The poll asked a proportion of British men and women to assess a number of age brackets between 15 and 60, and give their opinion on how old both men and women “should” be when they become parents.
And in news that will likely make every woman roll her eyes and find the nearest pillow to scream into, there’s a stark difference between what men and women think are suitable ages to become a mother or a father.
Nearly half of men (46 per cent) say a woman is too old to become a mother at 36 and over, and yet, 71 per cent of men think this age is “about right” for a man to become a father. A double standard? Between men and women? Who’d have thought it?
Equally shocking, Brits believe that 28 is the ideal age for women to have their first child, while men have an extra two years before they reach the “right” age to become a parent.
It’s strange that clearly so many of us think 28 is the “Goldilocks” age for becoming a first-time mum, particularly as so many young people are struggling in the current climate. What with younger women having been disproportionately affected by job losses in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic, and the average age of those getting on the property ladder being 34, it’s little wonder that more women are now choosing to have children later – popping out a sprog in rented accommodation with barely any money is hardly ideal.
The results of the survey are just symptomatic of the tired yet deeply ingrained trope that women’s stock plummets the moment they’re past their mid-thirties. Once they stop being fresh-faced and artless twenty-somethings that wouldn’t look out of place on Love Island, women are considered “past it”. We’re denied that comfortable, more relaxing pace of our thirties that men have always enjoyed – if anything, the pressure from outsiders is ramped up, with women being reminded of our biological clocks loudly ticking.
I used to feel the same when I was younger. My mum was 40 when she gave birth to me back in 1994, and while I wasn’t really aware of just how much older she was than the other mums in the playground, I started to notice differences as I grew up. While younger mums were more laissez-faire about drinking, boys and social media, my mum was far more cautious in a world-weary sort of way, having had different ideas of what is appropriate at what age.
It was greatly irritating at the time, but as I’ve got older – particularly as I am rapidly hurtling towards the “ideal” childbearing age of 28 – I’ve realised how lucky I was to have an older mum.
When I’ve asked my mum why she chose to wait until later in life to have kids, she’s always replied: “Because I was enjoying myself.”
My mum spent her twenties and thirties as a high-flying executive, in a job that she loved dearly. Her career saw her travel regularly to exotic climes, mingle with a varied bunch of high-powered individuals and amass a healthy(ish) bank balance. While a baby may not have been on her agenda at the time, at 40 years old, she knew she was ready to settle and take on her next great adventure – motherhood.
Having an older head on her shoulders made my mum wiser and more disciplined. As someone who has always been quite Type A, knowing a baby was on the way only made her all the more organised, no detail spared. This preparedness continued until long after I was born, as she kept diaries on my weight each day as a baby, my temperature, and how much milk I was drinking. Even if I had a slight spluttering cough as a newborn, my mum could detect it instantly, with an impressive stack of notes to pinpoint where any problems began. It’s something she acknowledges she wouldn’t have been so sharp on if she’d chosen to have the baby at a younger age.
This isn’t a jab at younger mums – I’ve had friends who have chosen to have babies in their late teens and early twenties who have absolutely loved their decision. No matter what a bunch of men in a YouGov poll say, a woman has the right to have a baby whenever she chooses to – be it in her twenties or her forties, what a woman chooses to do with her womb is none of our business.
But we need to stop vilifying older women, who are routinely called “selfish” because they choose to wait, for whatever reason, before having a baby. From my experience, I couldn’t have been luckier to have had an older mum – and I could not be prouder of her decision.