Why Are Millennials Not Having Children?

This ‘baby shortage’ could cause long-term economic problems

Surprised baby

by Rosamund Dean |
Updated on

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A new report by the Social Market Foundation (SMF) has found that birth rates in Britain are continuing to decline.

Last year, the average number of children per woman in England and Wales was 1.58 - almost half the post-war Baby Boom peak of 2.93 (and far below the often-quoted average of 2.4). In Scotland, the decline is even steeper, with an average of 1.29.

Why this decline? Well, it’s probably no coincidence that - as those following Grazia's campaign with Pregnant Then Screwed will know - there is a huge lack of affordable childcare in this country, both for pre-school children and wraparound care for school-age kids.

In fact, typical British working parents spend 22% of their income on childcare, which is more than double the average rate for Western economies. Having a child is not a decision to take lightly, particularly when it’s so hard to get on the housing ladder and cash-strapped Millennials have been hit hardest financially by the Covid crisis.

You might be thinking: who cares about falling birth rates, there are too many people anyway, right? The problem is that, at this rate, the population will become hugely weighted towards older people. By 2050, a quarter of Britons will be over 65, up from a fifth today. This places a huge burden, not only on the NHS, but also on the diminishing number of working-age adults, whose tax bills will have to pay for the care of an ageing society.

Several governments elsewhere, including France and Poland, have explored 'pronatalist' policies, which means legislation to make it easier to have children, such as providing (sorry to bore on about this) more affordable childcare. The UK is yet to do the same, although the Scottish government does have a ‘population taskforce’ looking into it.

‘The question of whether the government should intervene to try and increase the birth rate is clearly a sensitive topic that must be delicately handled. However, given the alarming fall in fertility rates, and the risks that population ageing poses to our social and economic wellbeing, it is a discussion we should not duck,’ says Aveek Bhattacharya, Chief Economist at the SMF. ‘Many other liberal democracies are exploring the use of policies like cash payments to parents, more generous parental leave and cheaper childcare to make it easier for those that want children to have them. Here in the UK we should consider the merit of these policies– not least because they would bring many other benefits to parents, children and wider society.’

READ MORE: 'Parents Shouldn't Have To Choose Between Their Child And Their Career'

READ MORE: There Is A Solution To The Childcare Crisis In This Country

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