Page 6 2012 Vol 1
Jean Hailes research
The selfish, career-focused woman who chooses not to have children is a myth, according to a Jean Hailes research study examining women’s childbearing desires, expectations and outcomes.
Dr Sara Holton, Dr Heather Rowe and Professor Jane Fisher found most women want to have children, but many of them end up with fewer children than they hope for. Not having a partner or a partner’s reluctance to have children, health problems, education debts and housing concerns are affecting how many children women have, or whether they have children at all. The study found the costs of raising children were not a deciding factor in whether women had a family.
“There’s this assumption that women can choose when and how many children they have. But women are not having the number of children they hope for. They haven’t lost interest in children but they’re facing barriers to motherhood,” says Sara. The study involved 569 randomly selected Victorian women aged between 30 and 34 – the age group with the highest fertility rate in Australia.
Most women (80%) said they had fewer children than they desired and although they still technically had time to have more children, 54% of women said it was ‘unlikely’ this would happen, often because of circumstances beyond their control. Women with no children identified key barriers to motherhood as not having a partner, their relationship not being stable, or their partner not wanting children. Some described health problems such as fear of passing on a genetic disease or concerns as to how they would manage to care for a child when their health was poor. Housing ranked highly, too, with women wanting to reduce a mortgage, to renovate or to move to more suitable accommodation before having a child.
Sara says her research suggests that women are not able to choose when and if they have a child, or how many children they have. She says women need a range of supports to help them have more children and lift Australia’s sluggish fertility rate, which has been below replacement level since 1976.
“While welcome, this research suggests it’s not as straightforward as offering women the Baby Bonus and providing family tax benefits and childcare benefits,” she says.
“We also need policies that are sensitive to, and address, the childbearing barriers women are facing – such as education for men about the effects of age on women’s fertility, giving women information about how health conditions affect fertility and options to manage that. Maybe women need more assistance to manage paid and unpaid work and we also need to look at housing affordability and education debt repayment schemes so women can afford secure, stable housing to enable them to start their families.”
Content Updated February 2012