‘If someone gave me a million quid, I still wouldn’t have a kid’: Meet the defiant generation of women who refuse to give up their lifestyles and careers to raise a family. Selfish… or just admirably single-minded?


I always assumed I would have children — in the same unthinking way I assumed I would make the same money as my parents or live in the same kind of house.

But, as the years ticked by, motherhood never presented itself as an option. I’ve been single most of my life. At 30, I moved to New York and was far too distracted to hear the tick-tock of my biological clock.

It wasn’t until I landed back in England, at the age of 33, that I looked around, stunned, to see a handful of friends with babies in their arms and toddlers yanking at their legs.

For the first time I felt that sense of an absence in my life. Reading children’s stories with my two-year-old goddaughter Hettie perched on my lap made my heart ache. At a concert I was transfixed by the little girl in front of me, hoisted high on her mother’s shoulders, deliciously plump arms swaying in time to the music.

But now, at 35, with no partner and without the funds to support another human being, I’m pretty sure I’m not going to become a mother.

And, despite that murmuring broodiness, I’ve made my peace with it. I don’t lie in bed worrying about whether I’m going to have a baby or not and I certainly don’t feel the desire for a child strongly enough to become a single mother via IVF or adoption.

‘I don’t lie in bed worrying about whether I’m going to have a baby or not,’ Isolde Walters (pictured) writes, adding: ‘I certainly don’t feel the desire for a child strongly enough to become a single mother via IVF or adoption.’

Yes, I am missing out on an undeniable joy, but there is plenty to be said for life without children: I’ll have time to travel, invest in friendships, hobbies and work. I’ll be a loving aunt and godmother.

And I will hardly be unusual. Opting to be childless (or ‘childfree’, as some prefer to call it) is an increasingly popular choice for UK women.

The birth rate has dropped to its lowest level in 20 years. Among mothers born in the UK, the number of births has fallen by an astonishing 22 per cent in a decade.

This decline isn’t unique to Britain. The average American woman had three children in 1950, and now has about 1.6, significantly lower than the ‘replacement rate’ of 2.1 children required to keep the population stable.

It’s the same story across Europe. Italy, a country known for its culture of extended families gathered around a boisterous dinner table, has seen the birth rate take such a nose dive that there are now 12 deaths for every seven babies born.

Last week Spain recorded its lowest birth rate in history, with fewer than 300,000 children born in the first 11 months of 2023, and even in China, the population is shrinking for the first time since the 1960s.

With the decline in births in developed parts of the world — economists have dubbed it the Great People Shortage —some are warning of a looming demographic crisis, with unfilled jobs in key sectors and young taxpayers outnumbered by ailing pensioners.

Lisa Evans says she always thought she would have children, but last year, after ending a relationship and taking up salsa dancing, her mind began to change

Lisa Evans says she always thought she would have children, but last year, after ending a relationship and taking up salsa dancing, her mind began to change

In the UK, Conservative MP Miriam Cates — seen as a rising star on the right of the Tory party — calls the falling birthrate the most pressing policy issue of a generation.

Blaming it on the devaluing of ‘the crucial role of motherhood’, high numbers of young people building up debt and career ambition by going to university, she condemns the fact that having babies is seen as a ‘lifestyle choice’ rather than a ‘socially valuable endeavour’ which is ‘fundamental for survival’.

But is she right? And why am I and so many of my friends not having children?

Undoubtedly, one reason is the crippling cost.

The average annual fee for a full-time nursery place for a child under two in Britain is now a staggering £14,836, according to a report by children’s charity Coram, with one in four parents saying the cost of childcare is now more than 75 per cent of their take-home pay. In London, a friend pays £2,600 a month for her toddler’s spot at nursery, totalling £31,200 over the year.

I simply couldn’t afford those kinds of fees. University debt adds to the financial burden for millennials like me — in my last job, £250 of every monthly salary went to paying off my student loan — but we also have pensions to save for and ever-rising bills to stretch to. Even if I had a partner, I struggle to see how I could make it work financially.

Cates’s answer to this is that babies should be at home with their biological mothers and not in nursery at all.

Tara Marguilles has never felt the maternal instinct and watching friends become mothers left her even more convinced. ¿It¿s beautiful to see them so happy but, for myself, I couldn¿t think of anything worse,' she says

Tara Marguilles has never felt the maternal instinct and watching friends become mothers left her even more convinced. ‘It’s beautiful to see them so happy but, for myself, I couldn’t think of anything worse,’ she says

But for my generation that feels like a serious backward step. All the women I know who don’t want children have jobs they enjoy and are invested in.

One friend, who is deliberating on whether to have a second child, says: ‘The thing is, I just really love working.’

I watched as my mother gave up her career as a solicitor when she had three children, and I don’t want that.

Yet I look at what working mums have to put up with too and I shudder. The ‘motherhood penalty’ women pay at work is still as stiff and unfair as ever. While new fathers can expect a boost to their income, new mothers find themselves diverted onto different paths with lower salaries and promotion prospects, according to research by Cornell University and charity Pregnant Then Screwed. Indeed, I’ve watched it in action in the past few years as mothers have been pushed out of offices until there’s only working dads and childless women left.

Then there’s the problem of where to live. Traditionally, couples waited until they owned their own place before starting a family, but as people return to live with parents or in house shares because they can’t afford a place on their own, parenthood is delayed or missed entirely.

One friend of 39 has bought a flat with her boyfriend. ‘What if I’d got this place when I was 33?’ she asked. ‘I might have had a five-year-old running around by now.’

Since the age of 21, I’ve lived in ten different properties with 18 different flatmates. Many of these households were caring homes — but none of them would have been the place to raise an infant.

Last summer, with the help of an inheritance and a massive withdrawal from the bank of mum and dad, I bought a two-bedroom flat in South London. At the back of my mind, I pictured a cot in the second bedroom at some point but, a year later, I am still single and with no immediate prospect of finding a partner.

Indeed, the way we date now is surely playing a part in the freefall of the birth rate. Swipe through Hinge or Bumble and there’s an apparent endless sea of prospective suitors out there — but too much choice leads to paralysis.

It’s hard to settle down when you have a sneaking suspicion someone better may be a few swipes away. I’d also add that for young men, who let’s face it have always prioritised fun not fatherhood, there’s an even greater reluctance to commit.

I’ve dated a couple of these commitment-phobes. One told me he was too wrapped up in his work for anything ‘serious’ and the other made it clear he was more interested in sowing his wild oats than settling down. But it’s not just men — I’ve backed out of serious relationships with some who cared about me and would have made fabulous fathers because I wasn’t interested in being tied down. Add a new working-from-home culture which eliminates the office, that tried-and-tested breeding ground for relationships, and it is easy to see why so many more of us are single.

Just this week, the Office for National Statistics revealed less than half of adults are in marriages and civil partnerships, while census figures show that a hefty 58.9 per cent of adults between 30 and 34 were unmarried in 2021.

No wonder the egg-freezing industry is booming with young women hoping they can hedge their bets and use a sperm donor if they can’t find a long-term partner in time to concieve naturally.

I am not among them. I’m saving for a three-month trip to South America instead. But how I envy men in this regard. A man is able to wake up at 50, decide he wants children and adjust his age settings for potential partners on the apps accordingly.

Give me 15 more years and then, perhaps, I’d be ready to have a baby too. Or would I? For it’s also true that women are increasingly choosing a future without children for its own sake.

Take 26-year-old computer graphics artist Lisa Evans, from London. She always thought she would have children, but last year, after ending a relationship and taking up salsa dancing, her mind began to change.

‘I had a very rigid view of what I wanted to be and I think a lot of that comes from societal expectations for women about what you should do,’ she said. ‘The salsa dancing community has this free-spirited, almost hedonistic, attitude of embracing life and not worrying too much about what your family is expecting you to do. It really broadened my horizons in terms of thinking about what I wanted my future to look like.’

She realised she had been working to a subconscious time frame: married by 26, first baby at 28.

‘I stayed in relationships because I needed to settle down with someone, but then I asked myself: do I actually want to spend my life with this person or did I just pick them because they happened to come along within the time frame?’ When she pictures her future now, children are conspicuously absent. ‘I’m hoping for a lot of travel and a lot of freedom in my life — that is something that I would be worried to give up if I had children.

‘I want the opportunity to change and evolve as a person outside of a box that I sometimes feel motherhood confines you to.’

We’re often told that young people are not having children because of fears about climate change, but I suspect this is overstated. Citing altruistic concern for the planet sounds better than saying you don’t want to be a mother because you’d prefer to go on holiday.

Tara Margulies is another woman who’s adamant she won’t start a family.

‘If someone gave me a million quid, I still wouldn’t have a kid,’ the 30-year-old digital marketer and entrepreneur says.

She informed her now husband Sam, 38, on just their second date that she had no interest in becoming a mother. ‘He was showing me pictures of his two-year-old niece. I said: “Yeah, cute, but I don’t want kids.”

‘He told me it was a bold thing to say on a second date. But I would never want to go into a relationship with someone and not be on the same page about something as big as this.’

Tara, who lives in North London, has never felt the maternal instinct and watching friends become mothers left her even more convinced.

‘It’s beautiful to see them so happy but, for myself, I couldn’t think of anything worse.

‘Life is so good right now. I can do whatever I want with my time and be spontaneous. I’m starting businesses, I’m making new friends, I wouldn’t want to give that up to have a child. The pros don’t outweigh the cons.’

That includes the sense of purpose children are alleged to bring. The young women I talk to either dismiss it as a myth or say they will find it elsewhere, for example in work, hobbies or travelling.

‘I just think that we are on this earth to have a nice time,’ says Tara. ‘I don’t feel like I need purpose as long as life is good, and I’m happy.’

On her Instagram account @movewithtara, Tara displays this child-free lifestyle in videos of glamorous parties, Ibiza retreats and Italian road-trips.

Has she has ever been called selfish for not having children? Politicians such as Cates say women must have babies to prop up an ageing nation’s economy, after all.

Yes, she has been called selfish, but she doesn’t care. ‘I think it’s important to be selfish when making this decision,’ she says.

‘We only have one life and this, in my opinion, is the biggest decision you’ll ever make. If you’re not making it for yourself and based on what you want, then there’s something wrong.’

Meanwhile, governments around the world are trying to influence that decision. President Macron announced this week that France will offer free fertility tests to 25-year-olds in an attempt to reverse France’s falling birth rate. In Italy, Right-wing prime minister Giorgia Meloni has halved the VAT on nappies and baby milk to encourage Italians to procreate.

Phoebe Arslanagić-Little, head of the New Deal For Parents at centre-right thinktank UK Onward, insists there is plenty that could be done to boost Britain’s birth rate and make the country more ‘parent-friendly’.

Changes to the tax-benefit system, in particular tackling child benefit anomalies which campaigners argue penalise single-income families, would economically ease the way for parents, while fertility treatments such as IVF should be made more accessible to people on the NHS.

Perhaps these policies would nudge the dial. But I think the problem goes deeper than that.

Bringing a baby into the world is an act of hope. It’s a signal of faith in the future. Pope Francis described the birth rate as ‘the main indicator for measuring the hope of a people’. And the problem is, there’s not much hope around right now.

Prices are rising, home ownership is plummeting, terrible conflicts are breaking out across the world. Is it all that surprising that I’m not desperate to bring a baby into a world that looks so bleak?

Will I regret it? Perhaps. But as every single woman I spoke to for this piece told me, I’d rather regret not having kids than regret having them.

When Miriam Cates and all the other politicians telling women to have more babies, can promise us a stable world, affordable childcare, committed fathers and the guarantee that our careers won’t take a hit, then we might change our minds.

As it is, I value my freedom too much to risk it.


Jose Reber

Jose Reber is a professional writer based in Wisconsin. He guides editorial teams consisting of writers across the US to help them become more skilled and diverse writers. In his free time he enjoys spending time with his wife and children.

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