Grandparents in Waiting

A survey of community perceptions vs reality reported to the Fertility Society of Australia Conference in October 2006 in Canberra reveals that 88% of men and 57% of women aged 30-40 believe they will have no problem conceiving.
Yet we know that 1 in 6 couples experience fertility problems, and a medical cause cannot always be determined:

  • 30% is solely a male factor
  • 30% is solely a female factor
  • 40% involve both male and female

Lifestyle factors affect conception:

  • age: IVF can’t fix old eggs
  • weight and medical history
  • drugs, smoking and alcohol
  • sexually transmitted diseases such as Chlamydia contracted years before

Australia’s fertility rate

  • peaked at 3.5 babies per woman in 1961 (pre-contraception) at the height of the 'baby boom'
  • declined to 1.7 in 2002 due to available contraception
  • rose a little to 1.96 in 2008, and has been declining since  
  • the population replacement rate is 2.1
  • some European countries have birthrates of 1.3 to 1.6 which are extremely low

Age of first births in 2009

  • 30.6 for mums
  • 32.9 for dads
  • in 1979 most women had babies in their 20s by 1999 nearly half of all births were to women aged over 30 years

Young people say they want 2 or 3 children

  • many will end up with 1 or none
  • not having children is also a valid choice
  • in the 1970s 11% of women were childless in their late 40s, decreasing to 9% in the 1980s as a result of assisted reproductive treatment, but rising to 14% by 2006

Meeting later and marrying later

  • couples cohabit then marry when they decide they want children
  • first marriage rates for under 30s dropped in the last 10 years:
  • first births are later, with a longer wait after marriage
  • delaying a first child means fewer second and third babies
  • in the 1970s the peak age for having babies was 20-25 – and they had babies after 1 year of marriage, but in 2000 the age range rose to 25-35 with babies after 3 years

Women and men need information about

  • how fertility declines with age
  • when it declines
  • the limitations of IVF
  • the lifestyle risk factors for infertility

Trends in Australian society

Historical factors – in the mid 20th century in Western society

  • there was no contraception and larger families were common
  • women left home as teenagers, married and had babies early de facto relationships were uncommon
  • one wage was enough to pay a mortgage
  • women mostly worked in non-professional areas not requiring tertiary education
  • national government policies reflected this pattern and were slow to change

Economic factors

  • Australia’s economy needs women to both work and have children
  • two wages are needed now to pay a mortgage for even a modest home
  • women have been entering the workforce and remaining there
  • women now want financial independence before they will have children
  • jobs are more often casual or contract, so loans are hard to get as banks only take into account the lowest hours
  • incomes are less secure – ‘waiting to see if the job situation improves’ can mean long delays in family formation
  • women are increasingly the breadwinners or the higher earner in a couple
  • financial commitments may depend on her income; studies indicate that his career is often the deciding factor in delaying children, not hers
  • more jobs require qualifications so more women are completing study
  • women are more qualified, but less likely to use their qualifications than men especially once they have families.
  • increased education means higher HECS debt and difficulty getting a loan/mortgage
  • future HECS debts count in mortgage calculations, even if not payable yet
  • paid parental leave helps, but is not at the person’s income rate
  • extra paid maternity leave is still rare and extra paid paternity leave even rarer

Social factors

  • education extends dependence and delays responsible adulthood
  • “failure to launch”- men are taking longer to grow up and commit
  • studies indicate that the main reason for not becoming pregnant is the absence of a partner or being unable to find a partner who is prepared to commit to having children, rather than personal ambition
  • men and women want to feel securely independent before they have children, and that often depends on the male partner having stable employment
  • definitions of success and happiness for both men and women include a career as well as a family
  • it is more acceptable for women to choose to be single and childless
  • the nuclear family is less common; combined families, step families and de facto relationships are more common
  • families are geographically spread and grandparents are not there for emergency childcare even if they are close, and Grandma may still be working
  • meeting later and marrying later, first marriage rates for under 30s dropped in the last 10 years:
  • later first births, longer wait after marriage
  • couples cohabit then marry when they decide they want children
    • in 1970s the peak age for having babies was 20-25 – and they had babies after 1 year of marriage,
    • but in 2000 the age range rose to 25-35 with babies after 3 years
    • now over half of babies are born to women over 30
  • reduced partnering and increased divorce and separation
    • 1/3 of men will never marry (by choice or circumstance), 1/3 of married men will divorce
    • there are plenty of single men across the age groups
    • but overall there is an excess of women in their 30s