Costing £200,000, are babies pricing us out of the parent market?
Unemployment is rising again, first-time buyers are finding it near impossible to get a mortgage, rents are at an all-time high and a double-dip recession threatens. Pressure on state schools is intensifying, VAT goes up to 20% in January and gas, petrol, food and clothing prices look set to soar. Meanwhile, we haven’t had a proper pay rise in years and we’re having night terrors about losing our jobs. Oh, and Christmas is just around the corner. Baby, anyone?
If we believe the headlines, women are leaving it later than ever to have a baby (the average UK age is 29) because they’re putting their career first, intent on climbing the ladder while they can. But according to a new book, Jilted Generation: How Britain Has Bankrupted Its Youth by Ed Howker and Shiv Malik, that’s not the real reason we’re putting off motherhood. Women of childbearing age have never been more financially squeezed. Not only is this impacting on our decisions about whether to buy or rent, go for opshop or Marni, it’s also making women think twice about when to start a family, and even whether to have one at all. Women aged 35 are half as fertile as those aged 31. Our bodies say our 20s and early 30s are the best time to have babies, but unfortunately, our bank statement disagrees.
“The idea that women are postponing motherhood because they are choosing to concentrate on their careers is totally out of date,” says Malik. “Now, a whole generation of women are saying they would love to have children – but they simply don’t feel secure enough financially.” When we’re worried about our job, or our partner’s, few women are likely to decide it’s the ‘right’ time to start a family.
“I’m seriously considering not having kids,” says Jenny Wyatt, 31, a freelance copywriter from London. “My salary hasn’t risen properly in years – in fact, it dropped last year. I can’t believe I’ve worked hard for the last 10 years and still don’t feel financially secure.”
Despite being in a stable relationship and being the ‘right’ age to start thinking about children, Jenny says it’s not even a topic for discussion. “Having a baby now would be madness. I’m worried enough about taking care of myself. Lots of my friends are in the same boat. It’s like, how exactly are we supposed to do this?”
Of course, most women could have a baby – plenty do on far smaller salaries than ours – or even on no wage at all. But we imagined becoming a mum, we didn’t picture a life of coupon cutting and buying our children’s clothes from charity shops.
We knew that a holiday home and first-class travel might be ambitious, but we assumed that if we and our partner had decent jobs, we’d have enough money to have one home and pay for a babysitter at least once a week. But while nobody was looking, parenthood has become something only few can afford to consider. The average cost of raising a child in the UK is £201,809 (that’s up to age 21, with a state education and university tuition fees as they are now). The first year of a child’s life alone costs over £9,000. Childcare, nursery fees, after-school and holiday clubs come in at nearly £55,000 and the bill for food and clothing is over £20,000. Education-related expenses are almost £53,000 (no, that’s not private). But costs peak during the university years, when parents fork out nearly £14,000 a year. And that’s before the existing cap on tuition fees is lifted.
"While nobody was looking parenthood has become something only a few can afford to consider"
Out of pocket
So how have we reached the stage where we might have to choose between motherhood and solvency? “Young people simply haven’t been paid enough money in the last 10 years – our salaries aren’t rising properly over our lifetime,” explains Malik. “Over the last decade, the oldest members of the working population have enjoyed an increase in earnings of 40%, while young people have received only 30%. In real terms, that means people earning £50,000 a decade ago will be earning £70,000 now – but those earning £20,000 10 years ago will only be on £26,000 now.”
And it gets worse. “If you take inflation into account you find that for the youngest members of society, there’s no meaningful wage increase,” says Malik. No wonder we feel poor – our salaries have flatlined.
As a double-dip recession is forecast, further job cuts are a real prospect. Experts warn they’re already hearing whispers about new mums being singled out for redundancy. Women also report feeling pressured to take less maternity leave and work longer hours when they return to the office.
“When there is job insecurity, people are much less likely to think that now is a good time to take maternity leave,” says Anastasia de Waal, head of family and education at the leading think tank Civitas. “I would say it’s likely that the recession has had some impact on people’s fertility choices.”
"A whole generation of women are saying they would love to have children – but they simply don’t feel secure enough financially"
No place like home
New evidence shows we’re not just worried about our job security, wages and the cost of having children – we’re also anxious about where we’ll live. A 2010 survey from Shelter suggests that one in five childless adults aged 18-44 is delaying having a family because they can’t afford to buy a home. Ten years ago, the average first-time buyer had to raise a deposit worth 16% of their annual income. By 2009, it was 64%. As a result, the average age of a first-time buyer is now 38. Hence we’ve been dubbed ‘Generation Rent’. It’s not as if renting is the cheap option, either. New figures show that UK rents have risen by an average of 3.1% in the last year.
Sally Infield, 32, an NHS manager from Manchester, says her mortgage is affecting her life plans too. “For the first time ever, I’m considering staying childless. As one of five siblings, I always assumed I’d have a big family – but I’m likely to lose my job in the public sector cuts and there are no guarantees I’ll find another one. We’ve over-stretched ourselves buying our first flat – so having even one child looks out of the question for now. My husband is doing a PhD so I’m the main breadwinner.”
But is there a danger we’re over-thinking all this? Hasn’t parenthood always been a struggle? Should we stop looking and just leap? “There is never a ‘right’ time to have a baby,” says Katie Ledger, co-author of And What Do You Do? 10 Steps To Creating A Portfolio Career. “It would be tragic if a generation of women missed out on motherhood because they were so fearful about their finances.” As squeezed as you may feel, there are always ways to boost your income. Over a million people already have portfolio’ careers, doing several jobs or projects at the same time. “If you’re with the right person, you’re emotionally and physically ready and you have access to some support, then you just have to go for it. Have faith in yourself. Women have always been resourceful. It’s in our nature to find a way.”
Words: Tanya de Grunwald
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