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babyboom, babydoom or babyneverever?

Kirstie Allsopp’s recent interview, in which she proposes that young women take time out to have children before attending university, has received a media pounding. 21 year-old Stephanie Parkes says rightly so! It’s reality and ambition, rather than a lack of love for their ovaries that pushes women to go to university...

As a recent graduate, I’m largely of the opinion that if you were to ask a new graduate if they were ready to have a baby, you’d be greeted with a large WTF face, and general incoherency of speech due to a swallowing of their own head. But there’s something about the Kirstie Allsopp debate that’s really got me thinking about young people’s attitude to childbearing.

Following her appearance on Question Time, the Location Location, Location presenter and all around magpie of middle class craftiness, Allsopp expressed in a interview with The Independent, that if she had any daughters she’d encourage them to get married and have a baby by the time they were 27 years-old. Many of you will read this statement, as I did, and be horrified by the idea that in five-years time you should have a husband, a job and a baby.

For many, especially me, going to university was a driving force for good that took me from being a child into an adult (well almost), it was a period to grow, to discover your interests and to realise that you’re capable of having a career. But had I ever really considered the effect my education might have on my fertility? No, probably not. In fact, definitely not. University was a direct path to a better-paid job, skills, training and a foolproof plan that eventually you’d be able to support your family, if and when you choose to have one. It certainly wasn’t deemed a hindrance to women, but an emancipation of them.

Initially the whole debate seemed a little bit too much like a sketch from Dark Shadows, which sees 200-year-old vampire, Barnabas Collins (Johnny Depp) say: “Fifteen and no husband. You must put those birthing hips to good use at once lest your womb shrivel up and die,” to a teenage Chloë Grace Moretz. Yet despite my own experiences, doesn’t Allsopp have a very genuine point? Are we unaware that fertility is,as cliché suggests, a ticking time bomb waiting to ruin our lives after all it drops off a cliff at 35? 

It’s reality and ambition, rather than a lack of love for their ovaries that pushes women to go to university

 

It’s a point that university graduates in particular will suffer with, and I have found prejudice to be rife among academic communities. It’s simply not expected that women with fledgling careers should take time out during their mid-twenties to have children. A point that is indicated by findings from the Office for National Statistics who found that in 2013 41% of non-graduates had children by the age of 26, in comparison to just 9% of graduates who were aged 25. Non-graduates were more likely to have children between the ages of 21 and 30, proving that graduates were indeed missing out on the most fertile years of their lives. 

As a 21-year-old it came as somewhat of a shock to me that my fertility window might be all but dead in around fourteen years, I momentarily considered unplugging my laptop with the ambition to get busy rescuing my youth from moth-bitten mortarboards. But this fertility panic is nothing new; the media have been feeding off our fertility worries for years, so why haven’t I been paying attention? In a similar article for the Guardian, writer Hadley Freeman comments that while women fight among themselves about fertility, men are nonplussed by the whole event: “When Tony Parsons wrote a slushy article in GQ about the ideal age to become a father, men shrugged and turned the page,” points out Freeman. And it’s this attitude that I feel echoed in myself and many other career-hungry friends, who rightly or wrongly have no fertility worries, and presume on a daily basis that we’ll just retain our natural right to procreate.

Allsopp has received a social media pounding for her comments, and rightly so as we’ve taken offence to her archaic approach to womanhood, but for me it’s not Allsopp's argument that is flawed, it’s simply the alternative for more choice isn't a good enough alternative. It even threatens to exclude women from the world of skilled jobs and of business.

It’s all too easy to suggest that young people can begin making different choices, but it would start with more women choosing to stay at home rather than go to university - the majority of whom currently make up over half of the student population.

It’s reality and ambition, rather than a lack of love for their ovaries that pushes women to go to university. Simply, graduates getting higher paid jobs. Kirstie’s idea would see women turning to university later in life, allowing them to take advantage of the forbidding fertility window but leaving women unable to compete with men for similar jobs at comparative ages.

I assume that in Allsopp's mind all women sit happily crocheting baby blankets for our bosom buddies, having stable partners and enjoy working full-time on minimum wage. Unfortunately hers is an argument of luxury that the majority can't afford; in time, money or in hurried relationships, and especially not in their twenties. It’s difficult to know how many people regret their decision to go into higher education due to fertility, but it’s the illusion of choice that gives this argument its grounding; making graduates question the authenticity of their decision to have a career over children. Contrary to the idea that we live in a pick’n’mix society, with young people choosing the elements of traditional and modern life that suit them, it’s clear that working schedules are not nearly adaptable enough to our biological needs. And it leaves this whole debate open to the criticism that if you want a career there is still no good time for women to take time out to have children.

@steffanieparkes