It has been said that you can learn a lot about a culture by analysing its style of parenting. This thought was triggered recently while I was pondering some fascinating new insights from Scottish Widows' think tank, the Centre for the Modern Family, which reveal the divergent views of people in the UK who have children and those who plan to start a family in future.
Our latest research suggests that traditional views on parenting are on the cusp of a fundamental shift, but it also reveals some deep-rooted concerns amongst the next generation of parents which need to be addressed. I hope this analysis serves as encouragement to anyone thinking about starting a family, as well as sparking a wider conversation around what more society can do to help the next generation of parents.
Financial prudence putting families on hold
In a stark, sign of the times revelation, Britain's next generation of parents - defined as those aged between 25 and 34 who intend to have children in future - are delaying plans to start a family because of concerns over whether they can afford it. Our latest research found that more than half of would-be parents are stalling their plans to have kids because they're worried about having enough cash to do so.
Money worries are, in fact, a bigger barrier to starting a family than getting married or career goals. On average, those we surveyed are aiming to accrue a nest egg of £5,500 before having their first child, and more than a fifth (22%) hope to save more than £10,000 to fund their new family. However, almost two thirds (64%) have not yet saved anything, and even among those who have, on average they've saved less than £1,600. This represents a huge challenge for the UK's future families.
Shifting family values
Setting aside for a moment their concerns about money, it's encouraging to hear that tomorrow's parents regard equality and shared responsibility as core relationship values, reflecting the societal transition towards a fairer treatment of gender.
This represents a shift from previous generations' views of the traditional family having one main breadwinner and one child carer. Less than a quarter of current parents regard paying for childcare as a shared responsibility, whereas 44% of would-be parents believe this is a cost best shared between both adults. With salaries stagnating and childcare costs increasing, this represents a cognisant approach.
The number of parents sharing childcare is set to increase from 28% to 38%, ensuring both parents spend more time with their family, while balancing their work commitments and career progression.
Paid time with your new family - why not?
Last year's new shared parental leave policy has so far hardly registered any response: just 1% of those eligible have taken the time. However, this is in sharp contrast to next generation parents, nearly half (47%) of whom expressed an interest in taking time out to share caring responsibilities for their newborn.
Lots more can and should be done to encourage uptake and overcome people's anxieties around negative impact on promotion chances, and their lack of understanding of how the system works. Have you discussed this with your colleagues or boss? Maybe now is a good time to start the discussion.
Looking to future generations
The question for us all - financial providers, government, society as a whole - is how do we best support young people when they arrive at the pivotal life moment of planning a family?
The affordability of having children is a key consideration for young people, particularly when they face so many other financial pressures. Equipping them with the ability to plan and save effectively, in order to feel confident and prepared for parenthood, is an essential part of ensuring happy and secure families of the future.
Of equal importance is the enablement of both men and women, equally, to progress their careers whilst bringing up their children. Only by creating the conditions and culture that place as much importance and value on the role of being 'mum' or 'dad' as any given job title, will next generation parents have the freedom and confidence to live the life they want.
That sounds like a future we can all aspire to.
Read our latest report here.