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Wednesday 21 March 2018

One in four couples fear they are too poor to start a family

FALLING household incomes and pressure on family finances have forced one in four couples in their 30s to consider putting off having a baby.

An extensive survey of how the nation's 30-somethings live their lives has revealed worrying levels of uncertainty and concern about the future.

A significant number of young people still believe they will be forced to emigrate; while trust in the traditional institutions of the State, including the Government, judiciary, trade unions and the church, is plummeting.

The Irish Independent/Today FM Behaviour and Attitudes survey shows a significant number of young people believe they cannot afford to have a baby.

Overall, some 22pc of people said their financial situation led them to question whether they could start a family – but this proportion was far higher for couples in their 30s, the time when many women have their first child.

The survey shows deep uncertainty about the prospect of growth in the economy. It comes just days after Nobel Laureate Joseph Stiglitz warned that Ireland would experience a "lost decade" as a result of the EU/IMF bailout which forced the taxpayer to pay billions of euro to bail out the banks.

But it also demonstrates how many believe basic life choices, such as starting a family, were beyond them – a worrying indicator of the national mood.

The survey also reveals:

* Almost one in four people aged 30-39 believes they are likely to emigrate over the next five years. More than a third (35pc) living in Dublin see no future in Ireland.

* An Garda Siochana is the most trusted group in society, with Irish banks and the Government at the lowest end of the scale.

* Just 1pc said Jesus Christ or Pope Francis were good role models.

* One in three is worried about negative equity, but the vast bulk of people – 84pc – still dream of owning their own home.

The findings on attitudes toward starting a family confirm data from the Central Statistics Office (CSO), which shows that the average age of a first-time mother has risen by more than three years over the past two decades.

In 1993, the average age was 26.3 years. Today, it stands at 29.9 years.

silhouette family on sunset coast
silhouette family on sunset coast

During the same period, the average age of women giving birth has risen from 29.8 years to 31.9 years.

More men in their 30s (26pc) compared with women (24pc) said their finances played a role in the decision to start a family.

Director of the National Women's Council of Ireland, Orla O'Connor, said the survey findings should serve as a wake-up call for the Government, which previously reduced child benefit, and cut maternity benefit to a maximum of €230 a week – from €262 – in last month's Budget.

The cuts come despite the fact that childcare costs are not falling – a full-time creche place costs between €715 and €1,260 per month per child.


More than half of all respondents (55pc) aged 20 to 49 years said the cost of childcare was a key issue for them.

This increased to 63pc for those aged between 30 and 39, and was particularly pronounced in Dublin.

Two-thirds of couples in lower-income categories said it was a key concern.

"It really puts facts on what we know from women already," Ms O'Connor said. "The cost of childcare is hugely prohibitive for them, and is in effect like paying a second mortgage."

The high cost of living in the capital also has an impact – a remarkably high proportion of people in their 30s (33pc) living in Dublin said they had put off having a child because of their financial situation. This compares with 22pc outside the city.

Ms O'Connor added: "It is very grim and is a situation we shouldn't be in.

"There's no fathers' leave, and we're sending a very clear signal that it is women's responsibility to make those decisions about career and childcare. It's extremely unequal and we need to put in place a supportive environment for couples – it's about affordable childcare, employers having family-friendly policies and fathers' leave."

The survey was conducted among 1,000 adults aged from 20 to 49 between October 18-24.

Paul Melia

Irish Independent

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