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Debate: Are children better off with older mothers?

Birth Rates A new report released by the National Center for Health Statistics finds that birth rates fell 4% from 2007 to 2009. Our health blog Booster Shots lists some of the most interesting facts including: "Birth rates fell for all women except those 40 and older." Which raises an important question: As society changes, are children better off with older mothers?

In January, Elizabeth Gregory, author of "Ready: Why Women Are Embracing the New Later Motherhood" contributed an Op-Ed article on the subject, in which she cheered for "tighter belts, later bumps."

Holding off on kids, women have discovered, provides a shadow benefits system in a nation whose policies aren't very family friendly. Waiting to have children until we've finished our educations and established ourselves at work translates into higher wages long-term (one study found a 3% wage boost per year of delay, and others have found even greater returns). Gaining job experience and your employer's trust pays off in more of the flexibility that helps families thrive. In addition, kids benefit from increased maternal education and clout. And, handily, the later your age at first birth, the longer you're likely to live (higher wages buy better healthcare), so chances are good you'll see your kids grow up. [...]

Delaying children has allowed a "trickle up" of women into policy-making roles in business and government. As a result, for the first time in history, women are getting a say in the shaping of the nation's rules and priorities. Women's presence in the business world has led to more family-friendly work options. Once a critical mass of female policymakers who support families is achieved, they should make it easier for all parents, at whatever age they start their families, to combine raising a family with fair wages and a career. The women delaying now could make it less necessary for women to delay in years to come. But we're not there yet.

Monica B. Morris, author of "Last-Chance Children: Growing Up with Older Parents," took another view. In a rebuttal to Gregory's article, she argued:  

Among the perceived disadvantages were that their parents were less energetic than younger parents and less able to be physically active with the children. These parents were likely to be afflicted with age-related problems when their children were not yet middle-aged. Older fathers were especially more likely to die when their offspring were in their teens or even younger.

Late parenting brings a double generation gap. Older parents are farther removed from feeling young and newly aware of one's sexuality. Less important, perhaps, but real to children, is their embarrassment that their parents are often mistaken for their grandparents. Children born to older parents are more likely to be in two-generation families rather than those that have grandparents or great-grandparents. This means that many children will not have grandparents for long, if at all. [...]

My research indicates that the late-born children who felt most happy as children -- who never thought about their parents' ages -- were those whose parents spent a lot of time with them, even if they couldn't roll around on the floor with them. Mothers who have attained "policy-making roles in business and government" will certainly need support, other than financial, to fulfill this precious need.

Now here's another stat to mull over: Fewer families are having more than two children.

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-- Alexandra Le Tellier

Photo credit: Myung J. Chun / Los Angeles Times

 

Comments () | Archives (13)

The comments to this entry are closed.

hadmykidsyoung

I think children do much, much better when parents have the energy and time for them, and it is a fact that YOUNGER parents (20s-early 30s) have more of those qualities than those in their 40s and older. The 40s and 50s are the time to become grandparents. That's what nature intended.

SmartAssProducts.com

The single best thing I ever did was have my daughter when I was a teenager. (Turns out, had I waited, I'd have no children as disease nearly killed me and cost me my reproductive organs at 21.) I do NOT understand the trend of having children when you're in your 40s, 50s, 60s and BEYOND, as women (and, of course, men) are doing these days. I just don't get it!

What child would want parents in their 70s or 80s when they're in high school or college? I think it's selfish and shortsighted for people to wait until they're so old to have kids, knowing that their kids are going to lose their parents while they are still young. And what about grandparents? Waiting so long most likely means all the grandparents are dead. I don't know...just doesn't seem smart to me, although I do understand the 'better financial security' part of it.

Lawrence W

We had our first in our late 30's. I will have to admit that physically it is more taxing on me, but then again I don't have financial stress taxing me. If we dropped out of college because we had him early on, we likely would be struggling most of our lives like most young parents and working low paying jobs. We don't worry about bills and we can each work 40 hour work weeks with telecommuting privileges, since we both have worked our way up in our respective careers. He has a college fund and can go to any college he wants, plus gets to travel and see the world. Our only worry is spoiling our child, which is far better than worrying about not being able to provide for him.

Brenda

Absolutely older parents are better parents especially after 30. I tried it both ways and I was much better at 38 than 22. I was a lousy parent when I was young simply because there was a lot I did not enjoy or know how to enjoy as I was often into the physical part of concern and worry and do do do. What good is the energy when you are busy on the physical and not the emotional concern. All I did was run from one place to another.

I was far more relaxed later on and had the time to concentrate on the child as a person than the care care care. Somehow I was just more aware of what was really important in a family. It was really like the first time having a child. Both my husband and I enjoyed older parenting much better than when we were young.

charlottenumbernine


I'm sorry but hadmykidsyoung, my young mother and father were at their most selfish when they were young. I completly disagree with you. I prefer the company of my grandmother who was only 39 when I was born. I always have preferred her company, she is calm, predictable, and stable. She was never freaking out about how to put food on the table. She had it figured out. My young mother could barely take care of herself let alone a child. Nature inteded all sorts of things, that is why older women get pregnant, sometimes unexpectedly. I know some young mothers who were unable to conceive naturally and went for assistance and some older mothers who just got pregnant without trying. We are all entitled to our opinions but to say nature intended something is to assume you can understand and harness the complexities of nature. None of us have yet accomplished this great feat as evidenced by the recent disaster in Japan.


charlottenumbernine


I'm sorry but hadmykidsyoung, my young mother and father were at their most selfish when they were young. I completly disagree with you. I prefer the company of my grandmother who was only 39 when I was born. I always have preferred her company, she is calm, predictable, and stable. She was never freaking out about how to put food on the table. She had it figured out. My young mother could barely take care of herself let alone a child. Nature inteded all sorts of things, that is why older women get pregnant, sometimes unexpectedly. I know some young mothers who were unable to conceive naturally and went for assistance and some older mothers who just got pregnant without trying. We are all entitled to our opinions but to say nature intended something is to assume you can understand and harness the complexities of nature. None of us have yet accomplished this great feat as evidenced by the recent disaster in Japan.


charlottenumbernine


I'm sorry but hadmykidsyoung, my young mother and father were at their most selfish when they were young. I completly disagree with you. I prefer the company of my grandmother who was only 39 when I was born. I always have preferred her company, she is calm, predictable, and stable. She was never freaking out about how to put food on the table. She had it figured out. My young mother could barely take care of herself let alone a child. Nature inteded all sorts of things, that is why older women get pregnant, sometimes unexpectedly. I know some young mothers who were unable to conceive naturally and went for assistance and some older mothers who just got pregnant without trying. We are all entitled to our opinions but to say nature intended something is to assume you can understand and harness the complexities of nature. None of us have yet accomplished this great feat as evidenced by the recent disaster in Japan.


charlottenumbernine


I'm sorry but hadmykidsyoung, my young mother and father were at their most selfish when they were young. I completly disagree with you. I prefer the company of my grandmother who was only 39 when I was born. I always have preferred her company, she is calm, predictable, and stable. She was never freaking out about how to put food on the table. She had it figured out. My young mother could barely take care of herself let alone a child. Nature inteded all sorts of things, that is why older women get pregnant, sometimes unexpectedly. I know some young mothers who were unable to conceive naturally and went for assistance and some older mothers who just got pregnant without trying. We are all entitled to our opinions but to say nature intended something is to assume you can understand and harness the complexities of nature. None of us have yet accomplished this great feat as evidenced by the recent disaster in Japan.


Mitchell Young

Americans, particularly Americans whose families have been here a few generations, limit their reproduction in response to the economy. We have fewer children and have them older (often at great cost in medical treatments to make that possible). But rather than allowing us as families and a society overall to benefit from high investment parenting, we continue to allow nearly one million legal immigrants into America annually, and make no real effort to control illegal immigration. Further, those immigrants are heavily skewed towards societies which have large families.

The result is that the one or two kids of the American family are competing for resources with those of immigrants-- a lot of the benefits that would have resulted from our self-induced population control fail to materialize as we spend those resources on large numbers of children from immigrant families. Schools, for example, that would have been uncrowded, that could have provided more individual and enriching instruction are instead crowed and struggling to get English learners up to speed. Worse, those ethnic groups which are 'responsible' in terms of reproduction not only see their resources go to those with large immigrant and first and second generation populations, but they see their political power transferred as well. In 2008 'Latinas' in California had a teen birthrate of 66, four and a third times that of 'Anglos' (15). That high teen birth rate may be bad for the future economic prospects of both state and the individuals involved, but it is great for 'Latino' politicians--as the LA Times loves to remind us. (As an aside, it is strange that the LAT story referenced mentioned that the Latina birth rate dropped the most, but didn't note its very high starting point)

The strange thing is my liberal friends get very upset when I point out that US population growth, the lessening of which was one of the original goals of the environmental movement, is now driven entirely by immigration. They seem to think that adding ten million legal residence each decade will have no effect on traffic, or the acres of wildlands or fields that must be turned into tract homes, or the situation in our classrooms, and it is definitely taboo to point out the political effects -- unless you are happy about them.

JaneJoad

Who wants to have a 10 year old while going through menopause? I know a couple of women doing this now and IT SUCKS.

Better to have them under between 25 and 35 . I had my children at 18, 20 & 32 years old and I am just turned 59. I barely made it through menopause with the last one being a teenager.

I don't believe you should be going through a life change and have to deal with small children at the same time .....except your Grandchildren of course.

Mary

If nature intended people not to have children after their 30s, then our reproductive systems would stop functioning (at least fertility-wise) at that point in our lives. Yet this is generally not the case although there are a few women who enter menopause early. Years ago, before effective birth control, it was more common for women to have babies later in life. And no one said those women were selfish or unnatural. Bringing a baby into the world isn't a right that should be reserved for the young. As for stamina, I know plenty of young mothers who are just as exhausted as older mothers.

Deborah Lynn

I had my first child at age 45 not because I wanted to wait that long but because I could not conceive earlier in my life. Contrary to some popular opinion, I get down on the floor with my baby, swing her around, carry her on daily walks in her carrier and generally do everything and more than my younger friends do with their babies. Most of my friends have no idea I am now 46. Becoming a mother is the most amazing, life-enriching, perspective-setting thing I have done. I encourage women over 40 not to give up. Having a baby is something you shouldn't miss. I walked away from a career as a corporate vice president to have my baby and now help other women over 40 who want to have a child of their own. As with most things, it is best to be informed. Learn some great facts about getting pregnant over 40 at http://www.over35newmoms.com

lady d

I had my two children when I was 15 and 17 years old and I must admit it was a struggle but I took care of them with my families help I worked two jobs and went to night school .I got my degree and made sure they always had the best of everything ! now I am 36 and my 21 daughter is attending college and has a great full time job and my 19 year old is a high school graduate and is also going to attend college in the fall . I don’t think any teen should have a child before they are ready because looking back in retrospect its harder for the children because a teen mother doesn’t have all the needed education or financial stability to raise kids and then again if u wait too long you wont have the energy or stamina to keep up with a lil toddler @ 45 and up . Either way if you have children @ 15 or 50 love them with all you have and teach them to be good hearted loving people with a zest for life and drive to be successful in whatever they want to do !!


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