Contrary to what Ms Allsop says women’s fertility does not decline markedly when they reach 35 and even if it did encouraging them to freak out probably isn’t helpful.
Now there’s a good chance that sitting down to read this you are thinking: ‘Mark, in what possible way are you – a law student – qualified to be commenting on when women should be having children.’
Well the short answer is I’m not. And ideally the role of giving people advice on this would be left to Gynecologists and other people who actually know what they are talking about. However, it isn’t. So celebrity obsessed are we that we think the views on this matter we should be paying attention to belong to someone who presents property TV. This post is my attempt to check some of what – I think – is the misinformation she is spreading.
“Women are being let down by the system. We should speak honestly and frankly about fertility and the fact it falls off a cliff when you’re 35. We should talk openly about university and whether going when you’re young, when we live so much longer, is really the way forward.
“At the moment, women have 15 years to go to university, get their career on track, try and buy a home and have a baby. That is a hell of a lot to ask someone. As a passionate feminist, I feel we have not been honest enough with women about this issue.”
Allsopp is fully aware that there are people who will find her opinions grating, preaching as she is from a fabulous central London home. “But I don’t say it from a position of smugness. I only whistled in there by a miracle when it came to children. This isn’t something I’ve just decided in an arbitrary way. [Fertility] is the one thing we can’t change. Some of the greatest pain that I have seen among friends is the struggle to have a child. It wasn’t all people who couldn’t start early enough because they hadn’t met the right person.
“But there is a huge inequality, which is that women have this time pressure that men don’t have. And I think if you’re a man of 25 and you’re with a woman of 25, and you really love her, then you have a responsibility to say: ‘Let’s do it now.’ I was lucky with Ben that he absolutely wanted more children immediately and he was very committed to that. But men need to know, men need to be taught in school that there is a responsibility, that if you love someone, decide if you want to have a child with that person or not.”
The age 35 is often stated as some kind of cut off point for female fertility but the evidence to back this up is pretty weak. It comes from a study of 17th century French birth records which looked at birth rates among all women rather than among all women seeking to become pregnant. A more recent American study has suggested that a 35 year old who seeks to become pregnant has an 82% of succeeding within a year. And of the remaining 18% many would have had difficulty conceiving even had they been trying at younger age.
I’m not convinced that Allsop’s argument becomes any sounder when she moves away from biology. In this article for Salon on what she calls ‘Baby Fever’,
I’m not saying that biology doesn’t matter—of course it does, and I don’t think women should ignore or put off researching their window for fertility and doing their best to accommodate that. The sad reality is that women can’t wait as long as men do to be sure whether or not they want kids. But biology isn’t everything, and simply warning us that our fertile years are waning isn’t actually helping create healthy families; in fact, I’d say it’s adding to women’s stress and fear about this issue. Biology is one part of the equation, but gaining life experience, figuring out who we want to be and who we want for our partners in love and parenting, and what they want, is just as important.
I’m not quite sure how telling women to disregard their education and careers so they can spend more time obsessing about having children by the time they are 27 is going to make them better mothers – let alone happier people.
So in conclusion unless you are looking to buy a semi-detached house in Bedfordshire ignore Allsop and instead bear in mind this altogether simpler message: