Why Have Kids Later in Life?

Birth rates are at an all time low in developed countries thanks to the rising costs of living and the economy, but the only age group that did see an increase in birth rate was women 40 to 44 in the last four years.

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Sure, older parents have more resources - namely time and money, life experiences and, on average, education, but is it enough?

For the Children

Children with older parents tend to benefit because their fathers and mothers are often more emotionally and financially secure and are likely to invest greater amounts of emotional energy.

On the other hand, children of older parents often report embarrassment, fear and remorse about their parents age.

dementia careAs young adults, they are frequently faced with the emotional, medical and financial burdens of their parents faltering health at much earlier ages than their friends, giving them a sharpened sense of time and feeling that their youth does indeed have an expiry date. However, this might not be such a bad thing: knowing that death is real can help to push us to achieve more, much like our high-achieving parents who may have delayed childbirth for success.

For the adults

A study published by Human Reproduction interviewed 46 couples and 15 women who had children when over the age of 40 years [1]. Most concluded they would have liked to have given birth five to ten years earlier, but there were definite advantages to parenthood later in life.

The majority of the participants were Caucasian, financially contentemployed, married, had a post-graduate education, identified as a member of a religious group and reported a median family income between $150,000 and $199,000; in other words, enjoyed comfortable standards of living.

72% of the women said they were emotionally prepared, 43% reported career/work flexibility, 31% financial security, and 22% perceived their relationship with their partner to be strong.

On the other hand, older parents need for infertility treatment; namely IVF was rated as the number one disadvantage by 48% of women, followed by less energy by 38% and less time to live with their children by 31%.

What about the men? Men tended to agree with their partners, all except when listing ‘smaller family size’ as a disadvantage of parenthood in older age; this was not seen as a concern by the opposite sex.

Genetically

Often, scientists and physicians adamantly warn older mothers of the genetic risk factor for the offspring, but research is now indicating that the father’s age too affects the mental health of their offspring.

old age having childrenMales may have the advantage of lifelong fertility, but as they grow older, the rate of sperm genetic mutations increase significantly, putting their children at increased risk of later developing psychiatric disorders, in particular, schizophrenia or autism.

For a long time, women have been warned of their ticking biological clocks. We now know that it ticks for men too.

In Conclusion

Having children later means more financial and emotional stability; more time; and, most likely, a stronger parent-child relationship. On the other hand, getting pregnant at an older age can be a tough gig and there is an increased likelihood of things going genetically wrong. In the end - if you want a child and feel ready, science is helping you make that dream come true. Children can make you young and happier, and from the evidence, it seems that the benefits outweigh the negatives.


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Sources:

[1] Mac Dougall, K., Beyene, Y. & Nachtigall, R.D. (2012) Inconvenient biology: advantages and disadvantages of first-time parenting after age 40 using in vitro fertilization. Human Reproduction, 27(4): 1058-65

[2] Kong, A, Frigge, M., Masson, G., Besenbacher, S., Sulem, P., Magnusson, G., Gudjonsson, S.A., Sigurdsson, A., Jonasdottir, A., Jonasdottir, A., Wong, W.S., Sigurdsson, G., Walters, G.B., Steinberg, S., Helgason, H., Thorleifsson, G., Gudbjartsson, D.F., Helgason, A., Magnusson, O.T., Thorsteinsdottir, U. & Stefansson, K. (2012) Rate of de novo mutations and the importance of father's age to disease risk. Nature 488(7412): 471-5.

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