Saturday, May 02, 2009

Guest Post -- By Elizabeth Gregory

Ready When You Are

Reading Terry Starr’s blog post rang bells for me, because it sounded like so many of the women I interviewed for my book Ready: Why Women Are Embracing the New Later Motherhood (Basic Books, 2008).

The four reasons mentioned most often for women’s delay were education, establishing at work, finding the right partner, and self-development. Many, like Terry, mentioned several, or all four.

The benefits later moms pointed to over and over included:
•making more money (one study finds there’s a 3% overall wage gain per year of delay);
•having the clout to negotiate a more family-friendly schedule than they would have earlier (their employers both trusted them and needed to retain their experience);
•feeling more ready to focus on family than they felt earlier;
•feeling self-confident, based on their work experience (and that spread to their parenting);
•their husbands were peers and partners in parenting.

In addition, though they couldn’t know this based on their own experience, it turns out that the older you are when you start your family, the longer you’re likely to live (because higher income and education link to better health care access) – so that’s pretty handy, since you’re going to need to be around for a while.

From the big picture perspective, women’s investment in education and work before kids has been a key factor in raising our status in society generally. That is, there’s a direct connection between the fact that so many women have delayed kids (the average age at first birth for college grads is 30 and the average age for all US women is 25, up from 21 in 1970) and, for instance, the fact that we now hold 50.6% of professional and management positions. This means our concerns and insights get a hearing in the worlds of business and government in ways they did not in the past.

So the new later motherhood has big social benefits as well as the personal kind.

Of course there are drawbacks to waiting too. As Terry mentioned, infertility becomes more of an issue with time, and delay. Other drawbacks some later moms pointed to were caring for elders and toddlers at once; having fewer kids than they would have liked; and feeling a bit tired! But the overall sentiment was that the benefits much outweighed the drawbacks. In 2007, 612,000 babies were born to later moms (that’s one in every seven babies), and the birthrate for women 35-45 is at a 40-year high (the difference is that so many moms are starting their families later now whereas back in the sixties they tended to be continuing families begun earlier).

Every woman’s story is her own, and only she knows what makes sense for her at what point. My effort in Ready was to convey a sense of how the trend to starting families later has affected individual women’s lives, those of their partners and kids, and society in general. If you get a chance to read it, let me know what you think, here or on my blog at Look for my postings also on Happy Mother’s Day everybody!

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