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Making babies - co-operatively!

By Daniel Donahoo - posted Thursday, 24 February 2005

When it comes to children, it’s the two pink lines we’re looking for. Both women and men agree - we want kids. We might be lamenting our inability to find the right partner, but we are consistent in our aspiration to be parents.

As part of a study into fertility decision-making, over 3,000 fertile Australians have set the record straight. According to the Australian Institute of Family Studies recent report a large majority of us aged 20-39 want to have two or three children.

Even those who we expect to hold onto their freedom are interested in parenthood. Over 60 per cent of single men aged 20-29 definitely want children, while only 20 per cent rule out ever having children. Almost 90 per cent of married but childless men of the same age indicate they definitely want kids.


The news should make potential grandparents smile. We are a society that still values children and parenting. But while a majority of us want children, the birth rate is hovering around 1.7 children per couple, well below the 2 or 3 children most of us expect to have one day.

The report determines that the “proportions of childless respondents who expected to have children were clearly higher than ABS estimations of the proportion of women who remain childless”. So while we might want children, other factors may be conspiring against us.

Leslie Cannold addresses this issue in her new book, What, No Baby? She argues that many older childless women are victims of circumstance. She argues that many women intend to have children, but for a variety of reasons, simply run out of time.

While Cannold says men should take some of the blame. She argues a continued attack on one gender or the other for failed parental aspirations isn’t productive.

Overall, those interviewed indicated a deep concern about their ability to provide - economically and emotionally - for the children that they wanted to have. This factor may be a key to why many people end up with fewer children than they anticipated: we want to have families, but we’re not confident in our ability to provide the “best” environment for them.

It is concerning that our society is failing many would-be parents because it isn’t giving them the confidence to doggedly pursue parenthood. Many men and women struggle to find a loving, stable relationship, then fear they can’t provide one for their children.


One of our greatest social challenges is for men and women to help each other to find meaningful relationships, and then give each other the confidence to commit to them. It is through a combined effort that we have a better chance of fulfilling our fertility desires - and being the best parents we can be.

Men and women need to accept that we have a lot more in common than we admit. There is more value in a movement that promotes partnership and similarity above one emphasising division and difference. We can point the finger at men and say, “You have to grow up”. We can point our finger at women and say, “It’s either a baby or your career”. Or, men and women can support each other to make the necessary compromises.

We can share the load of domestic and paid work. We can accept our respective vulnerabilities. We can support each other to become more capable parents through engaging with the way we relate to children.

Tapping into men and women’s shared longing to have children we can produce intelligent and confident future generations. The reasons behind our aspirations tell us that life is about more than our job, our income and a nice house. We know this, and together men and women should be doing something to help us all get on with fulfilling our true aspirations.

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First published in the Herald Sun on February 17, 2005.

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About the Author

Journalist and columist with The Age, Sushi Das says he is ‘one of today’s young rebels’. Author and ethicist Leslie Cannold has referred to him as one of her ‘gorgeous men’.

Daniel Donahoo is fellow with OzProspect, a non-partisan, public policy think tank. He writes regularly for Australia's daily papers and consults on child and family issues. A father to two boys. Daniel's first book is called Idolising Children and explores our society’s obsession with childhood and youth. Updates on Daniel's work can be found at

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