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One in five women in their mid-40s is childless – compared to one in 10 of their mothers’ generation, new data show.

Some 19% of women born in 1967 did not have children by their 45th birthday, compared with 11% of women born in 1940.

The new 2012 data, from the Office for National Statistics (ONS), also reveal that women now have 1.91 children on average, compared to 2.36 among their mothers’ generation.

One in 10 women born in 1967 had four or more children, as did almost one in five women born in 1940.

Women born in 1982 have had slightly fewer children on average (1.02) by their 30th birthday than women born in 1967, who had 1.16 children by the same age.

The data also showed that 383,189 live births in 2012 occurred within marriage or a civil partnership, compared to 346,485 that were outside marriage.

Of this last group, 304,606 births were registered by both the mother and father.

All the figures cover England and Wales.


New research suggests that many women aged 35-45 who do not have children feel judged for not having had a baby.

Even if they plan to have a child, nearly 60% have at some point felt stigmatised for leaving it late.

About 40% are too embarrassed to talk about fertility, especially with family and friends, often the biggest source of pressure.

Susan Seenan from Infertility Network UK says this prevents some women from seeking help for fertility problems.

The organisation, which interviewed 500 women for its survey, said it was a common problem.

“Trying for a baby is a very personal thing which people don’t always want to talk about, but there is constant pressure from families saying ‘Isn’t it about time…?’,” said Ms Seenan.

“And if you don’t say anything, then friends and family assume you like your lifestyle too much to be bothered about children.”

If women are then diagnosed with fertility problems, the sense of isolation can become even worse, she says.

“Unfortunately, infertility is still a taboo subject. When women are labelled as infertile they feel a failure, because they have let themselves and their partner down.

“Their basic biological instinct to have a child is kicking in – and at that point everyone seems to have babies, but they can’t.”

Ms Seenan suggests that for women in this position, it is easier to talk about mental health problems than infertility problems, which is the reason behind the forthcoming National Infertility Awareness Week.

Hurtful

Neela Prabhu, 36, from London, knows how hard it is to spend years trying to become pregnant. She and her husband tried for over a year before seeking help, and that took its toll on them both.

“My mental state at the time wasn’t great and although some friends tried to be well-meaning, they kept saying unfunny things about our situation. They were trying to be helpful but sometimes it just hurt. All I could think about was having a baby.”

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The success of IVF depends on a woman’s age

Neela’s parents are from India and are very supportive, but she says her mother couldn’t relate to her problems, partly because it is an issue rarely discussed in Asian communities.

She says she wants this to change.

“I want there to be more openness. I want women to talk about infertility even if they are dying inside, and I want to give women the confidence to talk about the journey of having a child.

“But it just seems to be a taboo subject – why should this be?”

Neela finally had a daughter four years ago after IVF and has recently discovered she is pregnant again with her second baby, following two failed cycles of IVF last year. She has never found out the cause of her fertility problems despite numerous investigations.

Neela started trying for a baby at 27, but many women leave it much later and by doing so they decrease their chances of conceiving naturally and risk missing out on treatment under the NHS.

‘Fallback solution’

Current guidelines recommend that women up to 39 should be offered three full cycles of IVF and women aged between 40 and 42 should have access to one cycle.

But there are huge variations in criteria across the UK. In Oxford, for example, 35 is the limit for IVF treatment on the NHS.

Many couples try for years before seeking help and before they know it they are in their late 30s – and in some areas that’s too old.”

Tim Child Oxford Fertility Unit.

Tim Child, medical director at the Oxford Fertility Unit at the University of Oxford says people are leaving it too long before before going to see their GP about their fertility problems.

“When couples start talking about their fertility, that’s the point to speak to a healthcare professional.

“Good advice can be given early on about weight, diet, alcohol intake etc which could help, but many couples try for years before seeking help and before they know it they are in their late 30s – and in some areas that’s too old.”

He says that women wrongly assume that IVF is a good fallback solution when in fact the success rates are 40-50% for the under-35s, dropping to 20% for the under-40s and just 5% for women aged up to 43.

Neela hopes that people can be more understanding and supportive towards women “who can’t just fall off a log and get pregnant” so that people like her can feel more comfortable talking about it.

Instead of asking personal, intrusive questions, she wants people to be aware that one in seven heterosexual couples in the UK is affected by infertility.

Being judged has made Neela speak out.

“People used to ask me, ‘Don’t you want another child?’ It’s really nobody’s business but mine.”

National Infertility Awareness Week runs from 28 October.


Late nights and lax bedtime routines can blunt young children’s minds, research suggests.

The findings on sleep patterns and brain power come from a UK study of more than 11,000 seven-year-olds.

Youngsters who had no regular bedtime or who went to bed later than 21:00 had lower scores for reading and maths.

Lack of sleep may disrupt natural body rhythms and impair how well the brain learns new information say the study authors.

They gathered data on the children at the ages of three, five and then seven to find out how well they were doing with their learning and whether this might be related to their sleeping habits.

Erratic bedtimes were most common at the age of three, when around one in five of the children went to bed at varying times.

By the age of seven, more than half the children had a regular bedtime of between 19:30 and 20:30.

Overall, children who had never had regular bedtimes tended to fare worse than their peers in terms of test scores for reading, maths and spatial awareness.

The impact was more obvious throughout early childhood in girls than in boys and appeared to be cumulative.

The researchers, led by Prof Amanda Sacker from University College London, said it was possible that inconsistent bedtimes were a reflection of chaotic family settings and it was this, rather than disrupted sleep, that had an impact on cognitive performance in children.

“We tried to take these things into account,” said Prof Sacker.

The children with late and erratic bedtimes came from more socially disadvantaged backgrounds and were less likely to be read to each night and, generally, watched more TV – often on a set in their own bedroom.

After controlling for such factors, the link between poorer mental performance and lax bedtimes remained.

The findings are published in the Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health.

Prof Sacker said: “The take-home message is really that routines really do seem to be important for children.

“Establishing a good bedtime routine early in childhood is probably best, but it’s never too late.”

She said there was no evidence that putting children to bed much earlier than 19:30 added anything in terms of brain power.

Dr Robert Scott-Jupp of the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health said: “At first glance, this research might seem to suggest that less sleep makes children less intelligent, however, it is clearly more complicated than that.

“While it’s likely that social and biological brain development factors are inter-related in a complex way, in my opinion, for schoolchildren to perform their best, they should all, whatever their background, get a good night’s sleep.”


There is a gender gap when it comes to behavior and self-control in American children—one that doesn’t appear to exist in children in Asia.

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“We know from previous research that many Asian children outperform American children in academic achievement,” Megan McClelland says. “Increasingly, we are seeing that there also is a gap when it comes to their ability to control their behavior and persist with tasks.” (Credit: Dennis/Flickr)

In the United States, according to a new study, girls have higher levels of self-regulation than boys. In China, South Korea, and Taiwan, the study found no gender gap when researchers directly assessed the self-regulation of children ranging in ages from 3 to 6 years old.

Self-regulation is defined as children’s ability to control their behavior and impulses, follow directions, and persist in completing a task. The results of the study appear in the most recent issue of the journal Early Childhood Research Quarterly.

“These findings suggest that although we often expect girls to be more self-regulated than boys, this may not be the case for Asian children,” says Shannon Wanless, lead author of the study and assistant professor in the Department of Psychology in Education in the University of Pittsburgh’s School of Education.

Settings matter

Although there were no gender differences in self-regulation when the children were directly assessed using a variety of school-readiness tasks in a quiet space, teachers in Asia perceived girls as performing better on self-regulation even when they and boys actually performed equally when assessed overall.

“Teachers are rating children’s behavior in the classroom environment, which has a lot of distractions and is very stimulating,” Wanless says. “It is possible that boys in the Asian countries were able to self-regulate as well as girls when they were in a quiet space (the direct assessment), but were not able to regulate themselves as well in a bustling classroom environment (teacher ratings).”

Wanless and Megan McClelland, an associate professor in the College of Public Health and Human Sciences at Oregon State University, along with coauthors at US and Asian universities, conducted assessments of 814 children in the United States, China, South Korea, and Taiwan.

School readiness

Their study showed that US girls had significantly higher self-regulation than boys, but there were no significant gender differences in any Asian societies. In addition, for both genders, directly assessed and teacher-rated self-regulation were related to many aspects of school readiness in all societies for girls and boys.

“We know from previous research that many Asian children outperform American children in academic achievement,” McClelland says. “Increasingly, we are seeing that there also is a gap when it comes to their ability to control their behavior and persist with tasks.”

Wanless says this study paves the way for future research to explore why there is such a large gender gap in the United States and what can be learned from Asian schools.

“What can we learn from Asian cultural and teaching practices about how we can support girls and boys to be successful in school?” she says. “When we see differences in developmental patterns across countries it suggests that we might want to look at teaching and parenting practices in those countries and think about how they might apply in the United States.”

‘Simon Says’

The research builds on Wanless’s previous work, which has shown that teachers who are more emotionally supportive help students develop better self-regulation, and that self-regulation is related to readiness for school regardless of children’s socioeconomic status, gender, culture, or other potential risk factors in their lives.

The researchers emphasized the importance of working with children, regardless of gender or culture, on their self-regulation skills. Practicing games such as “Simon Says” and “Red Light, Green Light” is one way that parents can work with their children to help them learn how to follow instructions, persist in completing tasks, and listen carefully.

Wanless is currently working to help Pittsburgh preschool teachers support children’s social and self-regulatory skills and working with Pitt School of Education colleagues to facilitate preservice teachers’ awareness of these skills.

“In our study, self-regulation was good for academic achievement for boys and girls,” Wanless says. “That means this skill is important for both genders, and we should be supporting self-regulatory development for all children, especially boys.

Low self-regulation in preschool has been linked to difficulties in adulthood, so increased focus on supporting young boys’ development can have long-term positive benefits.”

The US Department of State Fulbright Student Scholarship, the Ryoichi Sasakawa Young Leaders Fellowship Fund, the Oregon Sports Lottery, the Kappa Omicron Nu Honor Society, the National Institute of Child and Human Development, and the National Science Foundation supported the study.

Source: University of Pittsburgh