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UK: Austerity & Fertility

Study: Social reproduction, labour and austerity: Carrying the future

In the wake of austerity measures implemented in the UK since 2010, young adults in the North East of England—a region with some of the lowest fertility rates—are facing stark challenges in accessing housing, employment, and social welfare. These difficulties have profound implications for their reproductive decisions and futures.

Why it Matters

  • Austerity policies have intensified existing social inequalities, significantly shaping young adults’ life choices.
  • The emotional, physical, and laborious aspects of managing reproductive decisions under austerity are underexplored areas that need attention.

Conceptual Framework - ‘Carrying'

'Carrying’ is introduced as a conceptual framework to understand the multifaceted burdens of reproductive decision-making under austerity. It encompasses emotional, physical, and laborious aspects of social reproduction.

Three Facets of Carrying Under Austerity:

  1. Carrying Possibilities: Individuals navigate multiple potential reproductive futures against a backdrop of economic constraints and familial responsibilities.
  2. Carrying Bodies: The physical and emotional aspects of pregnancy or the decision not to conceive, influenced by financial stability and support systems.
  3. Carrying Instabilities: Economic uncertainties, exacerbated by austerity, heavily influence decisions about family planning.

Austerity’s Impact in Numbers

  • Between 2010 and 2015, austerity cuts in the UK included £6.3bn from social care, £1bn from health, and £13bn from education.
  • Welfare and benefit cuts are estimated to total £37bn a year by 2020.

Research Insights

Research-based on 12 in-depth Oral History and Future interviews highlights the lived experiences of individuals grappling with reproductive decisions in an austere environment.

Carrying Possibilities:

  • Participants juggle various potential futures, such as the desire to have children, against realities like housing insecurity and employment challenges.
  • Decisions intertwine with broader socio-material conditions, including class differences and long-term policies.

Carrying Bodies:

  • Physical and emotional experiences of pregnancy, or the decision to avoid it, are laden with concerns about affordability and familial support.
  • Concerns about body changes, relationship dynamics, and the well-being of potential children play a significant role.

Carrying Instabilities:

  • Financial instabilities, such as indebtedness and insecure employment, create hesitancy in committing to parenthood.
  • The desire for stability – in housing, income, and relationships – is a recurring theme in reproductive planning.

Intersectional Inequalities:

  • The interplay of class, race, and gender influences expectations and experiences around reproduction.
  • Austerity reinforces these socio-economic inequalities, which seep into everyday life, affecting decisions around housing, welfare, and employment.

Emotional Labour and Relational Work:

  • The concept of emotional labour, defined by Arlie Hochschild, is crucial in understanding the internalization and management of emotions related to reproductive decisions.
  • Relational work, involving the negotiation of interpersonal relations, is also a significant aspect of carrying under austerity.

The Societal and Personal Toll:

  • Reproductive choices are not merely personal decisions but are deeply influenced by broader political-economic conditions.
  • The personal toll of carrying under austerity includes emotional stress, physical strain, and the labor of managing multiple uncertainties.

Looking Forward:

  • The study underscores the importance of considering the socio-economic backdrop in understanding reproductive choices and futures.
  • The findings suggest that austerity’s impact on reproductive choices is an area ripe for further exploration, particularly in terms of policy implications.


This detailed examination reveals that reproductive decisions in the UK, particularly in austerity-stricken regions like the North East of England, are intricately linked to broader socio-economic conditions. Understanding the multifaceted concept of ‘carrying’ offers valuable insights into the complex interplay between personal choices and public policies. As austerity continues to shape these landscapes, the ramifications for reproductive futures and societal inequalities become increasingly significant, warranting continued attention and research.