Birth rates in a Britain have declined in the past fifty years due to the trends that have been set in society. Between 1901 to 2010, the birth rate declined from 29 per thousand to 13 per thousand. The birth rate is the number of births per thousand of population per year. Factors such as secularisation, contraception, having a geographically mobile workforce, education being compulsory since 1880, economic burden (changes), the changing values of women in society and the changing position of women such as having children at a later age, and the declining birth rate have affected the birth rates in Britain over the past fifty years.
One of the factors that have affected the decline of birth rates is the increased use of contraception. The secularisation of society is one of the main reasons that the use of contraception has increased. Recently, contraception has become much more effective for women than fifty years ago. The development of contraception in the past century has caused it to be more effective, safer and cheaper.
The use of contraception has changed from disapproval to acceptance in the past century. The use of contraception was shunned in the last century and was disapproved by society, however, the view of society shifted as they have started accepting the notion of contraception. This could be a reason for the reduction of family size in the UK as couples can now make the decision whether they want to have children or not and how many children they want to have. The secularisation of society has also lead to the decrease in religious activity and the acceptance of cohabitation and abortion. Morgan (2007) argues that the decline in birth rates is due a rise in cohabitation as cohabiting couples often have fewer children than married couples. This piece of research is fairly new and can still be applied to modern situations, therefore, this point is not outdated. Another reason that has affected the decline of birth rates is the development of a geographically mobile workforce. Modern societies generally require a geographically mobile workforce. In the last century, workers were more inclined to stay with their family due to the privatization of the nuclear family. However, in modern-day society, nuclear families often encourage the children of the family to go find work elsewhere, therefore, a workforce that can move elsewhere for work or a promotion is needed. The children may leave the household as they need to be geographically mobile therefore this could shift the nuclear family into a smaller sized nuclear family. A factor that has affected birth rates in the United Kingdom is the compulsory education provided for children since 1880. Children were banned from employment in the 19th century; this is because children needed to understand the key skills in life and not to be exploited. Children were no longer an economic asset that could add to the income of the family since they had started work from an early age. Parents would only support their child until he/she could earn a living, roughly around 7/8 years old. However, in contemporary society parents often support their children well into their 20’s. This puts couples off from having children. With education becoming compulsory, society has become more child-centred. Most likely, children will be the centre of the family. Parents are expected to spend more money in the upbringing of the child and more time than ever engaged with their children. Couples focus better when having one or two children; therefore, the decline in family size and birth rates can be influenced by education.The rising costs of having children have caused a decline in birth rates; the money needed to raise a child up to the age of 21 has increased rapidly. The cost may include things like costs for education, school trips, university costs, internet connection, train and bus fares etc. Over the last century, the cost of raising a child has increased causing couples to have fewer children. A research carried out in 2011 by Opinion Matters for insurance company suggested that the average size of a family is declining due to the rising costs of bringing up the child. In 1972, the number of cohabiting couples who have one child was 16% and the number today is 20%. This shows a 4% increase due to the rising costs of bringing up a child. The couples were asked if they would have a second child, 58% of all cohabiting couples said that money’ was the main issue. Statistics show that the average cost of raising a child from birth until the age of 21 of Ј271,000. Hirsch (2014) argues that the estimated cost of raising a child up until the age of 18 is Ј154,000. Other factors such as education being made compulsory alongside this factor forces couples to have fewer children. The research is relatively recent therefore, it can still be applied to modern society. The estimates made by Hirsch (2014) happen to be true and the figure of raising a child is increasing exponentially. However, this piece of research was carried out only on cohabiting couples and married couples were excluded from the research. A factor that contributes to the declining birth rates could be the changing position of women in society. For example, women can now have children at a much later age than in the last century. Women were expected to have children, however, in modern-day Britain there happens to be less of an expectation on women to have children. Women now have an equal opportunity when it comes to fertility due to the feminist movement. Women formed legal equality with men and started to outperform boys at school since there was less of an expectation on them as opposed to fifty years ago. Women make up half the workforce which has led to the change in attitude in family life. Fifty years ago, men were seen as the instrumental role, however, in modern society women can also become the instrumental role instead of the expressive role. The decreasing expectations of women to have children has severely affected the declining birth rates and may be one of the major factors for the decline in family size and birth rates. Sharpe (1976, 1994) argues that the priorities of girls have changed from love, marriage, husbands, children, jobs and careers, more or less in that order’ in 1976 to job, career, and being able to support themselves’ in 1994. In 18 years, the attitudes of women had shifted as women were not expected to take care of their families and they were expected to assume the expressive role in the family. The average age for a woman to have her first child is in her 30s, whereas, fifty years ago it was in her 20s. Even though this research was carried out more than forty years ago, the contrast between the past and the present is existent within society. However, feminists argue that even though women can choose to have children at a later age, when children do enter the family the majority of the childcare and housework will be taken care of by the woman and that she will automatically assume the expressive role in the family. This means that the women will suffer the consequences of marriage.The declining birth rates and family sizes could be due to couples becoming much more hesitant when it comes to having children. The changing values of people are influenced by society and society believes that parenthood involves heavy pressure on couples. Parenthood causes couples to pledge to lifelong commitments. This causes couples to adhere to strict rules. Couples believe that parenthood takes away their freedom and independence. Other rules must be followed, like the sacrifices made to the family income. Fifty years ago, a child was seen as a gift and people wanted to have children; this increased the birth rates. However, with the changing values of society, the number of couples who want to have children are decreasing. Also, a quarter of women are expected to remain childless. Post-modernists believe that the decline in traditional norms and value such as religion is due to the secularisation of society. Since society has been secularised, the use of contraception and abortion have been accepted and are no longer stigmatised. Due to the growing individualisation, people have begun putting their own needs first and they have begun to realise that not choosing to have children is also accepted by society. Fifty years ago, people would have been called selfish’ for considering their own needs first but due to the secularisation of society people are encouraged to voice their true opinions. However, a criticism of the post-modernist perspective is that many people do not choose to have children. Moreover, many people are forced into living in an uncertain lifestyle where children may not be a possibility. Children may not be affordable for some people. This may be due to the changes in the economy as fewer jobs are available and more people want to get into lucrative markets. In conclusion, all factors listed above show the decline in family size and birth rates. However, over the past few years, there has been a recent increase in birth rates. Over the last 15 years, sociologists have witnessed an average increase of two babies per woman. This may be due to net migration. Increasing immigration ” immigrant couples are more likely to have more children than those who are native to the country. Immigrant mothers account for more than 20% of the recent increase in birth rates. There has also been a decline in child poverty. With the use of benefits and other welfare payments, poorer couples find it easier to have more children as the state provides for the child and not the parents. The advances in technology could be a reason for the increase in family size and birth rates. The increase in the usage of technological innovation such as IVF (In-Vitro Fertilisation) and the freezing of eggs means that women can delay having children well into their 40’s.