Are You Too Broke To Have Babies? STELLAR Explores The Rise Of Economic Infertility

Forget egg count worries, what about your bank balance? Jeanne Sutton explores why young women worry they'll never afford the pitter patter of tiny feet.

€105,321 – that’s how much insurance company Laya Healthcare says it costs to raise a child from cradle to college in this country. The study, released last year, surveyed over 1,000 parents and looked at expenses like food, clothing, education and childcare. Turns out teens are the priciest to rear – imagine the data plans – and in scary news, all these financial obligations means parents are putting their own futures at risk. One in four have cancelled pensions to cope in the financial short-term. Nearly half admitted to putting off saving for retirement.

So far, not so surprising. Babies cost money. But, in the past few years, it seems like they’ve started costing more. According this year’s National Competitive Council’s annual benchmarking report, childcare costs in Ireland are the second most expensive among the 35 OECD countries; they’re the most expensive for lone parents. Then there’s the issue of wages. In July, British think thank Resolution Foundation said Millennials – those born between 1980 and 2000 – will earn on average less than any generation that has come before them.

All these rise-and-fall statistics have culminated in a new life status: financial infertility. In New Zealand, recent birth rates peaked in 2008 and haven’t quite recovered after the global recession. In Auckland, the lowering birth rate has coincided with the rise in house prices. In the western world, women are delaying having children too. In England and Wales, women over 40 are having more babies than the under 20s for the first time in nearly 70 years. US teen births are at record lows.

Great expectations

It’s encouraging family planning’s clearly taking hold, but there’s something sinister at play. Women are being priced out of the Mammy Market.

Last May, English writer Daisy Buchanan wrote about being economically infertile.“I appreciate that having children is a life-changing decision which means making some major sacrifices – but I don’t think I even have enough to sacrifice to do it.”

Primary teacher Deirdre, 32, works in Dublin and agrees this particular pressure is overwhelming her generation. “The fear’s there for everyone, and I’ve got what you’d call a decent enough job,” she says. Deirdre points to the rising cost of living, “In Dublin you need two incomes to keep the show on the road.”

Friends of hers have moved to Waterford since becoming parents. A constant cycle of financial stress wasn’t good for their family. “It’s the difference between living and having a life,” she says of their decision. “You want your kids to be able to have things, to be able to have a life.”

As for the people who choose to stay in the city, at the school gate she’s noticed more stay-at-home dads and weekend relationships, where one parent works abroad or in another part of the country Monday to Friday.

With a boyfriend working in media, Deirdre’s waiting two years before starting a family. She wants to line up more savings. However, there’s societal pressure to cope with. Her GP’s telling her to start straightaway, something which bothers her – “she doesn’t know my life.” Out of her core group of friends, she and one other are the sole non-mothers. It’s hard to ignore life goals conversations – “There was a year of weddings, and then a year of babies.”

Shock of the now

So has Irish culture has caught up at all with the reality of living in 2016 Ireland? “A little bit,” Deridre admits. “You used to have to give up your job when you got married.” There’s still a lot of sexism, she points out. Women who decide to not become mothers for financial and other reasons are “seen as unnatural,” while men’s decisions are just accepted.

Emma, 29, works in television and grew up expecting to be a mother, but she’s only out of college a few years. “I want to enjoy myself for a while before tying myself down to responsibilities.” Still, she’s conscious of financial difficulties and the nagging sense that fertility reduces with age.

“Motherhood might never happen for me. It’s something I’ve been coming to terms with over the last few years.” Along with frustrations, she feels some freedom. “I’m curious about the alternate life not having children could open up for me. The realisation that my life could be radically different from my mother’s or my grandmother’s is exciting. I could take advantage of the career and travel opportunities I couldn’t dream of if I have kids.”