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What's the right age to start having children?

Study sees downward trend in age of mothers

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By Julie Ryan Evans for Betty Confidential

What is the best age to become a parent? Is it better to have your babies young while you have more energy and your eggs are fresh, or is it better to wait until you've found some more maturity, established yourself and built a career?

Everyone has a different answer, but over the past 40 years the age at which women have their first child has crept up and up. Parenthood has been paused for degrees and careers as women fought their way up the corporate ladder.

But that upward swing may be on its way down, according to new data from the Center for Health Statistics published in the Wall Street Journal. They report that the mean age at which women deliver their first child has dropped from 25.2 in 2005 to 25.0 in 2006. That's the first reported drop since they began collecting data.

While one year of data does not a trend make, it's an interesting shift for sure.

"It's the first time it's ever gone down, and certainly that's noteworthy," said Brady Hamilton, co-author of the study in the WSJ article.

So why now, after all the years?

The WSJ article points to more Hispanics in this country who tend to have children younger as well as to an overall increase in teen pregnancies. They also cite experts who say that women today just assume they'll have it all and don't feel the need to postpone motherhood to fight their way up the ladder... they just assume the ladder will be there when they're ready to start climbing.

And you have to wonder if women haven't seen and learned from the struggles of many women who wait to have children only to be faced with infertility. They've also likely seen that no matter how long you delay motherhood, work-life balance remains elusive. Plus, there's the allure of the Hollywood baby bunch (from Brangelina and beyond) that has made pregnancy and childrearing more glamorous than ever -- at any age. Surely a stunning new mother like 24-year-old Ashlee Simpson is apt to get some biological clocks ticking sooner rather than later. What influence even younger mothers in the spotlight like Jamie Lynn Spears and Bristol Palin is yet to be seen.

If I had it to do over again, would I have children earlier? Assuming I got to have the exact same ones I have now, then probably yes. My husband and I waited until we had several degrees completed and careers commenced before we started trying -- we had a plan. But that plan didn't include the years of heartbreaking infertility and miscarriages we went through, and I can't help but wonder if we could have avoided them if only we had started in our mid 20s rather than as we entered our 30s.

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    Flag as inappropriate Posted by uytikktdy on 26th February 2012

  • Being in my late twenties, the clock is ticking and I am realizing that if I wait to be set financially and I have the best career, I may be past my child-bearing years! I know also understand there are other factors important to being parents, that don't just involve career or money: having a strong marriage foundation (we have been married for 8 yrs!), having family close by is a plus, having a plan for raising them bilingual, and just having that strong desire to do the best you can with your children and love on them no matter what...
    Plus I have been a camp counselor, baby-sitter and au pair for several years in my late teens/ early twenties and feel well-prepared (see "About" at

    Flag as inappropriate Posted by Nadia Price on 6th February 2010

  • Mid-thirties worked for me- I can't imagine having kids earlier when I wasn't established in my career! Glad I waited. But, I didn't meet my husband till I was 30 yrs older, so it wasn't really a choice, it just happened that way!

    Flag as inappropriate Posted by jerilyn on 31st January 2010

  • I can't imagine starting now, and this is the age many of my friends did/will start. But it is hard to go back and imagine something different for those years.
    I do wonder at the women in the article who assume the careers will be there - is it they are happy to start from the bottom when their kids are in school, or do they expect to naturally pop back in at mid-level?
    Dealing with school schedules isn't always much easier on a full time career than daycare is.

    Flag as inappropriate Posted by Mich on 24th November 2009

  • Anecdotally, I am seeing a trend toward women starting their families younger -- even the expensively educated, professional young women who were the types pushing the age of first birth higher before! There are several good reasons for this. For starters, most women do want to become moms at some point, and it is profoundly easier on your body to do so when you are younger (easier to get pregnant, easier to chase after the little ones). Second, when you have your babies younger, you build your career in a way that works for all of you, and so you don't wind up having to suddenly shift gears at age 38 after 10+ years of climbing the ladder in a way that doesn't involve children. That makes it a little bit more likely that you'll find a way to have it all.

    Flag as inappropriate Posted by lvanderkam on 27th March 2009