For the first time in seven years, the birth rate has risen. The 1 percent increase is attributed to women in their 30s and 40s popping ‘em out a smidge faster. But, before you begin to celebrate the expansion of motherhood’s age range, here are a bunch of statistics from a piece at Quartz that says that those older moms and dads are miserable—and that it’s high time they stopped pretending otherwise.
Emma-Kate Symons rounds up a slew of stats and some anecdotes that paint a bleak picture for the older parent. Symons reports that there are nine times more first-time moms over 35 than there were in the 1970s, and that men with at least a bachelors are also breeding later, with a “steady increase” in dudes aged 40 to 49 who have kids under 6 years old.
But contrary to a vociferous faction of the 40-plus “happymommy” blogger crowd and out-of-touch child-raising manuals, it’s not going well at all.
Katrina Alcorn, author of the bestselling Maxed out: American Moms on the brink, says women who delayed having kids ‘‘to try to get a foothold in their careers or to get some financial stability’’ are being pushed beyond their limits as they struggle with work-life balance and the additional burdens that mid-life brings.
‘‘They find themselves in their 40s, sandwiched between raising young kids and trying to take care of aging parents while also trying to support their families financially,’’ she explains to Quartz.‘‘It’s too much.’’
While I personally believe that absolutely anything can be shitty at any time if you frame it correctly with your shitty brain, I also have to say: You know what could also be “too much”? Having a kid in your twenties and forgoing vital career advancement, only to meet the bias of resume gaps when you re-enter the workforce. Or, really, having a kid at all, if you’re a woman, because there’s a penalty for mothers (but not fathers!) for doing so—at any age. Other things that are too much: Having a kid at any other time than when you were personally ready for whatever reason because of statistics, or the suggestion that it might bring you less joy than some other person whose experience you will never know anyway.
Moving on, Symons adds an anecdote to round out these stats:
One Washington, DC-area working mom in her 40s (who asked not to be named) tells Quartz: ‘‘I feel like I am a parent to four small children not two, and I’m not sure cloning myself would even be enough.” She’s also caring for her sick mom and dad (who live in another state) and juggling an array of end-of-year parties, concerts and “graduations” for her preschoolers. At the same time, she is holding down a full-time job, like her husband, except hers demands regular travel.
The men in these high-powered couples are wilting under the pressure too.
She reels off another set of stats, too, about how older parents are less likely to have the “common sources of support” for childrearing, like family, neighbors, friends, etc. And how parents are apparently most exhausted with a child under 7 years of age. And:
Which means even if you try to get a head start and pop out a kid in your late 30s, you’re still hosed.
And, of course, there’s more:
On top of all this angst, the 40-plus, dual-career couple with ankle-biters is enduring the biggest parenthood penalty in living memory.
Childcare fees have jumped astronomically, up 37% in 12 years in the US for a married couple with two kids.
But wages, job security, and benefits for working parents have not kept pace.
Add in the lack of paid leave, those exorbitant childcare costs, and the fact that right now you’re probably still not dropping any (or anywhere near enough) dough in a retirement plan on account of those pricey kids you had too late, and I think you can see that you’ve made a huge mistake. Is it too late to give them back?
Well, yes—yes it is. But this is not just about statistics. Symons would like you to also stop even acting like it’s a good idea that brings you joy:
So let’s stop with the saccharine, in-denial paeans to the joys of older parenthood. Just because Hollywood celebrities are allegedly giving birth “naturally” in their 40s and looking radiant doesn’t mean the journey of belated mother- and fatherhood for the rest of us is so seemingly effortless.
Hoo-boy, where to start? Well, for one, there’s a huge difference between statistics and the individual lived experience. As a Gen-Xer, for instance, I still enjoy spending every dime I make, even though I’m aware my generation is statistically less well off than our parents. Doesn’t make my money feel less good to me. That’s the thing about experiences: They are relative. (Also: in actuality, I am better off than my parents.)
And sure: Let’s say this bleak demographic picture of late-life parenting is true. Well, having kids in your twenties is no cakewalk, either—there are debates about how much that sucks, too. Do you want to be broke with a baby while your friends are partying? Or tired with a baby while your friends are on vacay? Hint: It’s a trick question, they both suck; they are both great.
The perks to having a kid in your twenties, generally speaking, go something like this:
- You’re young
- Too stupid to know better
- You conceive easier
- Less risky pregnancy
- Bounce back sooner postpartum
- Still hot/fuckable
- More energy
- Jump into a career later
- Can work your ass off/party later while everyone else gets knocked up and stays in
- Can feel smug when other people fuck up their careers with toddlers because you’ve been there and already made it past that phase
And then, the perks for having kids when you’re older:
- You’re older, which means
- More likely to plan the pregnancy
- More money
- Better outfits
- Better job
- More flexibility
- Don’t care about giving up social life for a baby because you had your twenties to party
The truth is, and it must be repeated often: Nothing outside of your own calculations can help you decide whether or not to have kids. These stats above, in particular, fail to calculate the economic, romantic, emotional factors that go into deciding when to breed, so they won’t help you either. It is highly, highly individual and not a choice made in a vacuum of best-case scenario stats about how things are shaking out, grand-scheme, generally, the world over.
Having a baby is a risk at any age, at any time, for any number of reasons; it’s also a reward in just as many unpredictable ways. Don’t let statistics—or anyone, for that matter—tell you otherwise.
Contact the author at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Illustration by Jim Cooke.