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Horrors! Most Americans think women should have babies when they’re actually fertile

November 12, 2013

Slate’s XX Factor is duly horrified:

According to a new Gallup poll, the majority of Americans think that in an ideal world, women should start having children by age 25. Fifty-eight percent of the more than 5,000 people surveyed say that women should have children in their late teens or early 20s, while only 43 percent of respondents say that men should have children by age 25.

Oh no–we can’t have that! Aren’t women supposed to spend their first ten years after college living like this. You know, being hip? Hooking up? Going to grad school? Getting a “sleeve” tattoo like Lena Dunham? Mooching off your parents?

Of course, what Double XX Factor Jessica Grose’s article is really all about is class snobbery:

But when you poke just a little deeper beneath the headline of that Gallup poll, you’ll find that attitudes about the ideal age of motherhood vary sharply by educational level. Americans who are college educated are much more likely to think women should wait until they are 26 or older to have children. This is borne out by behavior, not just opinion: Only 3 percent of moms with a college degree give birth before age 25, and a full 31 percent of all mothers with a bachelor’s degree are over 35 when they have their first kid.

***

While we all know fertility does decline with age (though perhaps less rapidly than we’ve been told), it’s not good news that the majority of young people (60 percent!) ages 18-29 still think women should have kids by age 25.

That link of Grose’s is to a July 2013 article in The Atlantic in which author Jean Twenge pooh-poohs the idea that female fertility declines much after age 30 because: 1) Twenge herself managed to have three children by natural means after she turned 35; and 2) the longitudinal statistics on which the theory of declining fertility rests go back hundreds of years, to back before there were electric lights and other stuff. Chick logic strikes again!

Here is what the American Society for Reproductive Medicine has to say:

Fertility changes with age. Both males and females become fertile in their
teens following puberty. For girls, the beginning of their reproductive years
is marked by the onset of ovulation and menstruation. It is commonly
understood that after menopause women are no longer able to become
pregnant. Generally, reproductive potential decreases as women get older,
and fertility can be expected to end 5 to 10 years before menopause.
In today’s society, age-related infertility is becoming more common
because, for a variety of reasons, many women wait until their 30s to
begin their families. Even though women today are healthier and taking
better care of themselves than ever before, improved health in later life
does not offset the natural age-related decline in fertility. It is important to
understand that fertility declines as a woman ages due to the normal age-
related decrease in the number of eggs that remain in her ovaries.This
decline may take place much sooner than most women expect.
***
A woman’s best reproductive years are in her 20s. Fertility gradually
declines in the 30s, particularly after age 35. Each month that she tries, a
healthy, fertile 30-year-old woman has a 20% chance of getting pregnant.
That means that for every 100 fertile 30-year-old women trying to get
pregnant in 1 cycle, 20 will be successful and the other 80 will have to try
again. By age 40, a woman’s chance is less than 5% per cycle, so fewer
than 5 out of every 100 women are expected to be successful each month.
Women do not remain fertile until menopause. The average age for
menopause is 51, but most women become unable to have a successful
pregnancy sometime in their mid-40s. These percentages are true for
natural conception as well as conception using fertility treatment, including
in vitro fertilization (IVF). Although stories in the news media may lead
women and their partners to believe that they will be to able use fertility
treatments such as IVF to get pregnant, a woman’s age affects the success
rates of infertility treatments. The age-related loss of female fertility
happens because both the quality and the quantity of eggs gradually decline.
In other words, you can have all the lightbulbs and modern medicine you like, but women’s ovaries haven’t changed over the last 500 years. Millennials seem to be more in tune with the scientific realities of female fertility than Jessica Grose and Jean Twenge.
Posted by Charlotte Allen
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One Comment
  1. Jacqueline permalink

    Okay this “chick logic” jab is really not fair, since Dr. Twenge’s article was not to validate her choice to have children later or based on anecdotal evidence that she did have children later – or that studies were merely antiquated. Her methodology critique was more thorough. She did not say there was no difference or that women necessarily should wait. And not everyone who is childless at 33 like myself is in such a circumstance because they got a sleeve tattoo and were promiscuous. Instead, I got a doctorate and have always remained chaste. So did my boyfriend, who just turned 38 and is likewise never before married and has no children. I do have a vested psychological interest in believing that while I know my fertility has declined, it is not the hopeless scenario suggested by outdated studies and the Phyllis Shlafley’s of the world who tell me that my *JOB* was to have children at or before 25. I certainly don’t regret waiting for the right man and working hard to pursue what I believe is God’s will for my life. I get falsely accused of pursuing career and self and worldly ambition when all I did was refuse to marry any of the unsuitable manchildren of my generation and thus condemn myself to a life of sole bread-winning or living in my in-laws basement. Since I have pursued God’s plan for me, therefore also have hope He wills children as well. I know this is limited by time and presents greater difficulty than it would have at 23, but it is not the futile situation suggested by some, which Dr. Twenge points out in her analysis. To disregard it because you don’t believe in her values (nor do I- I am emphatically anti-IVF), this is not intellectually honest nor fair. Likewise to claim that older mothers are as Lena Dunham is equally unfair.

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