The term ‘biological clock’ is a relatively familiar term that is applied to Western women who decide to delay child-bearing until they have established their careers. Once women reach their mid-thirties, how­ever, time is seen to be running out. Indeed, Crouch and Manderson (1993) comment that the issue of the timing of motherhood is now seen to be intensely problematic for women. McMahon’s (1995) analysis of Australian women’s decisions to become mothers illustrates how time, identity and motherhood are experienced in the lives of middle – and working-class women. McMahon illustrates how the middle-class women in her study frequently referred to the problem of the ‘biological clock’. However, McMahon’s analysis illustrates that the relationship of time and motherhood is not simply utilitarian in the sense of an appropriate biological point. Rather, the time of the ‘biological clock’ was intrinsically related to future identities. Thus, McMahon comments:

References to a biological clock were common [with regard to the middle-class women in the sample]. However, the data showed that what looked like a question of when to have children was often a question of whether to have them. Time did more than urge procrastinating or ambivalent women to make up their minds. It presented them with the possibility of a new and irrevocable identity – that of being permanently childless. (ibid.: 89, emphasis in original)

The question of when to have children was not simply to do with time as linearity or biology. Rather, it was also related to issues of identity and particularly adult identity. Motherhood is viewed as a key marker of adulthood. Becoming adult, however, can also be experienced in class – related ways. For example, Phoenix (1991) indicates that for young working-class women becoming a mother is considered to be a route to adulthood. However, McMahon illustrates that for middle-class women, they considered that they had to have achieved the status of adulthood before they could have children. In this way for middle-class women the decision of when to have children was related to a particular conception of the ‘right’ time. Thus:

The ‘right time’ was frequently presented in terms of maturational, social and economic achievements. These women typically presented themselves as psychologically and financially ready and as having achieved readiness in terms of their occupational careers and relationships with partners. . . Ironically, being a woman in itself did not represent adequate grounds for claiming motherhood. Even for those who had always wanted children, becoming a mother had the character of a personal accomplishment. Women’s adult achievements were seen as preconditions for readiness for children. That is, middle-class women had to become the sort of persons who could properly have children. (ibid.: 89-90)