Fact: A mother who is 35 when her child is born is more likely than not to have died by the time that child is 46.
The one who is 45 may have bowed out of her child’s life when he’s 37.
The odds are slightly worse for fathers: The 35-year-old new father can hope to live to see his child turn 42. The 45-year-old one has until the child is 33.
So writes Judith Sulevitz in The New Republic, in a sobering assessment of what the trend for delayed parenthood means for American society – and ours.
We’ve discussed it lots of times at Mamamia – the extraordinary advances in reproductive medicine that were unthinkable a generation ago. Fertility drugs, IVF. GIFT, egg freezing, surrogacy … It’s a big shift in the way we think and live. Sulevitz explains:
The twenties have turned into a lull in the life cycle, when many young men and women educate themselves and embark on careers or journeys of self-discovery, or whatever it is one does when not surrounded by diapers and toys.Study after study has shown that the children of older parents grow up in wealthier households, lead more stable lives, and do better in school – after all, their parents are grown-ups.
Unlike our grandmothers, women today face little social pressure to be married if they want to be mothers. Heck, in 2012, you could be a 46 year old lesbian mother of triplets and it wouldn’t even make the news. Why should it? If those kids are loved and wanted, where’s the downside?
Apparently, it will surface in about forty years – when those babies are in the prime of their lives and wishing their mum was around to pop the Champagne on their birthday, see them get married, hold their babies. The downside is today’s older parents miss out on enjoying their kids’ adulthood and the kids miss having their parents around.
Then there’s the whole sandwich generation thing. Pardon the pun, but it’s no picnic dropping a five year old at pre-school then schlepping across town to take your eighty-two year old father to the urologist.
‘Young’ grandparents (in their 50s and 60s) are gold – rare and valuable. They can babysit, play, drive, and most importantly, connect the generations. The way society is going, more and more children will never know their grandparents and if they do, it’s unlikely they’ll be offered a piggyback ride. That’s how hips get broken.
Back to Judith:
Another downside of bearing children late is that parents may not have all the children they dreamed of having, which can cause considerable pain.
There’s an entire body of sociological literature on how parents’ deaths affect children, and it suggests that losing a parent distresses young adults more than older adults, low-income young adults more than high-income ones, and daughters more than sons. Curiously, the early death of a mother correlates to a decline in physical health in both sexes, and the early death of a father correlates to increased drinking among young men, perhaps because more men than women have drinking problems and their sons are more likely to copy them.
Yes. Well. Thanks for that Judith.
Although it’s probably true, it doesn’t acknowledge that many women don’t have a choice as to whether or not they have babies in their twenties. Not least because plenty of young gents simply can’t see what the rush is. They feel they’ve got an apparently endless supply of A- Grade sperm and it seems a shame to waste some of them on making babies when there are careers to be built and wild sex to be had.
So what to do if you are one of these unfortunate people who left their parental run a bit late? Do you go to Paris now with your nine year old because who knows how long you’ll be able to do it without a walking frame?
Or what if your body is currently at its most lushly fertile? Do you crash tackle the first man you see looking warmly at a toddler and say, ‘Impregnate me NOW, or we will never see our grandchildren through cataractless eyes!’
Oddly, men tend not to see this approach as a turn-on, at least not in the early stages of a relationship.
There’s also the fact, not alluded to in the studies, that the health of the average senior in first world countries is way better than it was fifty years ago. Seventy year olds are playing tennis, not lawn bowls. Their eyesight is better, their bones stronger. They may be living longer, but on the whole they’re also living better.
So is the trend towards older parents really such a disaster, or simply something different?