Should you have children? The true costs and benefits of parenthood

Whether or not you have children can have a big impact on your health and happiness, not to mention the planet – and some do regret their decisions. Here’s how the evidence can guide you

Society 27 February 2023

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YOU could say my enthusiasm for parenting peaked at the age of 4, when I was cast in the leading role in the school nativity. I took my responsibilities as Mary extremely seriously until, during a high tempo carol on the big night, I dropped the baby Jesus – a doll, just to be clear – on its head. I was never given a named part again.

I don’t know how many young girls play with dolls because they are fascinated with babies, or simply because it is what society suggests they should do. But I do know that, as a child, I had no interest. If baby Jesus had been a plastic dinosaur or an astronaut, I might have held my focus. However, while I didn’t grow up with strong aspirations to become a parent, it is a question that is increasingly on my mind. I am now married, some of my dearest friends are expecting babies and I turned 30 last year. With these life events comes societal expectations and pressure. But I am not sure what I want.

I am not alone. In the UK, 38 per cent of people aged 25 to 34 say they don’t know if they want children or say they don’t want kids now but might one day. Around the world, birth rates have plummeted – and among those who have children, a significant number regret it. To avoid becoming one of them, I want to set aside the emotional baggage and cultural expectations and find out whether the cold hard facts can steer me in the right direction.

I start with the big question, …

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