Factors shaping the timing of later entry into parenthood: narratives of choice and constraint

Jessica Datta*, Karen J. Maxwell, Kirstin R. Mitchell, Ruth Lewis, Kaye Wellings

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

2 Citations (Scopus)
40 Downloads (Pure)


Objective: This study explores the choices and constraints affecting timing of parenthood among those who became parents in their mid-thirties and early forties and how their fertility decisions were both affected by and negotiated within the interplay of different temporal frameworks. Background: Recent decades have seen a trend towards postponement of parenthood in many countries. Explanations for this delay include structural factors, changing social norms and the influence of the social meanings of age. The study assesses the influence of these factors on perceptions of the ‘right’ time to become parents. Method: The study draws on qualitative interviews with 23 women and men who participated in the third British National Survey of Sexual Attitudes and Lifestyles (Natsal-3) survey and had a first child when they were aged between 33 and 46. Results: Prerequisites for parenthood were seen as financial security, a suitable home and a steady relationship. Educational attainment and the achievement of personal and lifestyle goals affected the age at which parenthood was considered as were individual circumstances. Age was less influential than life stage as a criterion for readiness although, for women, chronological age was a decisive factor. Conclusions: Choice in shaping personal biographies was greater among participants than it would have been for previous generations but its consequences acted to constrain options regarding the timing of parenthood. Time taken to fulfil personal and professional ambitions, changing social norms regarding the appropriate age for parenthood as well as individual and structural factors resulted in less predictable life trajectories.

Original languageEnglish
Article number100700
JournalSocial Sciences and Humanities Open
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 7 Oct 2023


  • Fertility
  • Life course
  • Parenthood
  • Reproduction
  • Temporality

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Social Sciences (miscellaneous)
  • Decision Sciences (miscellaneous)
  • Psychology (miscellaneous)


Dive into the research topics of 'Factors shaping the timing of later entry into parenthood: narratives of choice and constraint'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this