'Pregnant at 25 – and I couldn't be happier'
As Generation Expectation struggles with work and money, how do they fare with relationships
At six months pregnant, 25-year-old Claire-Marie Murray is the very picture of Generation Expectation. Claire-Marie and husband Darryl, who live in Meath, are expecting their first child next February.
And despite being seven years younger than the average first-time mum on the maternity ward, Claire-Marie, originally from France, says she can't wait: "I always saw myself getting married and having kids quite young. For me, I was even thinking that 25 is a bit old to start having our first one."
In the first of our two-part special on life for twentysomethings in Ireland 2013, yesterday we met the young professionals striving to save themselves from the flat-screen television – to paraphrase Tánaiste Eamon Gilmore – without the safety net of a regular pay cheque, sick pay or pension.
Today we look at Generation Expectation's search for someone to share the remote control with.
With the unemployment rate at 13.2pc, new statistics show that one person now leaves Ireland every six minutes. But more than 100,000 have also returned here since 2008.
And while 80pc confessed to being happier abroad, according to one survey, 72pc said they wanted to settle down at home.
Here in Ireland, the average age for women getting married is 32 and giving birth 31.8, while the average age for men getting married is 34 – the highest ever for both genders.
As the eldest of eight children, it's perhaps no surprise that Claire-Marie's maternal instinct kicked in a bit earlier than her peers.
"When Darryl and I got married three years ago a lot of people said we were too young," recalls Claire-Marie, a client relationship manager.
"My take on that was always, 'Well, I was lucky to have found someone good for me early'. I moved to Ireland to study in 2006 and met Darryl when I was 18. Why would I waste the best years of my life going around when I can spend them with the man I love?
"From the first salary I had, I saved for my wedding, my house, babies from the very start," she says.
"At the moment, we're buying a house," adds Claire-Marie, who's also an aerial-hoop instructor. "Budget-wise things are a bit tight. "Younger people of my generation would probably spend their money differently. But it doesn't make me unhappy not to go to the cinema all the time because I get my house. It's good sacrifices, in a way."
With seemingly no hope of securing a pensionable job or owning their own home, for many of today's twentysomethings, marriage may offer a sense of security that's otherwise missing in their lives, suggests relationship counsellor and psychotherapist Lisa O'Hara: "Marriage is still as popular as it ever was. We are actually still quite traditional.
"There's something more around the need to feel safe. There's so much uncertainty now that we seek something stable, so that even when the rest of the world is uncertain, you have somebody else in your life to share that with. "Of course, there's no guarantee if you get married that you'll stay married, so it can also be a very false sense of security."
Clinical psychologist Meg Jay caused controversy recently with a TED talk that warned twentysomethings not to treat that period of their life as a "throwaway decade", and urged them to get on with things.
But Claire-Marie couldn't agree more: "I loved that talk. It's a complete lie that '30 is the new 20'. Society wants to make us believe that we'll be young forever, that you have a world of possibilities so it's fine if you don't make up your mind at 20.
"At the end of the day, biology hasn't adapted to new lifestyles, especially for women. At 30, you're not a teenager any more, and actually your window [for getting pregnant] is not that big."
Lisa O'Hara warned other twentysomethings not to confuse settling down for settling, however: "There are very clear pros and cons to both settling down earlier and later in life.
"But the most important thing is that the person you decide to do it with is a good match, and to make sure you are very clear about what you expect from them, and to expect that you'll change because the person you are at 30 may have little or no resemblance to the person you were 10 years earlier."
For now, Claire-Marie and husband Darryl are just adjusting to the idea of becoming parents. "It's strange to think we'll be responsible for an extra person. It's definitely a huge shift in your sense of responsibility.
"We're in for a mortgage now for 30 years. It's a heavy weight on our shoulders, but it's more a sense of accomplishment. Now I can enjoy the rest of my life, and the best is yet to come."