The pursuit of parenthood is rarely a straightforward road. Especially when you consider the impossible nature of the housing market, unaffordable rents and job instability.
And now it seems the cost of living crisis is leaving a segment of the UK population unable to afford to have children.
For some this means making the difficult decision not to have children at all, for others it means capping how many children they have because they can’t afford rising childcare costs.
According to research commissioned by Forbes Advisor, 24% of people labelled ‘Dual Income, No Kids’ – or DINKs – are choosing not to have children due to the impact it would have on their finances.
While a separate survey by private fertility clinic ReproMed found almost half (47%) of respondents are delaying having children for economic reasons.
Some people are happy with this choice saying it gives them more financial stability and freedom, yet others feel it’s a decision that’s forced upon them.
This is something that Tegen and her husband resonate with, particularly after her husband was made redundant from his job in the summer.
Left with the prospect of being unable to pay their mortgage and shaken by a volatile job market amidst rising costs, they’ve made the difficult decision not to have any children.
“As time’s gone on, we’ve always been really aware of how much more expensive and how unachievable things like these kind of life goals are,” Tegen tells HuffPost UK.
She says that their life is modest. There are no large holidays or bougie splurges, only some remaining debt from their twenties.
But with a mortgage increase of £400 per month, a hike in interest rates, and less money leftover at the end of each month to save, they couldn’t make ends meet, let alone afford to have a child.
“It always really boiled down to money,” Tegen says.
“I need to protect my mental health. I need to protect my finances. The benefit of a child and, I guess, the joy a child could bring to my life would be overshadowed by constant stress.”
She’s not alone. When the cost of living crisis was beginning to take a hold in late 2021, Jen Cleary, a former teacher in her mid-thirties, told The Guardian: “Most of my generation simply cannot afford to [have children]. Being childless is out of my hands and it is a devastating and frustrating reality.”
It’s a problem felt by existing parents, too. According to research conducted by Bambino Mio, well over a third (43%) of UK parents feel the cost of living crisis is putting them under significant financial pressure.
The result? Nearly a quarter of the parents polled (22%) are choosing not to have any more children.
The findings echo a recent survey by the charity Pregnant Then Screwed which polled almost 12,000 parents and found 42% said the cost and availability of childcare specifically has prevented them from having any more children.
When I ask Danielle, a single parent, if the cost of living has put a stop to any more family planning, she answers: “Jesus Christ, yes.”
“It’s not even a viable option,” she continues. “Unless I fell over and met someone rich who wants kids, it’s not on the table at all. Because as a single mother, it’s impossible. A single mother-of-two would be double impossible.”
She adds that even with a well-off partner, the extra financial support might not be enough to cover the many costs that go into raising a child.
For people like Kirsty, who is supported by a spouse with a ‘healthy’ income, having a second child is certainly not on the cards. ”I see people going on holidays and buying designer trainers for toddlers and I think: how?” she says.
Feeling the squeeze is a common occurrence across the country as access to essential items that ensure a better quality of life is on the decline.
According to the latest STADA Health Report, nearly one in three Brits have significantly reduced the amount of fresh food they buy and 19% have cut back on sports and exercise spending.
To make matters worse, data collected by the Office of National Statistics (ONS), shows that unemployment increased to 4.2%. And, despite pay growth, (though in real terms, this sits at just 0.5%) the job market is cooling, making it harder for people who become unemployed to find work.
On top of that, you’ve got soaring childcare costs. The UK has one of the most expensive childcare systems in the world – and costs are continuing to rise.
According to charity Coram, the average annual cost of a full-time nursery place for a child under two in Britain is just shy of £15,000, so it’s no wonder more and more people are leaving work to look after their children.
New parents were pushed to the edge and worrying about how they’d afford food and fuel by the end of 2022 – and a year on it seems things aren’t improving.
More than half (57%) of respondents to a Maternity Action survey said that money worries affected their health and wellbeing while pregnant or on maternity leave.
It would seem that the current environment for families looking to add the pitter-patter of tiny feet to their homes is one filled with insurmountable and immovable obstacles.
However, there is some (potentially) good news on the horizon. Inflation rates (which control how expensive goods and services become) are expected to fall for the rest of 2023, according to The House of Commons Library, which could mean more affordable times ahead.
The government is also expanding its 30 free hours of childcare offering for working parents over the next two years, which will save parents up to £6,500 per year.
A spokesperson recently told HuffPost UK: “By 2027-28 we expect to be spending £8 billion in total every year to support parents with flexible and affordable childcare and give children the best quality early years education.”