Look at the context of the total fertility rate, and statistical indicators suggest that, on every level, society is becoming more atomised and infantilised. We are less likely to create basic family relationships, and when we do so it is later in life. So there are half as many first marriages in 2003 as there were during the peak years around 1970, and about the same number of divorces as first marriages. Fifteen per cent of men aged 25-44, and eight per cent of women, live alone (twice the proportion in 1986/87). Twenty-four per cent of men aged 25-29, and 12 per cent of women, live with their parents (5).
The average age at first marriage has increased to 31 for men and 29 for women. The average age of married women giving birth for the first time has increased by nearly six years since 1971, to 29.9. Since 1992, the fertility rate for women aged 30 to 34 has exceeded the rate for those aged 20 to 24, and in 2003 was almost as high as the rate for women aged 25 to 29. For my mother's generation, 38 per cent of women born in 1948 were still childless at age 25; now, 65 per cent of women are childless at age 25 (6). And so it goes on.
Taken all together, the statistics above paint a picture of a society that holds back from forming intimate relationships and from having children. Of course, people do still form intimate relationships - about 50 per cent of people are married or re-married, and one quarter of non-married people are cohabiting (7) - and people haven't stopped wanting children, or having them. Aspects of this trend have been motivated, at least in part, by positive social developments: the availability of contraception and abortion giving women more control over their fertility; women's increased participation in the labour market giving them more independence and choices.
I can see it now: "But jobs are so satisfying! I get all this prestige!"
Sure you do. Jobs are easier than families: they involve tractable problems and fairly well understood approaches to dealing with them. Not so for children, who initially present you with someone who can neither communicate nor understand any communication from you. Jobs get prestige because they bring in money. Money can be used for that latest I-pod that makes everyone else jealous.
But you know, having a family means growing up. And however infantile you'd prefer to be, you shouldn't if you have a choice.