3 March 2021

Young men postpone starting a family: Fear losing their friends


Conceiving a child becomes more difficult with age. Nevertheless, a lot of young men postpone having their first child. New research shows that these men postpone starting a family because they want to do things in the ‘right order’ and, among other things, fear losing their friends in the process.

Young father and his child
(Photo: Colourbox)

When are you ready to start a family? It is one of the big questions in life for which there is no easy answer. But it is a biological fact that for both men and women conceiving a child becomes more difficult with age.

Nevertheless, the average age at which we have our first child is higher now than ever before. Since the 1980s, the average age of first-time mothers and fathers has increased throughout Scandinavia. At the same time, the share of men who are childless at the age of 50 has increased to around one in five. Why? We do not know.

Therefore, researchers from the University of Copenhagen have conducted an interview study to uncover the obstacles to starting a family experienced by young Danish and Swedish men.

‘The young men who participated in our interview study tell us that they want to do things in the right order: Get an education, find a permanent partner, get a steady job, build financial stability and a home and then have children. So a lot of things have to fall into place before they wish to start a family’, says Gritt Marie Hviid Malling, who is Research Assistant at the Department of Public Health and first-author of the study.

Do not talk to their friends about having children

The researchers believe it is important to uncover the reasons why young people postpone starting a family, because it means that more and more undergo fertility treatment and eventually become childless.

For the young men in the study is not just a matter of the order of things, though. They also seem to face a freedom barrier. At least several say that loss of their freedom is a main factor.

‘For some of the men, it is about being free to do what they want and not have to live a tight, scheduled life. For others it is about being free to live out their career dreams. Common to them all is that they postpone starting a family because they are not ready to give up that freedom’, says Gritt Marie Hviid Malling.

‘And some of the men in our study also seem to be afraid of losing their friends once they have children. Several of them say that they do not talk to their close friends about having children because they do not want to ruin their image as young people who will continue to have time to see their friends’, she explains.

Mature, but not ready

The researchers consider the young men’s reluctance to talk to their friends about having children as a logical problem, because a lot of them actually want to start a family at the same time as their friends. Therefore, the researchers hope the study can shed light on this difficult conversation, explains Professor MSO Lone Schmidt from the Department of Public Health, who is co-author of the study.

‘It is a bit of a paradox that the men in our study do not talk to their close friends about having children. Because they actually say that they would like to have children at the same time as their friends. But of course such timing is hard to achieve if they do not know their friends’ plans’, Lone Schmidt explains.

On the other hand, the young men in the study say that they do talk to their close family about having children, and that they wish to have the same close relationship with their own children that they had with their parents. They also want their future children to have time to get to know their grandparents. But they do not feel that their parents put pressure on them to hurry.

‘For a lot of the men in the study it is very much a question of feeling ready – a feeling they just do not have yet. A lot of them actually say that they are mature enough to start a family. Whether they are referring to biological or psychological maturity here is unclear, though. All we can say is that they feel mature, but not ready,’ says Lone Schmidt.

The researchers hope the results of the study will lead to family formation education, more knowledge of fertility, risk factors for reduced fertility and sex education in the Danish youth education programmes – to help future generations make well-informed decisions regarding family formation


Read the studies:
‘Doing it in the right order’: childless men’s intentions regarding family formation

Taking fertility for granted – a qualitative exploration of fertility awareness among young, childless men in Denmark and Sweden



Research Assistant Gritt Marie Hviid Malling
Phone: 29 66 09 56
Email: gmhm@sund.ku.dk

Professor MSO Lone Schmidt
Phone: 22 41 65 85
Email: lone.schmidt@sund.ku.dk

Press Officer Mathias Traczyk
Phone: 93 56 58 35
Email: mathias.traczyk@sund.ku.dk