Editor-At-Large: Women, you can have it all – just not at the same time

Having a baby at 40 is increasingly the only sensible option for a growing band of educated wealthy southerners
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The Independent Online

A happy Mother's Day to all my readers – and especially if you are one of the increasing group of middle-aged mothers. I bet you're knackered.

According to new statistics, the number of pregnant women over the age of 40 has doubled since 1991, and far fewer are opting for an abortion. The vast majority of these babies born to older mums are wanted, if not planned – a source of enormous pleasure, if also an exhausting experience.

Nowadays, we want to have it all: a career, a good time, great holidays and comfortable surroundings. The cost of these aspirations means that more women decide to postpone starting a family.

I think there's another factor too. Quite simply, we've become more selfish. Whereas our mothers' generation considered you were plain weird if you hadn't got engaged, married and pregnant by the time you were 25, our priorities are very different today. We're far pickier about our partners. (Where's the rush to get married? Better to live together and see how it pans out.)

And if there's no Mr Permanent in residence, then we'll still go ahead with a family (if that's what we want), no matter how tough financially and physically that might be.

Another reason for late motherhood is the inability of many British bosses to make mothers feel valued at work. If you've slogged your way to a decent job, all the evidence is that once you take time off to have a baby, you will never regain your position in the pyramid of power.

Wallies like Alan Sugar, who mouth off about not wanting to employ women with families in case they don't put their job first, don't help. Neanderthal man he may be, but Sir Alan is only articulating what a whole heap of (male) bosses in Britain today secretly think.

So it is not surprising more women are having kids later, and they, not their partners, are making the choice. (The majority of babies today are conceived out of marriage.)

There is still, though, one large group of young mothers: teenagers from low-income households. In spite of the Government spending £138m on various "initiatives" to reduce the rate of teenage pregnancy by 50 per cent by 2010, it has dropped only 5 per cent in the past six years. That's 800 babies in a year – so the policy has been a resounding flop.

In spite of all the advice, health education and help that are on offer, young girls with no partners and no homes of their own still think their lives will be complete only when they have produced their very own little bundle of joy.

If you have a well-paid job, it seems, the less likely you are to choose to have children at all, and the middle-aged women who do so predominantly come from wealthy areas such as London (three times as many as in the North-east). If you leave school with few qualifications, the chances of remaining childless by 40 are slim – only 16 per cent – compared with 28 per cent of women with degrees. So, for all the stupid talk about Madonna and Nicole Kidman being role models, the truth is far more complicated.

Having a baby after 40 is easy, if like these two stars you've got the income to pay for help, and the qualifications to return to a decent job when you want. For other middle-aged mums, you've made a brave decision and I salute your courage – especially as by the time your child is 20 the NHS may have run out of money to care for you. Recently, a 61-year-old woman was denied routine heart surgery by her local NHS Trust because she was "too old".

Art? Or comic capers for the monosyllabic?

Not a week passes without further revelations about the art commando Banksy. I've never met the guy, but what a successful PR campaign!

We are repeatedly told the bloke values his anonymity, but he pops up everywhere – from a charity auction in New York, to a gallery in Soho, to the wall of a building by my dry cleaners in Clerkenwell – spraying his instantly recognisable stencils. His work may have started on the street but it is now on the walls of the rich and famous, collected by Angelina Jolie and Keanu Reeves. Prints and paintings turn up in swanky sale rooms and fetch hundreds of thousands of pounds.

An increasing number of property owners are faced with the "dilemma" of whether to remove examples of his urban interventions from their walls and flog it. Now the Swiss embassy in London reveals that its underground car park contains a whole batch of Banksy's work, painted in 2001.

I own a witty Banksy image of a monkey sitting by a dirt track wearing a cardboard sign scrawled "I'm a celebrity get me out of here". It was a present after my appearance on the reality TV show. But is it art?

Banksy is about as politically subversive as my Auntie Vi. He makes no profound statements about the world we live in. On his website is an image saying "I can't believe you morons actually buy this shit".

Damien Hirst's work confronts important fundamentals about life and mortality. Banksy specialises in comic capers for people who can't do multi-syllable words or complex ideas. The perfect acquisitions for hedge-fund kids and film stars who want to be seen to "care".

Why a casino will never be super

Plans for a super-casino in Manchester were ditched last week, but the Government is determined to press ahead with 16 other casinos, open 18 hours a day with 150 slot machines offering prizes of £4,000.

With credit-card debt at an all-time high, thousands of people facing increased mortgage payments and with the news that a large number of people are skimping on their food bills to pay these debts (including astronomical fuel charges), building temples where you can pour money into slot machines and increase personal debt even further is utter folly.

It's also socially irresponsible. Look at two of the places in the North deemed to "need" casinos – Middlesbrough and Hull. Middlesbrough town centre is run down, dominated by the new football stadium. It already has a problem with anti-social behaviour as a result of binge drinking and drug taking. And who goes to Hull for a holiday but the less well-off? The Deep aquarium and Wilberforce House Museum might be excellent visitor attractions, but what these places need are real incentives to attract employers with real jobs, not casinos that will employ a few cleaners.

All that will happen is that more ordinary people will get further into debt. Middlesbrough and Hull are hardly going to attract millionaires and tourists, are they?