Why women are turning away from the idea of having children in 2023.

Jessica, 23, says that she has become really attached to the idea of becoming a parent in recent years. She's been with her partner for three years and had never thought particularly seriously about having children until she met him.

She tells Mamamia the realisation felt almost as though something 'switched' in her brain. 

"It feels like this weird primal instinct going, 'Make a baby, make a baby,'" she says, laughing.

Jessica and her partner will be getting married in February next year and she plans on having children in the not-too-distant future, saying she'd prefer to be a younger parent. 

However, despite the couple's enthusiasm for starting a family together soon, Jessica says that she's overwhelmed by financial stress at the thought of it. 

She's the primary earner in her relationship and she feels distraught at the idea that she will have to take maternity leave, which would significantly affect the trajectory of her career, as well as the couple's immediate income. 

Jessica has felt the squeeze of the cost-of-living crisis over the past two years, caused by rising inflation rates, stagnating wages, and soaring rental costs. 

She's trying to save to buy a home with her partner because she wants to provide a stable, long-term environment for a child but she says that financial pressures have made that dream feel much further away.

"It's getting harder and harder to save – our rent seems to never stop going up and everything is so expensive. 


"It helps we are both super aligned on our goals and are motivated to do what we can to save but it is very demotivating when you work just as hard, or harder, and the amount of savings just goes down." 

Despite the mounting pressures, Jessica says that she and her partner are still committed to the idea of having children in the next few years – but many others are being forced to reassess. 

The financial burden of children, intensified by global economic crises and a domestic housing market where the odds are brutally stacked against first homebuyers, is – understandably – paralysing many young Australians in the already fraught decision of whether or not to have children. 

One Compare the Market survey published in January this year of more than 1,000 Australians found that 16 per cent of people are choosing not to have children or delaying having them due to financial considerations. 

That figure increases for younger generations. 

When it comes to millennials (those now in their late 20s to early 40s) that number increases to 28 per cent.

And for Gen Z, the number rises again, with 42 per cent citing financial stress as a reason for not having or delaying having children.

How much do children really cost?

Compare the Market's general manager of money, Stephen Zeller, said at the time of the survey's publication that money seems to be a "dominating factor" in people's decisions on whether to have children at the moment. 


"It seems the RBA's record run of interest rate rises is sapping the money out of many people's wallets. Between that and the exploding prices of fuel, energy, gas and groceries – it's an expensive time to be alive, let alone take care of another person financially." 

Zeller went on to discuss the practical costs that parents encounter when they decide to have children. 

"The cost of pregnancy and childbirth alone varies between $1,500 and $20,000. Then there are the costs of setting up a home with a cot, mattress, nappies, formula and food.

"Daycare costs up to $142 per day in Brisbane. School fees start at $6,000 per year and go up beyond $20,000 annually."

On average, Australians spend $12,823 on their children per year, with childcare, nappies/hygiene and safety car seats listed as the most significant costs associated with having kids.

Gina Rushton, journalist and author of The Most Important Job in the World, a book that explores the question of whether or not to enter parenthood, says that having children has always been expensive but this cost has intensified significantly for younger generations.

"Anyone considering having children has to confront the unavoidable cost of raising them. My parents were growing a family at a time when houses in our city cost around six times the average full-time income, now more than 15 times as they do now... we're living at a time when wages and social support payments are not keeping pace with soaring inflation and most people are thinking about how to afford everyday essentials let alone rent or mortgage payments." 


Jessica is also far from alone in her concern about how having children may slow her career progression. Rushton says that becoming a parent particularly impacts earning capacity for primary carers. 

"Most households now rely on two incomes and with little time for housework and child-rearing, 'having it all' seems a feat only possible if you have a partner who takes on some of that labour or if you are earning enough to outsource some domestic tasks.

"The question of having both children and a full-time career is fraught because the problem of unpaid labour can only be solved via delegation." 

The cost of conceiving.

And these are the costs that arise after birth – for some, the costs associated with conceiving only compound financial worries. 

Laura, 29, tells Mamamia that she is considering having children with her female partner, but the costs of IVF feel too prohibitive to explore seriously at the moment. She says that it's confusing watching celebrities and women in higher socioeconomic brackets explore IVF (and surrogacy, in the US) when those options are still relatively inaccessible to her and her partner. 

IVF (in vitro fertilisation) is not cheap in Australia and despite some government subsidies the costs can still be prohibitive for many, entering the tens of thousands of dollars.

As part of the LGBTQIA+ community, Laura says the associated out-of-pocket costs can almost feel "discriminatory".


The increased access that people in higher socioeconomic brackets have to IVF has led to an undeniable gap in family planning opportunities available between the wealthy and the poor. 

Dr Karin Hammarberg is a senior research fellow in the School of Public Health and Preventive Medicine at Monash University. She tells Mamamia that despite public IVF services being established in recent years, this is an ongoing equality concern. 

"The only thing is, they can only service a small number of people and I don't think it will be possible to absorb all the ones who would potentially benefit from fertility treatment but who can't afford it," Dr Hammarberg says. 

"If someone struggles with fertility, you're much more likely to actually be able to access care if you've got lots of money – that's absolutely clear because infertility treatment is really expensive." 

What options do we have?

Both Dr Hammarberg and Rushton point to the profound need for more government support as a means to decrease financial stress around parenthood. 

Dr Hammarberg, who is originally from Sweden, says that parental leave support has to improve in Australia, a country that ranks at the bottom of all OECD countries in terms of paid parental leave. 

"I'm a bit biased but I think [Sweden] have actually got it right because you get very extended and well-paid parental leave. It's often shared between the two parents, so it doesn't fall all on the woman to be at home... so it means that men take a fair share of the kind of caring responsibilities, and that in itself, I think, is a very strong message for the society as a whole that solid caring and child rearing is really a shared responsibility." 


Dr Hammarberg also points to affordable childcare and flexible working conditions as opportunities that can decrease the financial burden on parents.

For Jessica, despite all of the financial barriers that she will face with her partner having a child at a relatively young age, they are still convinced that they will "make it work" once their child arrives – because there would be no other choice. 

Rushton notes that while there are millions of Australian families "making it work" this can also be a risky sentiment on a national level because it misplaces financial responsibilities.

"There is a personal and political cost to deciding parenthood is an indulgence and not a cost that should be socialised through adequate parental leave, childcare, and social security payments.

"The politicians who are most likely to coerce women into parenthood by restricting their reproductive rights are usually the politicians least interested in making motherhood a tenable economic proposition through better paid parent leave, free or accessible childcare, increasing the supply of public housing or increasing social welfare payments." 

Elfy Scott is an executive editor at Mamamia. 

Image: Instagram/ @vanderjames, @alecbaldwininsta