The New Motherhood Gap



Not so long ago, motherhood was the great equaliser; something women experienced at roughly the same time. If you became a mother in the 1970s, there’s every chance that you and your friends had kids in your twenties. More than two-thirds of first-time mothers had children before they were 24, and just two per cent were aged over 35.

Today, the average age of first-time mothers has risen to 29.7, and the window in which women enter motherhood has widened to straddle a woman’s 20s, 30s, 40s and even beyond. In fact, today, Australian women are as likely to have their first child in their early 20s (14 per cent) as they are in their late 30s and beyond (17 per cent) – if they have children at all.

Parenting in isolation

What does this mean for women? Becoming a parent can be an isolating experience for mothers and fathers, and embarking upon parenthood on a totally different timeline to your social circle can exacerbate that. It means taking maternity leave without the scaffolding or support of friends, or trying to arrange catch-ups around conflicting nap times and schedules. For those without children or yet to have them, a gulf can emerge. It can be difficult to know how to help in those early, gruelling-meets-joyous days of early motherhood and frustrating to lose your social circle to motherhood.

“If you have a baby early on when you’re still establishing your sense of self and who you are in your career, there can be some sense that you grow with your motherhood. “If we have babies later on in our lives when we have a really solid sense of self and career, then there can be a crushing of that and a reorientation, figuring out, ‘How is this all going to fit? How do I rearrange my life?’”

– Dr Sophie Brock, sociologist specialising in motherhood studies

“The trope from women in focus groups is that ‘I’ve got to get through my education then get a job and prove myself and stay there long enough to get maternity leave [then] try and come back’."

– Rebecca Huntley, social researcher at 89 Degrees South

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Read more on the motherhood gap at PRIMER.


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