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Why women don’t want to have babies in 2024.

Emily has no intention of having kids because of the pressure that surrounds raising children. 

"It's all way too out of hand," she explains. "Kids can’t be kids anymore and parents can’t raise their kids how they want to." 

Charlotte, on the other hand, would like to have kids but can't afford them.

"My partner and I are in significant debt being exacerbated by how damned expensive everything is." These women are among a growing number who are deciding to not have babies.

Parenting dread is real. We only have to look as far as the lagging birth rate in Australia to see that women aren't exactly lining up to pump out the babies. 

At 1.58 babies per woman on average it's well below replacement rate and a clear indicator that adults are choosing to have fewer children or none at all. 

The home of the 'baby boom' now has one of the lowest birth rates in the world and it's happened in the space of two generations.

Before we delve into the factors that have made the prospect of having dependents so off putting, it's important to establish why low birth rates are ringing alarm bells for policy makers and demographers. 

You might think lowering birth rates would be a positive thing given the world is already grossly overpopulated but it's a lot more complicated than that.

Watch: Questions about childbirth (answered by mums and non-mums). Post continues after video.

Video via Mamamia.

Low birth rates spell economic disaster for governments and cause declining living standards because the number of working age adults begins to struggle to support the needs of both the younger and older sections of the population. 

Think in terms of a declining number of people actively paying taxes and working in aged care or construction. We have fewer 'hands on deck' when it comes to everything that needs to be done each day. We have fewer adults actively generating an income and circulating money in the economy.

In populations with birth rates that decline continually and do not stabilise, the working adults can eventually become outnumbered by adults past retirement age who typically work less or not at all while still consuming goods and services. 

Older people also often have a growing dependency on things like public health services and obviously they still need to use infrastructure like roads. 

Working adults become 'sandwiched' between increasingly large sections of the population that depend on them to provide goods and services.

Population decline can happen, and many would argue is essential, but in huge populations it needs to happen extremely slowly to prevent the kinds of widespread de-growth pains we are now experiencing.


In 1960 the birth rate peaked at a whopping 3.41 babies per woman on average. Those babies grew into adults that had about 1.5 fewer children on average than their parents. We are now having almost 2 less children on average than our grandparents did. 

Boomers are now entering retirement age and younger generations are paying for that in higher taxes per capita, struggling infrastructure and labour force shortages, particularly in areas where primary education, childcare and aged care are competing for a limited pool of labour.

Women's increasing participation in the labour force has propped up the economy in recent decades despite such a significant birth rate decline, but in recent years it appears even families where both parents are in paid work may have reached their limit when it comes to number of work hours they can contribute while also carrying out the work of raising very young children. 

Women may no longer be able to 'save the day' in our economy if it continues to come at the expense of their personal wellbeing through added stress and physical exhaustion. 

Access to more childcare may solve some financial problems but it doesn't exactly buy families more time to rest or spend time with loved ones. It also doesn't address systemic inequality in the care workloads between men and women, but perpetuates existing male work patterns.

Australia has also relied heavily on migration in recent years to mitigate the labour force shortages resulting from low birth rates, but this has enabled policy makers to side-step one of the key root causes of parental dread – inadequate support for families. 


Parents are experiencing financial distress which limits the number of children they can support and potential parents are living in a cultural moment where parents are not holding back about how messed up it is try and raise the next generation right now. 

Rather than alleviate the current conditions by better supporting their unpaid work and extending parental leave or improving access to childcare we seem to have primarily opted to simply outsource reproductive labour and import ready-made workers.

A vicious cycle has emerged where declining living standards fuelled by declining birth rates cause even lower birth rates. Families that might have been able to help stabilise the population and living standards simply cannot afford to have more children. 

The PR problem around parenting is significant and in need of damage control, except we'd be lying if we said it was easy in the current environment. 

In countries like Japan and South Korea where birth rates are also historically low and children are increasingly absent from public spaces, this has in turn led to lower cultural acceptance of babies and young children which also deters prospective parents. South Korea has implemented an increasing number of 'child-free zones' in places like cafés and public buildings.'

Listen: What Mothers Really Want For Christmas. Post continues after podcast.


Countries like Hungary have implemented aggressive policies such as slashing income tax for women who have had babies to alleviates financial pressure on families in real time while also stabilising the population to ensure future economic security. 

While policies like this are often criticised for treating women as 'baby machines' or incentivising people to have children when they might not be capable of raising them in the long term, the fact remains that there is a huge financial penalty for families, particularly mothers, who provide reproductive labour and going some way to compensate families for this seems fair. 

Even if our long-term goal is population decline, it can't happen overnight, and families still require support while we transition to degrowth or steady state economies.

At the heart of parental dread and declining birth rates is a deeply ingrained devaluation of care. Unless parents today are better supported to connect with their children and model a deep sense of the importance of caring for others, those children will struggle to grow into voters and leaders who understand the importance of human relationships and the sense that care work should be prioritised. 

We can't expect people within a culture that devalues care work to flock to low-paid jobs in the care sector or to choose to have families of their own. It will take significant cultural and policy shifts as well as increased investment in families and children to raise a generation of adults who don't dread parenting.

Feature Image: Getty.

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