Woman’s ‘confronting’ chat with stranger highlights concerning Australian trend

A woman in her thirties has shone a light on the reality of many Aussies who say they don’t see themselves ever being parents. While it may not be surprising, it’s a controversial, and some say worrying trend, that is highlighted by the data.

According to the Australian Bureau of Statistics, Australian women are having fewer children, later in life — a trend that’s concerning demography experts and policy makers alike. According to some young Aussies who declare they plan on eschewing parenthood, their decision is often met with utter bewilderment from strangers.

Gold Coast woman Karina Irby this week revealed a stranger’s “confronting” response to her admission that she and her husband had no plans to have children. At 33, the business owner told a stranger assumed she “must have children.” But after correcting her, Irby “saw the blood drain out of her face,” she said.

“She just didn’t quite understand why,” Irby revealed in a video on TikTok. She said the interaction started as “friendly small talk” before the topic of kids came up after the woman “noticed” Irby was married.

The 33-year-old said the woman questioned “what are you going to do with your life?” without kids before claiming Irby would be “disappointed” with her decision later in life as there’ll be no one to “take care of her when she’s older.”

“I would never choose to have children just so I can be taken care of when I’m older,” Irby said in the clip.

In the early 2000s, then treasurer Peter Costello announced the “baby bonus” — a tax incentive for Australians to prioritize having children. It saw a rise in fertility in Australia to above 2.1 (babies per woman) — considered the “replacement rate” governments strive for.

However in 2020, Australia’s total fertility rate hit a low of 1.59, before rising slightly to 1.71 by 2021 — only to drop again to 1.63 the following year where it remains.

“In terms of where fertility is right now, it’s down – it’s really low for Australian history,” ABS demography director Phil Browning told the ABC recently.

If this trend persists, experts fear Australia will likely end up dealing with some big challenges — namely an aging population and an under-sourced workforce trying to support it.

The cost of living, housing shortages and more households with two parents in the workforce are said to be contributing to fewer Aussies having children. The freedom appeal, uncertainty and life balance are also reasons for women choosing to be childfree — issues raised by Irby and others on social media.

Research from the University of Canberra found it costs between $13,166 to $30,472 to raise one kid every year until adulthood—a total of $474,000 to $1,097,000 throughout their young life. What’s more, the arrival of the first child reduces household income between 16 and 18 per cent on average — double that for single-parent households, according to a study out of the University of Melbourne.

Laura Henshaw, a popular podcaster, also admitted she is unsure whether she wants kids – an admission she says attracts a ‘ridiculous’ response from strangers. Source: Instagram

Like Irby, fitness influencer Laura Henshaw agrees the question about wanting kids is “incredibly loaded” and recently admitted she gets asked it, or a variation of it, quite a lot. Speaking on the popular podcast, Kicpod, the 31-year-old admitted she’s unsure whether she wants kids with her husband — and said the response she often gets is “ridiculous.”

“The question is loaded, but the responses can be disheartening. I spoke with over 1000 women and those who have shared their feelings about not knowing if they want kids with friends and family have been met with ‘it’s just a phase… ( or) you’ll change your mind,’ which is just ridiculous,” she said

“These comments can make it feel like there’s something ‘wrong’ with us if we don’t innately want to have children. There’s so much shame in not knowing, when there shouldn’t be anything at all.”

Demographer Amanda Davies said she can’t see Australia’s fertility rate changing any time soon unless the government acts now.

“There’s certainly concern in the community that Australians aren’t having more children, and what that will mean for Australia and how it’s going to shape (the country) — these things can have an impact a generation later,” she said, according to the ABC.

Peter McDonald, from the University of Melbourne, called for better work and family policies to help “increase the fertility rate” by improving the well-being of parents.

“In coming years, we need to closely monitor the number of children that Australian women are having to ensure that we are not falling into a low fertility trap,” he said.

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