An online survey of UK women’s attitudes to having children, the age they want children and the effect of the COVID-19 pandemic

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Abstract

Abstract
STUDY QUESTION
What are women’s views on having children, including the age they want to have them and other influences such as the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic?

SUMMARY ANSWER
Women’s views on having children, at their preferred age of 30 years, included their maternal urge and concerns about their biological clock and stability, while 19% said COVID-19 had affected their views.

WHAT IS KNOWN ALREADY
Women globally are delaying the birth of their first child, with the average age of first birth approaching 32 years in some countries. The average age women have their first child in the UK is 30.7 years and over 50% of women aged 30 years are childless. The fertility rate stands at 1.3 in several European Union countries. Some people are not having their desired family size or are childless by circumstance. It is essential to understand people’s attitudes to having children in different countries to identify trends so we can develop educational resources in an age-appropriate manner.

STUDY DESIGN, SIZE, DURATION
We conducted an anonymous, online survey of multiple choice and open-ended questions. The survey was live for 32 days from 15 May 2020 to 16 June 2020 and was promoted using social media.

PARTICIPANTS/MATERIALS, SETTING, METHODS
A total of 887 women from 44 countries participated in the survey. After filtering out women who did not consent, gave blank or incomplete responses, and those not in the UK, 411 responses remained. From the data, three areas of questioning were analysed: their views on having children, the ideal age they want to have children and the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic. Qualitative data were analysed by thematic analysis.

MAIN RESULTS AND THE ROLE OF CHANCE
The average age (±SD) of the women who completed the survey was 32.2 years (±5.9), and they were mainly heterosexual (90.8%) and 84.8% had a university education. One-third of women were married/in a civil partnership (37.7%) and 36.0% were cohabitating. In relation to their views on having children, the main themes identified were: the maternal urge, the ticking of the biological clock, why did no one teach us this?, the need for stability and balance in their life, pressure to start a family and considering other ways to have a family. When asked ‘In an ideal world, at what age approximately would you like to have had or have children?’ a normal distribution was observed with a mean age of 29.9 (±3.3) years. When asked ‘What factors have led you to decide on that particular age?’ the most frequent choice was ‘I am developing my career’. Three themes emerged from the qualitative question on why they chose that age: the need for stability and balance in their life, the importance of finding the right time and life experiences. The majority of women felt that the COVID-19 pandemic had not affected their decision to have children (72.3%), but 19.1% said it had. The qualitative comments showed they had concerns about instability in their life, such as finances and careers, and delays in fertility treatment.
Translated title of the contributionEncuesta en línea sobre la actitud de las mujeres británicas respecto a tener hijos, la edad a la que desean tenerlos y el efecto de la pandemia COVID-19
Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)2611-2622
JournalHuman Reproduction
StatePublished - Oct 10 2022

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Reproductive Medicine

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