The options open for women have changed dramatically over the years and smaller family sizes, the later age at which women are having children and the fact that women are remaining childless reflect on the fact that women now have more options than just motherhood. In the 1940’s, the norms and values of a woman was to stay and look after the house and to bring up the children as the household was patriarchal and economically stabilised by the breadwinner (husband). The fluctuations in the birth rates meant that after the two world wars, there were ‘Baby booms’ to try and increase the population again.
This meant that there was a pattern of ‘quantity’ and not necessarily ‘quality’ in the households. From the 1950’s onwards, medical factors began to play a greater role in the decline in infant mortality rates as the mass immunization against childhood diseases such as whopping cough and the use of antibiotics meant that more infections could be fought and less death’s were seen. The decline in infant mortality rates was just one of the factors which contributed to the decrease in childbearing.
Another factor which has caused fluctuations in childbearing rates is that throughout the years, in contemporary British Society, norms have changed about what children have to expect from their parents in material terms and children have now become an economic liability. This liability has caused financial pressure for parents resulting in the decline in birth rates as parents feel less willing or able to maintain a larger family than perhaps families did in the past. This factor is supported by the rise in child centredness.
This increase in centredness means that the childhood of a child is now socially constructed as an important period in the individual’s life which shows a contrast from the 1940’s, as these factors have shifted childbearing from ‘quantity’ to ‘quality’. Another factor which contributes to the fluctuations of childbearing rates in contemporary British society is the changes in the position of women. Over the years there have laws introduced which have enabled women to be legally equal to men which include the right to vote, laws which outlaw unequal pay and sex discrimination and much more.
Changes such as easier access to divorce, abortion and reliable contraception have given women more control over their fertility which is perhaps a major factor in the decrease of childbearing. Also, women are now seeing more opportunities and possibilities in life apart from just being a housewife and mother, such as going out and working, remaining childless and living economically independent , all of these facts are supported by Statistics such as ‘One in five women aged 45 was childless – double the number from 20 years earlier’. Another fluctuation in childbearing is the fact that women are now choosing to bear children at a later age.
In 2009, there were decreases in fertility rates for women aged less than 30 and an increase for women aged 35 and over. This statistic perhaps shows that women are putting off having children in their earlier years and are perhaps spending those years in education, careers, travelling and more which is a contrast from the past where childbearing was the main factor in a woman’s life. Also, educational opportunities, such as entry into universities, have expanded for women and this, coincided with more job opportunities, has resulted in women maintaining better jobs and creating families later on in life.
Another factor in the patterns of childbearing in contemporary British society is the rise in immigration. Many immigrants, due to cultural beliefs, have larger families and encourage families to have a large number of children. This has made an increase on the fertility rates in the British society. Also, more women are choosing to cohabit with their partners, choosing to remarry men who already have children and more help has been introduced , making it easier for women, men and civil partnerships to adopt children which also contributes to the decrease and increase in childbearing.
Conclude that attitudes towards family life have changed over the years and have made a profound cultural change, which is perhaps a result of economic fluctuations and changes. Women have undergone and discovered different lifestyle choices in addition to just getting married and having children and the patterns of childbearing have fluctuated throughout contemporary British societies.