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:
And maybe it’s all relative, after all:
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:
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:
[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:
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?”