Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Older Parenthood: Upending American Society?

I was at a meeting recently with several female physicians and young therapists. We were discussing a patient who was 45 years old and had a six year old son. One of the therapists commented:

"So that means she was.... 39 when she had a baby. That's so.... old!"

Crickets chirped. Almost every physician in that room had children at 39 or older.

On Facebook this morning, one of my friends posted an article about how families are having children at older ages and the consequences of this decision.

In case you don't to read the article, these are its main points:

1) The chances of learning disabilities as well as certain other problems such as schizophrenia and autism increase severalfold in older parents.

2) Women who have their first child at an older age are less likely to have the number of children they wanted ten years earlier.

3) Reproduction becomes more difficult and costly as you age.

4) Having children at an older age means having older grandparents for your kids.

5) Having children at an older age means dying when your kids are younger or at least being more infirm for most of their adulthood.

At the same time, the article also cites that children of older parents grow up in wealthier households, lead more stable lives, and do better in school.

Ultimately, it's a very personal decision, but I know when it comes to motherhood, we are all wracked with guilt about our decisions, and one of the earliest decisions you have as a mother is when to have babies.


  1. It is a personal decision, but I don't think it is *just* a personal decision. Things like family leave and the availability of reliable, affordable, good child care are public policy issues that influence family life. And they can influence when and how many kids people have. The example of France is used in the article - good care & leave policies and one of the highest rates of childbearing in Western Europe.

    And the consequences of this personal decison also impact society - having more people with learning disabilities & mental illness, left without parental support at a younger age and the aging of older parents who don't have settled kids to care for them.

    It may chafe against our notion of personal freedom but I think these factors bear considering when thinking about family planning. In the 70s and 80s women delayed childbearing because it was easier to get ahead professionally without the burden of a family. We changed our personal lives instead of making society change for us. I think it is time for us to implement policies that make it easier for younger mothers & fathers so the choice is an actual one, not a default decision becuase the alternative is too daunting.


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