Portrait of a 21st century British woman: One in five childless at age 45, fewer than half are married... and most strongly object to being called a feminist

'Not for me': Diana Boardman, 48, says she made a conscious decision not to have children'Not for me': Diana Boardman, 48, says she made a conscious decision not to have children

A fifth of women reach the age of 45 without having a child, an official analysis revealed yesterday.

It found that within a generation the likelihood of a woman becoming a mother at all has fallen by more than a third, with careers and the decline of marriage to blame.

The finding concurs with a separate study which found that fewer than half of women in Britain are now married.

Researchers checked the childbirth histories of women born in 1966 – who reached the age of 45 in 2011 – and found that one in five had not had children.

Although there is a growing trend for women to have babies late in life, the researchers assumed that at 45 a childless woman will not have a family.

The figure compares with one in eight childless women among what could be described as their mothers’ generation – those born on the eve of the Second World War in 1939.

The proportion of women who do not have babies has not been so high since 1920, when many were denied marriage and family by the loss of so many men in the First World War.

‘A wide range of explanations relating to circumstances and choices have been put forward for the increasing childlessness,’ the report from the Office for National Statistics said.

‘These include the decline in the proportion of women married, changes in the perceived costs and benefits of childrearing versus work and leisure activities, greater social acceptability of the child-free lifestyle, and the postponement of decisions about whether to have children until it may be biologically too late.’

Happy families: Fewer than half of British women are married and one in five over the age of 45 are childlessHappy families: Fewer than half of British women are married and one in five over the age of 45 are childless

According to the ONS, on average a woman reaching 45 had 1.91 children, a level of fertility that compares with 2.36 children each for women born in 1939.

Childlessness is now so common that it is the second most likely fertility outcome for women born in 1966, the report said. Just under two in five 45-year-olds in 2011 had two children, but fewer than one in five had larger families or just one child.


Diana Boardman, 48, says she has not felt the same social pressures as her mother’s generation to have a family.

She made a conscious decision not to have children herself – and does not feel any regrets.

Mrs Boardman, from Grantham, Lincolnshire, said she never even envisaged a life involving babies.

When she met husband John 15 years ago, she said they discussed the fact they never wanted children – even with secure jobs and a nice home – and they still don’t.

She said: ‘Having children is just not for me. I have friends who have kids and I’m pleased for them but not jealous.

‘I didn’t play with dolls when I was a child so I don’t think I have ever had a motherly instinct.’

Mrs Boardman said when she was younger a part of her wondered if the maternal instinct might take over, but it never did.

Never having had a high-powered job, she said her career did not influence her decision.

She added: ‘It has freed us up because we don’t have to have a well-paid job because we can afford to do the things we want to anyway.’

By contrast, women of their mothers’ generation, born in 1939, were more likely to have large families than to be childless.

‘Overall, women born in the 1960s and 1970s have had fewer children by the time they were 30 than previous generations,’ the ONS report said.

‘This reflects their postponement of childbearing to older ages.’

Women are now on average most likely to have a child just before their 30th birthday.

The report said reasons for delay include the higher numbers going into higher education, delays to marriage and partnership formation, and ‘the desire to establish a career, get on the housing ladder and ensure financial stability before starting a family’.

Fertility has increased in recent years and there are signs that in future years women will have more children. This is partly because of state benefits which act as incentives to have children, such as tax credits, introduced in the late 1990s – and because immigration has brought large numbers of young women into the country since the 1990s.

Separate ONS research shows that less than half the adult women in Britain are now married.

Just 49 per cent of women over the age of 16 were wives in 2011, the first time the proportion has fallen under the halfway point, the General Lifestyle Survey found.

The proportion of married women was around three quarters at the end of the 1970s.

The survey, based on 15,000 people, found the number of married women was lower than that of married men because women live longer.

One in three unmarried women were living in a cohabiting relationship in 2011, the report said. The survey provided further evidence that cohabitations are short-lived compared to marriages.

An average marriage that ends in divorce lasts for just under 11 years. The report said a cohabitation that breaks up rather than ending in marriage typically lasts less than four years.


Nearly 30,000 women in their 60s have been forced to keep working because of the increase in the state pension age.

Women had been entitled to start claiming their state pension from the age of 60 until the rules were ripped up three years ago.

Today they must wait until they are 61 and six months, and the age is continuing to rise. It will reach 66 in 2020 and will keep rising.

A report, from the Institute for Fiscal Studies, reveals the impact on women – and their partners – of the rise. A record 51.4 per cent of women aged 60 are working – the first time that the employment rate of this group has risen above half. At the start of 2010 the figure was 41.5 per cent.

The report looked at the difference between employment among those aged 60 in early 2010, when the pension age was still 60, and April 2012, when it was 61. Around 8,300 more men are in work ‘than there would otherwise have been’ as well as around 27,000 women.

Is this the death of feminism?

Dr Christina Schafft says the term feminism provokes unease and hostilityDr Christina Schafft says the term feminism provokes unease and hostility

Most young women strongly object to being called a feminist – and say that they like men, say state-funded researchers.

In fact, they believe that the aims of the feminist movement have all but been achieved in the Western world.

Rather than supporting a movement for new rights and equality, they admire the notion of femininity.

The study, funded by the taxpayer-supported Economic and Social Research Council, was based on in-depth interviews with groups of young women in both Britain and Germany.

It said that women who disliked feminism were reacting against the notion of man-hating and un-feminine campaigners.

Researcher Dr Christina Scharff of King’s College, London, said: ‘The term feminism provokes unease and even hostility.

‘Young women want to be treated equally and are aware of gender inequalities. Yet, even in countries that see themselves as being progressive on gender and sexuality, the term is often met with suspicion.’

Dr Scharff said the young women she spoke to were from varied and different backgrounds, but were united in rejecting feminism.

‘They thought there was no need for it any more. Instead, they thought individual freedom of action was much more important and that they could deal with any discrimination they came across on their own.’

The report is the latest in a number of studies which have found that feminism – which remains a major influence on politicians, in Whitehall, and on broadcast media – is unpopular among a large proportion of women.

Two years ago a consortium of pressure groups including the feminist Fawcett Society and political freedom campaigners Amnesty International found that fewer than four out of ten women had ever experienced derogatory treatment because of their sex.

It is more than a decade since Tony Blair’s government launched a research project into bias against women at work that admitted it could find no evidence of any discrimination.

The Scharff report said: ‘Increased opportunities to work and to decide when to have children allowed contemporary women to see themselves as empowered individuals who have benefited from social changes.’

Those women who think women in poorer countries are passive victims of oppression take it as evidence that they are not oppressed themselves, the study added.

It said: ‘In rejecting feminism, women are often seeking to position themselves within conventional norms of femininity and heterosexuality.

‘Although none of the participants could point to specific individuals, most still viewed pioneers of gender equality as lesbian, man-hating feminists.’

Despite Dr Scharff’s findings, a separate study found that women in the UK are less likely to be in work, and experience lower job security and greater pay inequality than their counterparts in other developed countries.

The UK was ranked 18th out of 27 OECD countries in 2011 on five indicators of female economic empowerment, in a report by PwC. Progress has stalled since the beginning of the credit crunch in 2007.


Pugh: 'I've decided to give up exercise and let myself go'

British women are the laziest and least fit in Europe, it is revealed.

One in five admits to never doing any exercise or ‘exerting themselves at all’.

And overall, fewer women in this country play competitive sport or do any vigorous physical activity, such as running or cycling, compared with those in most other major European nations.

The study shows that more than half – 54 per cent – of British women said they hadn’t done any exercise in the previous week, compared with one third in Denmark.

The research by the World Heart Federation found 18 per cent of UK women say they are physically inactive.

The most encouraging finding was that 63 per cent of women aged 18 to 34 now take part in sport.

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