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  • Eleonora Voltolina

Delaying parenthood, how can the trend be reversed? The Why Wait Agenda meets Melinda Mills

Updated: Jun 5, 2023

Postponing parenthood is now a strong trend. The average age of women giving birth to their first child is steadily increasing: in the EU in 2020 it was 29.5 years, peaking above 31 in four European countries – Italy, Spain, Switzerland and Luxembourg.


The rise in the average age at first child recorded worldwide does not favour women wishing to become mothers: the higher the average age when the first child is born, the smaller the window of fertile years the potential mothers has.This, combined with the lack of fertility awareness, may cause – and does cause – a lot of suffering and frustration among people. The “fertility gap”, indeed.


In this episode of The Why Wait Agenda Podcast we ask professor Melinda Mills, author of the paper “Why do people postpone parenthood? Reasons and social policy incentives” back in 2011 and now director of the Leverhulme Centre for Demographic Science at the University of Oxford, to assess the social policies – baby bonus payments, family allowances, tax exemptions, child tax credits, maternity and paternity leave… – that can affect the timing of the first birth.

“Baby bonuses”, for instance, are simple and may seem a good option, but in fact they do not work as well as one could think: «There’s examples of monetary incentives, so giving money to people to have children» says Mills: «In Quebec, Canada, they did that, and there’s little evidence that it worked». It seems to increase the fertility «of those who already wanted to have children, or already had large families»; it did allow them to have them slightly faster, «but not necessarily more children».


Eleonora Voltolina also discusses with Melinda Mills the frontier of egg freezing – «It’s not the first thing most women in their twenties are thinking about», also because «it’s really expensive»: so «at the age you would want to engage in that technology you don’t have the money for it, and if it’s not covered by insurance, you’re not going to do it» – pro-natalist doctrine – «We’ve seen it in Hungry, in Italy, even in Sweden more recently: this movement is not new, and it continues to happen» – and certainty in the labor market as a key-factor to make young people feel comfortable with the idea of starting a family.

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