Children - are they worth the sacrifice?

Nov 16 2003 by Brian Amble Print This Article

The prospect of sacrificing a career and hard-earned quality of life is making men and women increasingly cautious about becoming parents, with women bearing the brunt of a ‘mother tax’ on lifestyle, career and income.

One in three women in their 20s without children fear the impact of having a child on their careers, while more than one in four worry about the effect on their finances if they became a mother before 30.

The Lever Fabergé Family Report 2003 found that just over half of ten of those in their 20s and 30s involved in the research already had children while a further third said that they wanted them in future.

But of those in their late 30s who wanted children, a quarter did not yet have them and qualitative research suggested that children exist on the medium term horizon even well into people’s thirties.

While would-be parents in their 30s are likely to be more financially stable, they appear to be more concerned about the potential impact of a child on their lifestyle than their 20-something peers. Their response is ‘consumption smoothing’, meaning they seek to ensure enough income to minimise the impact of children on their consumption patterns.

As a result, a growing number of women are having fewer children, later.

Most people agreed that while children bring happiness, they are mixed blessings with clear penalties for parents, and especially women. Despite this, women are significantly more likely than men to state that their children make them happy. Of those people with children, four out of ten men said their children make them most happy compared to almost seven out of ten women.

Kate Stanley, Research Fellow at the IPPR said: “Both men and women generally want children and believe they could bring greater happiness and fulfilment. Women in particular face challenges in finding the right balance between children and work, but it would be wrong to treat this as a ‘women’s problem’.

"We must recognise the role we all have to play in mitigating the negative trade-offs associated with having children while maximising the potential for them to have a positive impact."

Another trend that emerges from the research is a growing 'with or without divide. As more men and women delay parenthood or remain without children, the differences in life experience and attitudes between those with or without children may deepen, leading to resentment on both sides. Those without children sometimes feel parents are given preferential treatment while parents can be envious of the lifestyle of friends without children.

So as Lever Fabergé chairman Keith Weed points out, if children are to make more of us happier, there is a clear need to reduce the trade-offs between parenthood and lifestyle.

"The quality of life sacrifices faced by men and women are making them think twice about children," he said. "There are significant implications for society, helping to explain at least some of the reasons behind falling birth rates and the changing demographic shape of the UK."