Интернет-магазин DONTA

Fertility rates have dropped to the lowest since 1938 – but with the odds stacked against women in Britain, are we really surprised?

Fertility rates have dropped to the lowest since 1938 – but with the odds stacked against women in Britain, are we really surprised?

For many, it's not a matter of not wanting to, but not being able to. 

It's no secret that UK birth rates are declining – and across the wider Western world, too. In 2021, fertility rates data from the Office for National Statistics (ONS) showed that the number of women giving birth in England and Wales had fallen to the lowest level since records began in 1938 – and in February 2025, UK birth rates fell to a record low as for the first time in history, to 1.49 children per woman in the UK. Previously, it have never fallen beneath the 1.5 mark.

According to a paper by John Ermish, the substantial fertility decline of the last decade is largely driven by a drop in first births (people remaining completely childless). It was reported in a 2020 YouGov poll that of Britons who are not already parents, over a third (37%) say that they never want to have children, and a further 19% say they don’t want children any time soon – but acknowledge that they might change their minds, with ‘age, cost and lifestyle’ being cited as the main reasons for not having children.

And honestly, these statistics don't shock me. Not one bit.

Because in Britain right now, the odds are stacked against women. It's not a good place to bring a child into, and for many, it's not a matter of not wanting to but not being able to. Single mothers are the worst affected by the gender pension gap, taxes are rising, climate change anxiety has created the ‘birthstrikes movement’ with a report in 2017 telling people that ‘the greatest impact individuals can have in fighting climate change is to have one fewer child'. The most common worry is money. More specifically, a lack of it. The thought of bringing a child into a world where there's such economic uncertainty is terrifying. Even those of us who are privileged, with careers and above-national-average salaries, can't figure out how to have a child and be financially secure and settled.

It's no longer about simply wanting to have children – there's what feels like a tidal wave of reasons not to. As a 26-year-old woman, I'm at the ‘right’ age to be considering it – some of my friends are having babies, but most aren't – and the reasons for this feel chosen for us. We can't even get to the point of self-reflection about whether we want children or if we would find being a parent fulfilling, because it all seems so impossible.

When thinking about it, the question marks are overwhelming: Is it ethical to have a baby when the world feels like it's constantly on the brink of ending? How would I even be able to afford a baby if I did? Where would I have to live to make it affordable? Would I have to give up working? Or work even harder? Is it only a real possibility if I'm in a relationship? And in a relationship with someone earning enough so that I can take maternity leave? Should I be considering my genetics, too? What if I pass on health problems? Should I wait until I'm older and more stable? But then what if I ‘leave it too late’? What if I need to have IVF? Or Adopt? Is that even more expensive?

Recently, Jameela Jamila shared in an interview with The Times that she has chosen not to have children – which has freed her up to have a more flexible working life. “I’m in a position of luxury because I’ve chosen not to have children, so I can work when I want to,” she told the publication.

GLAMOUR spoke to 6 women about why they feel the choice of having children has been taken away from them…

*Abby, 32

"At the moment, childcare would eliminate my salary. My partner and I would simply have to be earning a lot more money than we currently are, or we become a single-salary household where I would have to be a housewife. Which I don't want to do. We've pushed back so many milestones, like having kids and getting married, because we wanted a ‘stable’ home. A place where a landlord can't decide to just turf us out – we've only just bought a house after years and years of living with my parents. We've made these decisions together as a couple, but honestly, it's felt out of our hands. A baby would nullify my salary and eradicate any quality of life I have besides being a parent"

Katrina, 43*

“There's all this talk about women not prioritising having children and picking their careers over kids but that simply isn't true for a lot of us. It hasn't been my choice not to have children, I'm extremely maternal and have always wanted nothing more. But I haven't met the right partner, and without one I simply wouldn't be able to afford childcare. I also don't want to just settle and end up in an unhealthy relationship – that's not responsible. On top of that, being a single mum is so tough – I don't know if I'm secure enough to do it alone. Especially now I'm older and the actual act of falling pregnant will be harder.”

Jennifer, 28

“For the majority of my 28 years of life, I have struggled with trauma-based depression and anxiety which has led to a lifetime of toxic relationships and a poor sense of self. Carrying the burden of past traumas led me to believe I didn't even want a relationship, let alone children and it has only been in the last 6 months that I've begun to do the inner work to get me to a stage where I feel capable of even conducting myself confidently on a day-to-day basis without being overcome by my mental health. A lot of it had to do with the pain I felt around the relationship with my parental figures, feeling that I was incapable of having healthy relationships, and not feeling adequate to raise children.”

*Lisa, 33

“I’ve recently been diagnosed with autism (late diagnosis, I’m 33) and as a result, I don’t think I’ll have children as I don’t want to pass it on. I’m single, have a great career in investment and it’s been a huge relief, to be honest. I feel like the decision has been taken out of my hands and now I have a ‘legitimate reason’ to not have children. I looked into getting my eggs frozen and went through all the fertility tests a couple of years ago but decided against it after speaking to my friend about the horrors of hormones. I have very mixed emotions about wanting children – some days I think I really do but then I question whether that is just because it’s what’s expected of me. I have such a full, exciting life and an amazing career which I don’t want to sacrifice (which I would with children). Deep down I don’t think I’m that maternal.”

Izzi, 29*

“I'm in a privileged position, I have a loving girlfriend, we own a house together and we both have well-paying careers in tech. Financially, we could make having children work. But it doesn't feel like the ethical thing to do – the climate crisis is very real and I have a lot of fear about bringing a baby into this world. My partner and I have decided if we did have children, we'd want to adopt but looking into this process so far has felt impossible – there are a lot of barriers around queer people adopting and it will take a lot of money, emotional labour, and likely involve fighting discrimination. I just don't know if it feels worth it”

Beka, 32

"I have Polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) and endometriosis which would make it very difficult for me to get pregnant and stay pregnant – this ended a long-term relationship I was in. I'd love to adopt, and would have done it by now if I could afford to do it alone. But at the moment I can't even afford to live alone, so adopting feels out of reach"

There's a lot of talk within feminist conversations about ‘having it all’ and whether women can have a career and children. But this conversation is outdated. Because it's not in our hands – it's not an individual decision, it's societal. When there's a gender pay gap that isn't anywhere near close to closing, when paternity and maternity leave in the UK feels abysmal, when the price of living is rising but salaries aren't, when the NHS is overwhelmed, when the sea was quite literally on fire this year, how can we even be asking women ‘when are you going to have children?’ like it's a simple decision. Like it's our decision.

Right now, having it all is a myth.

For more from Chloe Laws, follow her on Instagram @chloegracelaws.