The future of motherhood in Western societies: late fertility and consequences

Gijs Beets, Netherlands Interdisciplinary Demographic Institute (NIDI)

Most people still highly value to have children. But when to have the first? The decision on having children or not and if yes on the timing of the first seems nowadays to be one of the most difficult ones to make, also because they more or less coincide with other heavy decisions on shaping the life course(like on union formation, labour market career, housing accommodation, etc.). People realise that having children will fundamentally change their life and in order to fit this unknown and irreversible adventure perfectly into their life course they postpone the first birth as long as doubts continue. Postponement is then an easy way out, and modern methods of birth control are an effective help. There are however no easy answers to the best moment to have the first child or to what moment postponement is justified. Best solutions vary per person: personal circumstances and considerations prevail (having a partner who may have conflicting considerations, house, job, income, free time activities), while existing parental leave and child care arrangements are weighted as well. Unfortunately the biological clock ticks further. And, also unfortunately, assisted reproductive technology (IVF etc.) is unable to always guarantee a successful outcome. Several couples end up without children involuntarily. A new interdisciplinary (edited) book overviews the process of postponement and its backgrounds in modern western societies holistically, both at the personal and the societal level. Contributions come from reproductive, evolutionary biological and neurological sciences, as well as from demography, economy, sociology and psychology. It holds not only at women but also at men becoming first time fathers. The discussion boils down to a new policy approach for motherhood and emancipation: how to shape work and family life?

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Presented in Poster Session 1