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“The expectation is that they will marry and have children,” explains Sue Fagalde Lick, author of Childless by Marriage.“If they don’t, everyone wants to know what’s wrong with them.” Mirren’s words couldn’t be timelier.“In the old days, a woman was defined as a person who had babies,” explains the author Fay Weldon.

The proportion of women without children has almost doubled since the Nineties, according to the Office for National Statistics, with one in five 45-year-olds yet to start a family. They would have siphoned too much time away from the writing of my precious books.” Over the years, choosing not to have children has become increasingly acceptable.

Overseas, one in five American women in their early forties is childless, rising to a third of women in the same age bracket in Germany and Japan. Centuries ago, failing to give birth to a male heir was grounds for divorce – Henry VIII left Catherine of Aragon, his wife of more than 20 years, for this reason.

Childlessness is on the rise – not just in Britain but worldwide.

Latest estimates suggest that 25 per cent of women in Britain of childbearing age will never have a baby.

In the opening scene of Bridget Jones’ Diary, the lecherous Uncle Geoffrey sidles up to Bridget at her mother’s turkey curry buffet and asks that dreaded question: when is she going to get “sprogged up”?

Last modified 30-May-2020 08:32