It’s a demographic change that is easy to spot at preschool pick-ups or at playgrounds: More people are having kids when they’re older. Nationally about 14 percent of babies are born to women over the age of 35. Those babies tend to grow up in wealthier and more educated households. But medical risks are higher for babies of older parents, and kids may have to deal with a parent’s death at a younger age. We discuss the societal benefits and drawbacks of older parenthood.

Judith Shulevitz, Science Editor for The New Republic and author of the cover story, "How Older Parenthood Will upend American Society," in the current issue
Elizabeth Gregory, director of the women's studies program at the University of Houston and author of "Ready: Why Women are Embracing the New Later Motherhood"
Joan Williams, distinguished professor of law and founding director of the Center for Work Life Law at the University of California, Hastings College of the Law; author of "Reshaping the Work-Family Debate: Why Men and Class Matter"

  • Lisa Sweet

    As an adoption facilitator, we see woman up to age 50 becoming first time moms. I am 51 mom to a 9 yr old and I know people assume I am her grandmother. Lisa Sweet Sweet Beginnings Adoptions

  • Christina

    There are definitely many advantages to delaying children. I had my first child at 25 (he’s now 6), when I was in graduate school on track to be a scientist. I have very few peers with children; most of the established scientists I work with that have children had to have IVF to conceive in their late 30’s/early 40’s when they achieved tenure. Most of my children’s friends have parent’s well established in their careers, with the flexibility of seniority and having financially established themselves. We often feel stuck in this odd space, our similarly-aged friends don’t have children on their radar, our children’s friends’ parents are sometimes nearly a generation older than us, so economically and career-wise they are in a different world (big house, financially established). Being early in our careers, we’re often weighed down by our responsibility to our children — something the older parents don’t have as much because they’re already there. However, we have more energy to try and do it all, which is good, because we don’t have as much of many other resources (i.e., money).

  • Preggo @ 40

    I find it unnecessary to scare women into having children early. Yes, some people will have issues with fertility into their 30s, but as an older mother who had her first child two weeks before my 41st birthday, I got pregnant the first month we tried. My best friend had her first child at 40 as well. Neither of us had any serious complications during our pregnancies. It is natural for people to speak more of their difficulties in life. Since we are two genetically unrelated people living on different coasts, I must assume there are more of us out there, not speaking for fear of being seen as dismissive of others’ challenges.

    My maternal grandmother had her last child at the age of 46.

    • Jen

      I’m really happy for you that you were successful, my stepmother had my sister at 40 so there are definitely women who can do it but there are millions of women online who have had difficulty, most with a happy ending fortunately but many without. I didn’t realize they were there until I looked for support myself. I was blissfully pregnant the first month trying at 37 as well but it doesn’t always work out that well for everyone and after 4 miscarriages I am still child less. I am not alone. There are many, many bloggers online and in online forums relaying the same result. I just wish someone had told me how hard it could be to get pregnant at the age I tried.

  • Kim

    I had my child at 40. Not necessarily by choice but that’s how school, work and finding Mr. Right at 37 played out. However, I am relieved I didn’t have a child in my 20s because I financially couldn’t have stayed home with her and my husband’s career barely existed in his 20s to have afforded to be the sole bread winner back then. Timing is everything. The vast majority of parents in our preschool are late 30s and 40s. I don’t feel “old” by any means around them. The bummer part in waiting until 40s to become a parent is that at 45 and “still trying” for #2, I need to come to terms that a second child isn’t coming…and that I kinda waited too long.

  • Ginny

    My family notoriously had children early in life, teens/twenties. I’m the youngest child born to my parents- Mom had me when she was 27. However my grandparents died young- I barely have memories of them. Of course this is not ideal, but we don’t have control over ideal scenarios. So having children early to account for idealism doesn’t make sense to me. I’m on the fence for having children now at age 41, mainly due to possible complications, lifestyle change/readiness factor and fertility concerns.

  • OliverJohn

    I disagree with notion that grandparents weren’t involved in the lives of children before the most recent generations. While it is true that people are living longer now, in previous generations, it was much more common to have children at an early age–in the teens for instance. My grandmother first gave birth at age 14, for instance. So, yes, she was actively involved in the lives of her grandchildren even though she died relatively young.

    • darren

      Not only that; many people did live to their 50s and 60s if they survived childhood. I sent this email:

      The comment “not so long ago many people didn’t have grandparents” is interesting. On what data or evidence does your guest posit this assertion?

      If it relates to the oft-quoted average age of around 35 in the middle ages then it is a false premise. Many children died at a young age (thereby bringing down the average), but the chances of living to a reasonable old age, say to your 60s, were fairly good if you made it past childhood. Many people would actually have had grandparents.

      I raise this as it indicates to me a lack of rational, scientific underpinnings from that guest’s comments. Her sociological points are well made, but we have to be aware of what we don’t know and are still learning about (epigenetics, development, etc).

  • Adara

    I’m in my young 20s, a college graduate, and soon to be graduate student. I want to have children in my mid to late 20s, and the response I get from the professional women in my life is that I should wait and there’s no rush. Similar to what a caller just said, I want to be capable to participate in all the activities I want with my children, unlimited by age and physical capabilities.

  • kqedlistener

    I am very happy for all those posting asserting the good luck over 40. In fact, our family has a high risk OBGYN in it and she still had to have IVF for her second child much to her surprise. I went through IVF 4 times from 39 to 41 and had no live birth success and deeply wish my UCSF health providers had more strongly advised me of risks, options, etc. much earlier when I was a GYN client, not just their eventual infertility client. I find as somebody who cannot say all of this out loud without crying that the presenters today are speaking about an important topic of policy that definitely impacted my timing and later marriage. If we had better information we would have immediately started trying while engaged and not even bothered to wait for the wedding.

    • Jen

      I agree with you, I was in my relationship for a few years before we got married. We though we had time and we are now child less after years of painful treatments and losses. I wish we had tried earlier.

  • MaybeBabyMaybeNot

    Do your guests think that it’s realistic for mothers to strive to “have it all” in both a career and motherhood sense? In all other arenas, we seem to accept that major life decisions require tradeoffs. Why should women (or men) expect that we can be both high-powered professionals and rockstar full-time parents? I’m 29 years old, have been married for seven years, and run my own business. I’m happy with my marriage and my business, and I’m seriously considering remaining childfree. Why try to have it all when you’re happy with what you already have?

  • older mom

    Two issues that you rarely hear about in the media include the costs associated with infertility treatments – we see celebrities having children later in life, but we rarely hear about the fact that they have the means to afford such procedures. The other issue that I wasn’t aware of until I became a parent was just how much childcare costs. Right now, our childcare costs are equal to our mortgage, and we are barely making ends meet. There is no way that we would have been able to pay for child care with my earnings in my 20’s.


    I am appalled at the support for the woman that took her kids to class. What about everyone else? Children in the classroom can be very disruptive and distracting. Everybody pays to be there, why should everyone else suffer through babies while trying to get their education? People need to take responsibility for their actions. If you can not take care of a pet, you should not have one. If you can not provide for or take care of a kid, you should not have one.

    Hate my comments. I don’t care. I struggled to pay my way through school and there was a woman that used to bring her kids to a very difficult math course. I paid to be there and learn, not to hear her constantly disciplining her kid, telling it to be quiet, and the kid throwing tantrums in response. College courses can be difficult (and sometimes boring) for the enrolled students. You can’t expect a kid to sit peacefully through that.

  • Kathy

    Culturally, it’s all relative. I was 30 when my oldest was born and I was the youngest mom in his preschool class. If I still lived in the Midwest people would think we were strange for waiting so long.

  • Jen

    There’s an impact that no one has talked about of delaying children and then not being able to have them and/or going through years of infertility, miscarriage and treatments. I started trying at 37 a month after my wedding. I got pregnant right away and had a miscarriage. We continued trying and about 6 months later got pregnant again and went to 8 weeks with another miscarriage. Our third pregnancy the next year again miscarriage. I started fertility treatments and had a full workup. All treatments failed even though no one could find anything wrong with my husband or I other than our age. We finally decided to do IVF. This was now 4 years into our infertility and pregnancy loss. During workup for the ivf the Dr’s found a septum in my uterus that they were able to remove and we went to IVF. I did not get pregnant from the IVF but did get pregnant naturally the next month. I carried this pregnancy to 10 weeks at which point the hearbeat stopped and I miscarried again. The impact of going through all of this on my emotional, physical states and home life, relationships etc. not to mention my career which has suffered. This has been much greater of a detriment to my career than having a child after 35 would have been if we had been successful, or having a child younger while I was not established in my career. I urge women to not wait based on what I went through. No one should have to endure 4 miscarriages and the fallout from dreams that will not be realised.

    • Cassie

      I agree with you. Age effects fertility. They didn’t mentioned the increased risks you take as a women having a child later in life. Not to mention your child is at greater risk of having something wrong with it like Down Syndrome, Autism other genetic abnormalities. Unfortunately, nature dictates to some degree when women should/can have children.

  • Cassie

    I waited because of my career to have a child at 33. I had a miscarriage and was then diagnosed with a bone disease ( yes it’s rare and I’m a statistic) but now I can’t try again to have a child until my body is strong enough which means I will be 36 maybe even 37. My husband will be in his early 40s. I worry because i will be high risk. i wish I hadn’t waited in the first place.

  • Bonnie Boglioli Randall

    @older mom you bring up a great point regarding the high cost of childcare.
    The one element I take away from this important conversation, excluding the possible health consequences of having babies at later ages, is that mothers of all ages have their own issues to contend with. While it’s true that many young mothers feel the need to forgo their own future career moves due to the cost restraints of childcare, etc (I myself did this, becoming a mother at the age of 21 and finishing my Bachelors when my son was 3 years old before raising him at home… now he is 12 and I am a very happy, albeit humbly compensated, freelance writer and journalist), it’s also true that many older mothers must battle the work vs. family dynamic (many of my working and older mom friends feel like they are constantly torn between two worlds- and now that our kids are tweens and teens, they often are working and not entirely certain what their kids are up to at home). Another aspect some of my friends consider is their long term health care needs when they begin to age yet their children will be quite youthful and potentially unable to help (financially or physically) when they require a live-in nurse or a home health aid. I don’t see any blanket approach such as ‘you should wait to have a child’ or ‘you should be young’ as the end all answer. It really does depend upon the woman, her partner and support circle, her motivations at the time of pregnancy, etc. Whatever your age as a parent, fight for your dreams and those of your children… if you aren’t prepared to do that (whether you are 21 or 41), you aren’t prepared to be a parent.

  • michelle

    I haven’t finished reading all the messages left on this post, but I am glad I had my son when I was “Young” at 31. It wasn’t easy, but when he was enrolled in a public Kindergarten, I was able to get my Master’s and now I work a fairly demanding job. While I do miss the quality time I spent with him when he was younger, I feel okay about this because he is more independent now and doesn’t need me to be around quite so constantly. On weekends when I have to work, he is able to go to my husband’s business and help out, which he loves. I sometimes wonder if waiting until one is closer to 40 to have a child and interrupting a career is more stressful for both the child and parent, rather than having a child then starting a career when the kids are older.

    That being said, I know that people have children at all different times in life, and no one should be judged for that.

  • Rockbaby

    I had my first last March at age 27. I honestly felt like a teen mom most of the time while pregnant living in SF. My husband and (who is 35) I have a long way to go in terms of career, but we were at a place in our marriage where we really ready for a baby. It’s not always easy, but I’m glad I didn’t wait as it took us 10 months once we started trying.

    My husband’s father had him at 47 and we are now left to care for him. It’s incredibly stressful and difficult to care for an older parent. Not to mention the fact that our daughter doesn’t really have a grandfather on my husbands side.

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