When’s the right time to have a baby

Teen mom. Img: fanpop.com
Teen mom. Img: fanpop.com
Did you know that Romeo and Juliette were just 12 when they wanted to get married? Back then, no one found it disturbingly odd.

History shows that the age for having your first child is consistently going up. My mom had me when she was 25, and many women of her generation (born 1959) had their first kid at age 20-22.

Huffington post offers an interesting article on when’s the best time to have a baby. Biologically, that would be late teens to early twenties: your body is stronger, and so are your hormones. You have more energy to run after your two-year old, and those sleepless nights when the youngster explores their vocal abilities take less of a toll on you. (Also, you should have your last baby before 35. You can still have kids after 35, but it’s pretty hard on your body.)

One WSJ reader, however, disagrees:

“I really resent all this “too tired to parent” talk. I had my kids relatively late (late 30′s through early 40′s), and while my job sucks the energy right out of me, I don’t think it was any different when I was 28. My job sucked the energy out of me back in those days too. In any case, I think we are more active with our kids than most of the 20-something parents I see around me. We bike with the kids, we go camping, we travel, and we even take our kids running with us. My older 2 have run several 5 mile races with us, and hopefully our youngest will get interested in a year or two as well. I can’t imagine what a terrible parent I would have been in my 20′s – I was so clueless back then.”

And maybe it’s all relative, after all:

“I had my first at 25, my fifth at 34. I was tired with all of them, but recovering at 34 took a little longer, plus I kept 10 pounds. My sister got married at 40 and had her two kids at 41 and 43; she had more energy than I had.”

Nature designed women’s bodies to be able to bear children as soon as they start having a period. But nowadays, we don’t follow Nature’s schedule because our chances of survival no longer depend on our physical traits only. Our (and our offspring’s) well-being also depends on social approval, financial stability and how mature we are as parents.
Speaking of financial stability, it doesn’t mean that you need to be making tons of money before you have a kid. It means you need to be managing your money well – and that’s something that doesn’t automatically come with age. Look at that interesting letter from a reader over at TSD:

“We made $164k last year combined and saved only 2% of my husbands earnings in a 401k. No other money was saved! We spent $50k traveling, took a second honeymoon to Bora Bora, took the kids to California 6 times, went to Ohio […]

But it makes me sick we don’t have the $7000 for the IRS. We live paycheck to paycheck and […] we make a lot more than the “average” American family. We have a modest house based on our income, we owe $178k.
[We want to change our bad financial habits.]

Oh, and how do I explain it to my kids, ages 11 and 14? We just [went] to Hawaii for 9 days to celebrate our 14yr olds bday last month and spent $10k. So now our 11yr old expects that in June for his bday. He keeps talking about Costa Rica. How do I explain we are making changes meaning “Hey son, we love you as much as your sister, but here’s a playstation 3 instead?”

Obviously, just because you make a lot of money doesn’t mean you manage it well. And just because you are older doesn’t mean you are more mature than when you were 20.

But it’s still better to be a great earner and poor money manager than vice versa. Young adults who have their first kid before their first paycheck are in for a lot of trouble. Children come with a huge pricetag for diapers, formula, strollers, clothes, childcare and whatnot; not to mention the time drain.

That being said, you have to wonder why poor people tend to have their first child sooner than rich people. It seems counter-intuitive – shouldn’t it be the other way around? The poorer you are, the more time you need to achieve some stability in your life, right? Yet those who have little or nothing don’t sweat over having a baby, while those who have enough seem to wait forever, as if things are never good enough for them.

Check out this article from The Atlanic:

…teen childbearing is a symptom of living a life full of obstacles. Facing limited education and job prospects, as well as a slim chance of finding a suitable man to marry, some low-income girls simply ask, “Why not have a baby now?”

[Research shows] that the problems teen mothers experience are mostly driven by their socio-economic background, not her decision to have a baby early in life.

This view also helps explain why income inequality seems to encourage teen pregnancy. [G]irls from disadvantaged backgrounds who live in places with a larger gap between the poor and the middle class are considerably more likely to give birth as a teen than girls who have similar backgrounds, but face less inequality. Income inequality is strongly linked to lower economic mobility — the ability to improve one’s station in life. And so our findings seem to suggest that girls who don’t see a chance to better their lives are more likely to have a child.

That means that lower-class people have their first child sooner because they don’t have a good reason to wait. While middle- and upper-class people aim to get a college degree, a good job and maybe a downpayment on a house, the lower class don’t even hope for that stuff. It’s out of their reach.

Imagine how life looks to a lower-class twenty-year old girl. She’s works at McDonald’s ever since high-school and she shares a trailer with her single parent and three siblings. What are her prospects? She knows she can’t afford college – and without a degree, she’ll probably still be working at McDonald’s ten years from now. Even if she decided to put off having a baby, what does she have to hope for later?

Note how different things look if you come from a middle-class family. You have college to look forward to. You have a good job to look forward to. Maybe you’ll have a promotion to look forward to. But if you go on maternity leave, it will slow down your career because your employer would pass your promotion over to someone who won’t spend the next year changing diapers. That’s why middle-class women have a good reason to put off having their first child until they’ve reached a more secure level in their career.

Sophia wrote a comment on wsj.com:

“I had my first child at 35 and will have my second at 37. I definitely think having a child earlier would have been physically easier, but I was definitely not emotionally and financially ready. Also, since I have more tenure in my industry and with my company, I have more autonomy and more confidence in my abilities, so I can better balance spending time with my family and not feel *as much* facetime pressure if I were still at the earlier stages in my career.”

So it makes sense to have a baby not at your biological peak (late teens / early 20s) but a somewhat later, when your career has reached a more mature stage.

Lower-class women don’t have that issue, because they don’t have careers. The McDonald’s guys are not very picky – you can take a year off to take care of your baby, or five years, and they’ll still hire you right back. The problem here is that working at McDonald’s is a job, not a career, and the difference is that a career is actually going somewhere. Lower-class women can’t benefit from the advantages of a career, and so they prefer to exploit the advantages of young age.

Is it possible that by having a kid early, poor people miss out even the tiny chances they have for a better life? A baby comes with huge financial costs which make the mother’s money situation even worse.

However, The Atlanic article said that “the problems teen mothers experience are mostly driven by their socio-economic background, not her decision to have a baby early in life.” Meaning, she didn’t become poor because she ruined her life by having a baby too soon; SHE WAS POOR TO BEGIN WITH. (See 10 tips: Improve your chance of getting rich)

If a baby’s going to interfere with you having a better life, or if you could provide a better life for your baby by having it later, then you have good reason to wait. But for those girls who don’t see a light at the end of the tunnel – “why not have a baby now?”

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7 thoughts on “When’s the right time to have a baby”

  1. Rya, you couldn’t be more right about that :) Postponing the birth of a child because of the career have pros and cons. The biggest advantage is obvious – spending more time focusing on your career help you achieve more financial benefits and a good salary. But what happens when you are 35-36 years of age and just when you are ready emotionally and financialy for getting pregnant you cannot… Because of a physical problem for example. Because it is known that every year over 30 lowers the chances of getting pregnant or there is a chance of problematic pregnancy because of the age of the mother… Or you cannot get pregnant at all and start spending thousands for invitro procedures etc… So my opinion is if you want first to achieve some goals in your career and then get pregnant in your mid 30ies or even your early 40ies is risky and you gamble with your life.

  2. @Dunedanetz – I think so too. However it’s not the same for men and women. Men could be 50 and still father a child while for women, the clock is ticking. The best *biological* time for kids is not the same as the best time *in general*, when you take into account things like finding the right partner, the right job, the right house, the right environmenet… But also they say that Perfect is the enemy of the good. So while a perfect time may never come, you should recognize a good time when it comes your way :)

  3. Today, concepts of social class often assume three general categories: a very wealthy and powerful upper class that owns and controls the means of production; a middle class of professional workers, small business owners, and low-level managers ; and a lower class, who rely on low-paying wage jobs for their livelihood and often experience poverty .

  4. Women lower down in the socio economic pile are more likely to fall into female centred roles. feminists don’t like this and don’t want to help them with their issues because lower class women do not have any desire to compete with men . Women in the working or under class are much less likely to breastfeed and more likely to struggle with domestic violence, absent fathers, drug abuse, self harm and just about every other social issue. You don’t see feminists doing anything about this. Feminism is a tool for mass capitalism which is the reason why such class divides exist. Feminists think that everything can be solved by reading books and attending university. Very few are socialists like they claim to be.

  5. The main discouraging factors focus also on employment and financial issues. The main reasons why people from lower social class groups interviewed in the research had decided against going on to HE study, though qualified to get a place, were twofold. They either wanted to start employment, earn money and be independent at an earlier age, or they had a career or job goal in mind which did not require a degree qualification.

  6. People in the self-described lower class also are much more likely than others to say they are not advancing in their careers. Among those who are not retired, four-in-ten in the lower class (39%) state that they are not making progress in their work or career goals. This is about twice the rate of those in the middle class (18%) and nearly four times the rate of those in the upper class (10%).

  7. @Gerry – maybe that’s because lower-class people don’t have actual careers.

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