A generation of childless women: How a fifth of 45 year olds have not started a family
By Steve Doughty
Last updated at 1:47 AM on 17th December 2011
One in five women aged 45 is now childless putting childlessness for women born in 1965 at a 45-year-high
The most successful generation of working women in Britain is a generation without children, an official analysis found yesterday.
It revealed that among women who turned 45 last year, a fifth have no children.
Those who seized new opportunities for education and careers in the 1970s, 1980s and 1990s were more likely to end up childless than their forebears, the Office for National Statistics said.
Women born in 1965 were twice as likely not to have children as those born just 20 years earlier.
The only time in the past century when newborn girls were less likely to grow up to have families was in 1920, a generation whose main childbearing years fell during the Second World War.
Analysts at the ONS said the rise in childlessness was a consequence of success in education and the opening up of well-paid careers to millions who in the past would have been housewives.
They added that the decline of marriage and the decision of many women to delay starting a family meant that some left having babies too late.
The record level of childlessness was recorded in fertility figures for 2010, published yesterday.
Although some older women may go on to have babies, for statistical purposes they are considered to have finished their childbearing years at 45.
The childlessness level of 20 per cent for women born in 1965 compares with 10 per cent for those born in 1945 and 11 per cent in 1938, which was the most common year of birth among mothers of 1965 babies.
According to the ONS, increasing levels of childlessness are the main reason why for the past three decades the average family has included fewer than two children.
It said that the reasons for women going childless included ‘increased participation in higher education, delayed marriage and partnership formation, and the desire to establish a career, get on the housing ladder and ensure financial stability before starting a family’.
The report added: ‘A wide range of explanations… have been put forward for the increasing childlessness.
‘These include the decline in the proportion of women married and changes in the perceived costs of child-rearing versus work and leisure activities.’
It said that in recent years there has also been ‘greater social acceptability of the child-free lifestyle’.
Another explanation is the ‘postponement of decisions about whether to have children until it may be biologically too late.’ The report said the most common number of children for a modern woman is two, but the second most common number is zero.
The average number of children dropped to 1.91 for each woman born in 1965 and has now risen slightly, the ONS added.
The report comes as fewer couples are marrying each year than at any time since the 19th century, and divorce has increased for the first time in five years, largely due to the effects of the recession on relationships.
Commentators said yesterday that pressures on women to work and pay mortgages mean that many do not have the same choice over having families that their mothers did.
Author and researcher Jill Kirby said: ‘The gap between what women want and what they can achieve is widening.
‘Many women are finding themselves childless not through choice but because of financial pressures to delay motherhood, and then finding it is too late. The postponement of marriage is also contributing. What women want has, I suspect, not changed.’
Author Patricia Morgan added: ‘Until we recognise that women need more space in their lives to have a family without being required to work full-time we will continue to have low birth rates, especially among educated women.