The Blog

Subliminal Pressure Tips Baby Boom

The bottom line is that whether we like it or not, our decision-making, even if it does feel natural, is influenced by pressure.

A fan of author and journalist Malcolm Gladwell, I'm always noticing tipping points; moments in history when a little idea, concept, mundane thing or specific behaviour becomes big and spreads like an epidemic.

In this case, the epidemic is pregnancy. What with the most glamorous of celebrities (the latest, Beyoncé) announcing a pregnancy, the birth rate in Britain is at a 40-year high, births in Russia are at their highest since the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, and with more births in Israel last year than in all of its history, something is emerging here.

Something big. Not only am I spotting more pregnant women everywhere - on the tube, in the shops, at the spa, for goodness sake - but also new babies all over; at my favourite coffee shops, in parks, posh supermarkets, and even the church. Where I attend in Knightsbridge, there is a baby corner that resembles a showroom for Maclaren pushchairs.

I'm just wondering what the deal is. Only a generation of women ago, the birth rate surely was not visibly high. In June 2010, a Pew Research Centre study showed that one in five women in the US, beyond childbearing age, did not have children and, in 2009, according to the Office of National Statistics in the UK, one in five here were also choosing to remain childless.

Now the population has hit the seven billion mark. What's going on?

Why was it that a generation or two ago more women delayed or bypassed giving birth altogether? Some, of course, had no choice in the matter owing to infertility or other circumstances, but for the ones that chose to forego pregnancy, what really influenced this decision?

Fast-forward twenty years, what is tipping this new baby boom? Pressure! That is what I think, even if it is subliminal. It is inherent in what we value, what we focus on, what we get swept up into. And it somehow blows from shore to shore like a strong wind and leaves sediment behind.

The bottom line is that whether we like it or not, our decision-making, even if it does feel natural, is influenced by pressure.

My friend Pam Oliver, an American sports broadcaster, and I, were talking about this very thing. By the way, neither of us have children. Anyhow, we reckon that when we were coming up the career ladder, women were more inclined to put career first so to speak. Not necessarily because we wanted to, though surely it felt that way, but because we were a part of our own tipping point.

We wanted everything in place before we had children, if we decided to have them: the career, the husband, at the very least a worthy partner, and why not? We were the children of the women's liberation movement: wonder women.

But since Wonder Woman is fictional ladies, something's got to give, unless of course, you've managed to cross the thin line between fact and fiction.

Congratulations if you have, but in the meantime, most of us are engaged in a regular juggling act. Eight years ago, in an interview in the Telegraph, the MP Patricia Hewitt, who had her first child when she was a press secretary said:

'When I look back I wish I had worked part-time when my children were younger. I had a live-in nanny, but I always loved being with my children, going to the primary school, and if I had my time again I would do more.'

Ms Hewitt's message has at last reached young women: that is, do more with children, and do it sooner. This is the way to fulfilment. Women in their twenties and early thirties have soaked up this message, as this is the group, largely, which is reversing the trend by having children earlier, and not just one, but two or three.

Looking to our celebrity examples, many of them are already on to their second or third child and are scarcely thirty-five years of age.

This glamorisation of parenthood is ethereal. An acquaintance of mine, Fiona, not her real name, isn't sure whether she wants children or not, but is already worrying, at age twenty-nine, that she might miss out on something if she doesn't give in to the subliminal pressure. In addition, at least four other young women in my circles have expressed similar concerns.

'Chill out,' I advised, 'women still have babies at thirty something, some at forty something. Time is on your side.' Scouts (Girl Scouts, that is) honour.

Meanwhile, I say to women everywhere: fulfil your life on your own terms, pressure or not. There's many ways to do so. Chase storms if that is your burning desire. On the BBC Breakfast show a few days ago was a young woman, disabled by a rare condition, who is doing just that.

The point is: motherhood is one option. But whatever you do, surely, the secret to fulfilment is taking ownership of your decisions. Satisfaction guaranteed!