Women planning families worried about challenge of combining work and children

Some 70% of women planning to start a family perceive that combining paid work with children is difficult and 79% think the responsibilities of caring for children still largely fall to women, according to a survey by the British Pregnancy Advisory Service.

The survey of over 1,000 women aged 20 to 40 who are planning a family or haven’t ruled out doing so, found women were most interested in policy measures that would support them as working mothers – improving access to affordable childcare (supported by 62% ) and flexible working (50%). Support for allowances to care for children at home was much lower (26%).

The Becoming a mother: understanding women’s choices today report also found 58% felt the new shared parental scheme leave would make it easier for them to start their families, while 42% felt it would have no impact. Older women (aged 30-40) were much more likely to feel it would make no difference. Half of the women questioned were worried about the costs involved of having a child and 42% said the current economic climate made them feel less likely or much less likely to have children at this stage of their life.

Many women questioned were concerned they were “running out of time” to have children, including a third of women aged 25-29, and more than one in 10 of the youngest women (20-24) polled. Fewer than one in 10 of women felt the availability of IVF made them less concerned about delaying having children, despite recent suggestions that access to reproductive technologies made women less worried about later life infertility. Nine out of 10 women were aware that the risks of pregnancy increased with age, both for mother and foetus, and for the majority (65%) this was a factor in their decision making around when to try for a baby.

The three most important factors for women starting a family were being in the right relationship (82%), having financial security (77%) and owning their own home (40%). Among those not planning on starting their families soon, 50% said concerns about the costs of raising a child were a reason and more than one-third said the fact they did not own their own home was a barrier.

Clare Murphy, Director of External Affairs at the British Pregnancy Advisory Service, said: “The rise in the age of first time motherhood reflects so many positive developments in women’s lives – access to higher education, the ability to progress in a chosen career, all backed up by being able to control their fertility through contraception and abortion. These gains should be celebrated. People take the decision to have a child extremely seriously indeed, and for the majority of women, finding the right person to do that with and ensuring that a child is being brought into a situation of financial stability is what matters most.

“While the risks of pregnancy and birth may increase with age, these are manageable with support from healthcare professionals and should never be overstated. It is, however, the case that some women would like to start their families earlier than they are currently able to do‎. Measures to improve access to affordable childcare and housing may make a real difference to some. Rather than continually warning women about the risks of older motherhood, it would be more productive to push for policy measures that enable women to better combine paid work and motherhood, as many clearly want to do, while ensuring the healthcare services are in place to support the needs of those who wish to or need to wait.”

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