lose.