Figure 2.1 presents composite percentage rankings for the 98 responses to the ranking exercise. We defined an ambition as 'highly important' if it was first, second or third on their list.

Eighteen per cent (18) ranked the ambition 'to have children of my own' in the top three of their priorities. These responses were then analysed according to age and gender (Figure 2.2) and some differences were observed.

In School Years 6, 7 and 9 this ambition was more important for boys and the reverse was true in School Years 8, 10 and 11. In School Year 7 (11-12 years) boys ranked 'being in love with someone special' and 'having children of their own' significantly higher than did girls. In School Year 8

70 60 50

10 0

Key: I = Friends; 2 = Health; 3 = Love; 4 = Good job; 5 = Money; 6 = Children; 7 = House; 8 = Travel

Figure 2.1 Priorities for adulthood - life ambition rankings (%)

(12-13 years) girls ranked having good friends significantly higher than boys did whereas boys ranked owning their own home higher on their list of priorities than girls. In Year 9 (13-14 years), girls ranked 'having good friends' and 'travelling and seeing the world' significantly higher than did same age boys. Viewing the sample as a whole, girls placed a higher priority than boys on 'travelling and seeing the world'.

A template analysis of the 60 interview transcripts was undertaken (King 1998) and grouped according to whether or not respondents saw parenthood as important. This enabled more detailed exploration of key factors that might have influenced the rankings.

The importance or otherwise of parenthood

Although having children in adult life emerged as something that was ultimately very important to many participants, those who ranked it high were more likely to highlight one or more of the following reasons.

Carrying on the human race

Many young people liked the idea of having their own biological child and with it came a sense of'ownership':

1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 Life ambitions


School year

Figure 2.2 Gender and age differences in mean rating of ambition 'to have children of my own' from 2, low importance, to 7, high importance


School year

Figure 2.2 Gender and age differences in mean rating of ambition 'to have children of my own' from 2, low importance, to 7, high importance

.. .it's just something that is yours; you can give what you've got to them. (Girl, 16)

For some, this also meant keeping the family (and family name) going; for others this was perceived more widely as continuation of the human race:

[I want] to have children of my own.. .to carry on the family name. (Boy, 13)

[I want] to have children because it is important for me to be able to give something back to the world, that's what we are here for I think. (Girl, 16)

The rewards of loving relationships

Views about love came up frequently. Many saw a close link between a love relationship and having children:

.if I am in love with someone special then I can have children of my own. (Boy, 11)

You've got to be in love to have children so having children comes after love. (Girl, 15)

Some referred to reciprocal love - with a child being someone on whom love could be bestowed through nurturing and/or who could endow their parents with love:

I'd like to have my own children.. .because it would be somebody else to love. (Girl, 11)

It's just someone to love you for the rest of your life. (Girl, 16)

While some saw children as company and a way to prevent loneliness, others viewed them more positively as a route to happiness and feeling complete:

.to have children because that makes you happy as well I think. (Boy, 12)

To have children of my own because you feel important if you have children. Otherwise you might not do anything with your life. (Girl, 13)

Some were looking forward to being able to teach their children while others talked of anticipated pride in watching children grow and develop:

I'd like to have children and watch them grow up. (Boy, 11)

I want to bring them up and see what they turn out like. (Girl, 14)

The influence of others

Some were influenced in their desire for parenthood by positive accounts from others such as teachers and parents, but this was true only for females:

I want children of my own because like erm quite a few people have said to me that getting married and having children is the best thing in their life so I'd like to have children of my own.and like [teacher] was saying the other day that the best thing she did was giving birth and just stuff like that. People have just said things and it's made me want to have children when I'm older. (Girl, 11)

It was only females who said their desire for children sprang from experience with children within their own family:

I'd like to have children.. .because I think I've grown up with quite a big family and I'm used to like y'know having lots of children around. I've got a niece, she's three, so I look after her a lot. So I've grown used to y'know having children around so I'd like children of my own to bring up. (Girl, 14)

However, members of both sexes appeared influenced by family members advising them of their potential parenting qualities:

Right, to have my own children.. .yeah I'd like to have children. My mum said I would be a good dad. (Boy, 14)

Some had arrived at that conclusion for themselves:

There were gender differences in seeing babies as desirable in themselves. Some females wanted children because they 'just like babies', often referring to the fact that they are 'cute':

I'd like to have children of my own because I like babies and stuff. My mum's friend has just had a baby and she brought it over for us to have a look at it and she was really cute. (Girl, 11)

I don't want to go into labour or anything like that but I do want children because I think they are sweet. (Girl, 14)

Some struggled to find words to explain their strong desire to become parents:

I don't really know why I want to have children of my own but it is something that is important. I couldn't really think of the words to describe it, I just know I want them when I'm older. (Boy, 13)

Then to have children, oh, I can't wait just to have a little one of me or maybe a few of them. I don't know why, it's just to like run about with your kids. (Boy, 16)

Prioritizing other ambitions ahead of parenthood

For some the idea of having children of their own was seen either as not important or as potentially problematic. While the majority indicated that they would probably want children at some stage, there were some who seemed to consider it an unlikely choice. Further analysis from the interviews suggests a mixed picture of'meaning of parenthood' to this group.

I want to get my ambitions done first

Many indicated that the need to achieve other things in their own lives would take priority over parenthood, at least in early adulthood:

Yeah. I don't want children like straight away. I want to get my ambitions done first... I want to settle into and then get used to my like own life like cos I'll be going out into the big wide world. And I want to get used to all that and then settle down. (Girl, 14)

I would like to have a family of my own but I'd probably concentrate on getting my own life sorted out first, education wise, going to college and then if someone comes along, settle down and have children of my own. (Boy, 16)

Too young to think about it...

Some felt they were too young to think about parenthood yet and it appeared to have little meaning for them:

It would be nice to have children but you don't think about it as a major thing at this age. (Girl, 11)

.it will probably change, it is just what I think now [don't want children].. .when I get older though I will probably want to have children. (Boy, 12)

Others saw age as important in a different way - that having children was not a priority in their life ambitions because parenting was something that was only appropriate at certain ages:

It's something I never thought about when I was younger, I used to think I would want to be at least 35 before I got married but now I want to be young so I can enjoy it. My dad is older so he never got to go out and do stuff with me so I want to be young when I have kids so I get to go out and play football with them. (Boy, 16)

Some participants seemed unaware of age limitations on women's fertility status:

Well I'm not bothered because you can have them whenever you like.. .if you want to you can and if you don't you don't need to have them. (Girl, 11)

Importance of being in an adult relationship

For some in this group, being in a relationship was more of a priority than having children, though some linked this to parenthood by seeing relationship stability as a necessary precursor to having children:

I wouldn't want to have children at the beginning because my Mum and Dad always say to me you don't want to have children before you get settled down or anything, you have children when you've settled down with someone special. (Girl, 12)

Need for financial security

This group were more likely to talk about the potential financial burden of children and the need for financial security before contemplating parenthood:

You need to have your job and house and money first before you can do that [have children]. (Boy, 13)

No, I don't know [why having children is low down on list]. I think want to be able to give them a good life so I want to have plenty of money first so I can bring them up properly. (Girl, 15)

Lack of desire to have children...

Among those who did not appear to want to have children at all, some arrived at this decision because of prior experience with younger children, such as siblings and cousins:

I'm not that bothered about having children... I don't think I will have the patience. I've got a cousin that always comes every Monday and she drives me mad. (Girl, 11)

I don't know, I'll have to see. I'm not really good with children, well little children when I play with them and all that, they always seem to get on my nerves you see. (Boy, 14)

Participants across the age sample had clear thoughts about the burdens that children may impose:

I like children, little babies, but they are very noisy and tire you out. (Girl, 11)

But I reckon they [children] would be hassle so that is why it's last. Like you've got to stop working if you've got a full-time job, it just turns your life plan on its head. Like my sister, she had a good job and now she has had a baby she sits at home all day, that's her life, it's boring. I don't really want one because of that. (Boy, 15)

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