Millennials Are Not "Running Out of Time" to Have Kids
Research runs counter to the annoying questions you may have to answer.
Posted September 17, 2019 | Reviewed by Abigail Fagan
Guest post by Cristina Schreil.
It’s no secret that older generations reached certain family-planning milestones much earlier than Millennials. For instance, getting married and having babies in one’s twenties was once seen as proper timing.
That’s not the case with Millennials. Researchers at the Urban Institute found that “between 2007 and 2012 … birth rates among women in their twenties declined more than 15 percent.” As I noted in my last post on Millennials, we are doing things later.
According to the Pew Research Center, “In 1965, the typical American woman first married at age 21 and the typical man wed at 23. By 2017, those figures climbed to 27 for women and 29.5 for men … When asked the reasons they have not gotten married, 29% say they are not financially prepared, while 26% say they have not found someone who has the qualities they are looking for; an additional 26% say they are too young and not ready to settle down.”
This isn’t to say that none of my peers are having children in their twenties. However, as a generation, Millennials are following a family-planning timeline that often alarms their parents and grandparents, who were used to equating certain milestones with specific (and younger) ages. And that can lead to invasive-seeming questions.
"When are you going to have kids?"
Friends tell me that they started facing this question in their early twenties. In my sphere, even the most progressive people I know can’t help but ask me about motherhood; some seem to just wonder, but others ask out of plain concern over health risks for older mothers.
Despite how Millennials around the country aren’t reproducing along the same timelines as their parents’ and grandparents’ generations, some feel great pressure to start channeling their energies into starting families. Or, many simply aren’t sure how to counter probing questions without dismissing their older relatives’ concerns.
Thankfully, several recent studies are here to help shore up your confidence in your timeline. Many suggest it’s viable for women to wait until their mid-to-late thirties to become moms, largely because offspring benefit from moms who are better educated and more established.
5 Responses to Baby Inquiries
1. When someone says: “Have babies now, make money later.”
You can say: “I may actually earn more if I wait a few years.”
Researchers examined how the age when women become mothers may impact their lifetime earnings. Using a sample of some 1.6 million Danish women aged 25 to 60, they found that women who do not want to sacrifice career income losses are better off having a first child after age 30. Higher labor income was clear for both college and non-college women. Of this sample, the women who became moms before age 25 actually lost between two and two-and-a-half years of income.
Mothers who are considered “older” have attested to the financial benefits of starting families later: They’re more likely to have saved money from being childless in the workforce longer and are likely to have made stronger strides up the career ladder, increasing their earning potential throughout the rest of their careers. They also have the luxury of not needing to “prove themselves” while juggling the demands of newborns and young children.
2. When someone says: “You won’t be around to see your kids grow up.”
You can say: “Older mothers may have greater longevity.”
One study published in Menopause Journal titled, “Extended maternal age at birth of last child and women’s longevity in the Long Life Family Study,” reported that women who birthed their last child after they were 33 saw a “significant association for older maternal age,” and had greater odds of living to 95.
Previous findings, from The New England Centenarian Study, found that women who gave birth after age 40 “were four times more likely to live to 100 or longer than were women who gave birth at younger ages.”
While many, many factors affect longevity, these studies present an attractive possible association with waiting. If you’re a twenty-something who is distressed at the prospect of not living to see your child’s wedding, or meeting your grandchildren, these studies counter that narrative.
3. When someone says: “It’s so much harder to manage children when you are older.”
You can say: “Studies show that older mothers may have less trouble.”
Older mothers of preschoolers, for example, fare well in most aspects of parenting. A British study, “The parenting of preschool children by older mothers in the United Kingdom,” found that there might be specific upsides for mature moms.
The researchers wrote: “Positive and responsive parenting generally increased with maternal age up to about age 40 after which it plateaued.” Thus overall, older motherhood “should not present problems in relation to parenting during the preschool years.”
Waiting to have babies may also boost your brainpower, as sex hormones may influence cognitive performance. A research team at the University of Southern California found that women who birthed their last baby after they were 35 years old have “better brainpower after menopause.” The study was published in the American Journal of Geriatrics, and lead researcher Roksana Karim noted it “provides strong evidence that there is a positive association between later age at last pregnancy and late-life cognition.” There were two other instances that seemed to bolster brain function and prevented memory loss: if the women began their menstrual cycles before they were 13 or have used hormonal contraceptives for more than 10 years.
4. When someone says: “Kids born to older moms are at a disadvantage.”
You can say: “Children born to older mothers perform well academically.”
One research team looked at Swedish data to see how factors like ongoing advances in public health may counterbalance any disadvantages of having a child at an older age. Their study, “Advanced Maternal Age and Offspring Outcomes,” found that waiting to have children until 40 years of age “is associated with positive long-term outcomes for children” and they also found no substantive disadvantages in adulthood for children born to later-in-life moms—even for mothers past age 45.
Looking at siblings, they reported that those born when the mother was older were more likely to perform better on standardized tests, stay in the educational system longer, and more likely to go to college.
Other studies support those findings: “The Relationship Between Maternal Education and Children’s Academic Outcomes,” reported in the Journal of Marriage and Family conducted by researchers at New York University, found that when older mothers obtain advanced education, their children have strong language skills because they’re likely to use a higher level of vocabulary with their children. These children benefit in several ways from their mothers’ education and are more likely to excel on cognitive tests, achievement tests, the SATs, and again, are more likely to go to college.
Alice Goisis examined children’s cognitive performance with three different groups of mothers in England and confirmed what previous research has revealed: In relation to children of younger mothers, those born to older mothers do better on cognitive ability tests. Goisis attributes this result to older mothers’ likely advanced education and being more established in the jobs or professions.
5. When someone says: “If you wait too long, you’ll miss your chance.”
You can say: “Not necessarily.”
Being an older first-time mother is more than a trend limited to Hollywood elite like Amal Clooney who gave birth at 39 or Mariah Carey at age 42. Roughly 10 years ago in an article titled “The Typical Modern Mother: There Isn’t One,” the Pew Research Center wrote: “Today’s mothers of newborns are more likely than their counterparts two decades earlier to be ages 35 and older.”
A 2018 Pew study, “They’re Waiting Longer…” points out women ages 40-44 who have never been married have had a baby. Pew reassures those who are bombarded with questions that although women are having babies later, “Women are more likely now to become mothers than they were a decade ago.”
Nonetheless, parents will bug you, friends will urge you, and strangers will comment. What’s the most outrageous, nosey or irksome prodding or questions you have been asked?
Barclay, K. and Myrskyla, M. (2016). “Advanced Maternal Age and Offspring Outcomes: Reproductive Aging and Counterbalancing Period Trends.” Population and Development Review, doi: 10.1111/j.1728-4457.2016.00105.x
Barnes, Jacqueline, Julian Gardiner, Alastair Sutcliffe, and Edward Melhuish. (2014). “The parenting of preschool children by older mothers in the United Kingdom.” European Journal of Developmental Psychology : Volume 11: Issue 4, pp. 397-419.
Geiger, A.W., Gretchen Livingston and Kristen Bialik. (2019). “6 facts about U.S. moms.” Pew Research Center: May 8.
Goisis, Alice, Daniel C. Schneider, and Mikko Myrskyl. (2017). “The reversing association between advanced maternal age and child cognitive ability: evidence from three UK birth cohorts.” International Journal of Epidemiology, DOI: 10.1093/ije/dyw354
Harding, Jessica F., Pamela A. Morris, and Diane Hughes. (2015). “The Relationship Between Maternal Education and Children’s Academic Outcomes: A Theoretical Framework.” Journal of Marriage and Family, February, pp. 60-75.
Karim, R., Dang, H., Henderson VW, Hodis, HN, St. John J., Brinton, RD, and Mack, WJ. (2016). “Effect of Reproductive History and Exogenous Hormone Use on Cognitive Function in Mid- and Late Life.” Journal of the American Geriatric Society. Dec;64(12):2448-2456. doi: 10.1111/jgs.14658.
Livingston, Gretchen (2018). “They’re Waiting Longer, but U.S. Women Today More Likely to Have Children Than a Decade Ago” Pew Research Center.
Mac Dougall, K., Y. Beyene, and R.D. Nachtigall. (2012). “‘Inconvenient Biology:’ Advantages and Disadvantages of First-time Parenting after Age 40 Using in Vitro Fertilization.” Human Reproduction, Feb. 14, 2012, Vol. 27 No.4: 1058-065.
Pew Research Center. (2010). “The Typical Modern Mother: There Isn’t One.” June 11.