Statistics released this week show that women in New Zealand between the ages of 35 and 39 are having more babies than women aged 20 – 24 for the first time.  In fact, the average age of first time mothers in New Zealand is now one of the highest in the developed world.  The number of babies born in 2013 in New Zealand was also the lowest number since 2003, down 4% from 2012.

These trends are beginning to cause concern at a governmental level.  New Zealand’s advisory committee on reproductive technology is going so far as to advise the Ministry of Health to launch a public awareness campaign to make women more aware of the sharp decline in women’s fertility with age, and dispel the myth that IVF treatment is always an easy answer. 

Why are New Zealand women waiting so long to have children?  New Zealand lactation consultant Trudy Hart, comments that a lot of mothers don’t want to have babies earlier because it means giving up their lifestyle:

“They can enjoy a life, [they feel] their careers are much more important than being mothers and then they encounter infertility because they’re leaving it too late.”

A midwife in the Hawkes Bay also noted a similar trend, commenting that both career and finding the ‘perfect’ relationship meant many women waited so long that they were having to use IVF to get pregnant.  However, IVF is not always easy either.

Some have suggested that higher payments be made to compensate egg and sperm donors to encourage donations and stop desperate couples travelling overseas for fertility treatment, where eggs from young healthy mothers are more abundant.  Most are also careful to say that caution must be taken not to turn babies into a business.  However, it is hard to see how that is not the case if money is a factor in people being induced to donate genetic material which effectively results in giving their own son or daughter to someone else.

It certainly seems that career is the main obstacle for many would be mums through their twenties and into their early thirties.  The expectation of two good incomes has increasingly become the norm, and lifestyles have expanded accordingly.  House prices are also high in Auckland, New Zealand’s biggest city, and home ownership is something many couples want to achieve before they have children.  Nevertheless, putting off having children to your less fertile years is still a choice, so personally I don’t think it is the state’s role to spend more and more collective taxpayer money on IVF treatment cycles when women are not actually infertile, but have simply chosen to starting trying at an age at which fertility has naturally declined.

However, it is clear that as a society the balance between family and work is something that we need to address.  We also need to support people in their role as parents if we are to continue to provide a good family environment for future generations. 

Shannon Roberts

Shannon Roberts is co-editor of MercatorNet's blog on population issues, Demography is Destiny. While she has a background as a barrister, writing has been a life-long passion and she has contributed...