Naomi Cahn and June Carbone have written eloquently in defense of the Blue (State) Family Paradigm, which entails postponing marriage and parenthood into middle adulthood, so as to maximize the accumulation of parental education, professional experience, and income before having a child. But there are downsides to waiting until your late 30s (or later) to marry and start a family.
“The Grayest Generation“, the New Republic‘s latest cover story by Judith Shulevitz, paints a textured and sobering portrait of those downsides:
- Unrealized dreams for a child or children;
- 40something parents sandwiched between elderly parents and young children, struggling physically and emotionally to care for two generations at the same time; and,
- Higher rates of developmental disabilities born to children of older moms and older dads.
Money quote from Shulevitz, who has personal experience with older motherhood and a son with a mild case of “sensory-integration disorder”:
[L]earning problems, attention-deficit disorders, autism and related disorders, and developmental delays increased about 17 percent between 1997 and 2008. One in six American children was reported as having a developmental disability between 2006 and 2008. That’s about 1.8 million more children than a decade earlier. Soon, I learned that medical researchers, sociologists, and demographers were more worried about the proliferation of older parents than my friends and I were. They talked to me at length about a vicious cycle of declining fertility, especially in the industrialized world, and also about the damage caused by assisted-reproductive technologies (ART) that are commonly used on people past their peak childbearing years.
Let me clear: Correlation doesn’t equal causation. Other factors could be driving trends in children’s developmental disabilities. But it’s worth thinking more about, and seriously studying, the social, developmental, and physiological consequences of waiting until your late 30s or 40s to start a family.