You should have children in your 40s
The case for being an older mom or dad
Welcome to your 30s! Student debt paid off, career taking shape, and life, at last, a tad under control. But wait — the next soul-crushing dilemma is around the corner — children. Should you have them? With whom? When? The cost? The sacrifices?
The biological clock is ticking, and the pressure is on to decide quickly.
But what if the choice is false? What if you could not only have children much later in life, but perhaps you should — for the sake of you and your future children?
You should of course have children when you feel ready, and if you have this figured out, godspeed! If you are among the more confused rest of us though, read on.
1. Why The 30s Baby-Rush?
Waking up to find your social news feeds overrun with baby pictures has become the modern bat signal for collective child-rearing. As a species, we feel the urge to multiply. Economic growth demands that we replenish the labor force. As a result, all human societies collectively celebrate the milestone of parenthood, not so subtly urging you to get on with it early as it is viable.
In the past when most humans had very little optionality in life, child-rearing used to take place early in life. These days though, it tends to happen in 30s — adding up the minimum time necessary for a college education, getting some career foothold, and the search for a suitable mate.
So the pressure is real for you to keep up with the plan everyone else is on. But what if you happen to want differently? Is it even biologically possible to have children later in life?
2. Yes! It’s Possible Thanks To Science
The dreaded issue of the 'biological clock' is where cryopreservation - or egg freezing - has completely changed the game. Thanks to science and if you are willing to plan, now it's absolutely possible to have children later in life with very low risk.
Little known fact - the childbearing ability of a woman in the 40-50 age range is almost identical to that of 25-year-olds as long as the eggs used are from a younger age. It is true that starting in your early 30s your ability to conceive naturally will diminish, while certain risks to the child will increase. However, the determining factor here is almost entirely the age of the eggs being used, not the age of the mother!
In other words, imagine we lived in a hypothetical world where all women underwent a government-funded program to freeze eggs at age 25. In this world, not only will all women retain strong childbearing abilities through their 40s and possibly 50s, but the children born to these older women will be healthier than children otherwise naturally conceived, as conceptions will be resulting from 25-year-old-eggs, not 30-something.
And the men — alas yet-again — do have it easier. Male fertility doesn't diminish much through the 40s, and the increased risk of birth defects is marginal. Even that can be countered easily by freezing sperm - a procedure that is cheap compared to the cost of freezing eggs.
But on that issue of the cost - can you afford it? The cost is in the range of $10-15k per cycle if you are a woman and $500 range if you are a man. (For now, let's ignore the fact that these costs can be brought down significantly with more scale and less bureaucracy)
The short answer is - yes, you can afford it. Because the alternative — the average cost of raising a child to the age of 17 in the US — is over a quarter of a million dollars. This brings us to one of the biggest upsides of having children later in life - the positive impact on your finances.
3. Parenting Is Easier When You’re Rich, Which You Will Be
If we know one thing about raising children it is that it's costly and stressful. It’ll significantly impact your work output, especially if you are a woman. In fact, the often talked about "gender pay gap" is largely due to the "loss of productivity" around maternity. While there are important discussions to be had on how we handle this as a society, your options as an individual are narrower.
The simple truth is that, as either a man or woman, your future financial standing is likely to benefit heavily from having more bandwidth to invest while you are younger. Two main reasons for this would be compounding interest on your savings and compounding interest on your career.
Consider savings - if you forgo child-rearing costs and direct your efforts towards saving just $1000 per month starting on your 30th birthday, at an average 10% S&P 500 returns, you'd be $385,000 wealthier by the age of 45 or $700,000 by the age of 50! Let’s assume some modest increase in your annual ability to save too since you are not hampered by childcare expenses - say 10% per year. Your savings at 45 would increase to 800k, and at 50 to 1.7 million!
The calculation above is likely far too conservative because it ignores the compounding growth of your career. Studies show that academics make the strongest gains in their output in their 30s and likely true in other sectors as well. Obviously, you'll get paid more with experience and thus invest and save more. But importantly, you are likely to feel more comfortable with taking on moonshot opportunities - like starting that business you always wanted to start.
Of course, all this is possible while raising children too, but harder, almost always for one of the parents - often the woman - if not for both. In fact, doing it later might be far easier because the richer-you might now have far more resources, like a more comfortable residence, housekeepers, daycare, nannies, tutors, and assistants.
4. But Won’t I Be Too Frail?
One of the most popular arguments for being a young parent is that only the young have sufficient physical energy to keep up with their offspring. Is this true?
On Feb 15, 2020, George Hood, a 62-year-old man, set the world record for the longest plank - 8 hours and 15 mins. The 2019 New York City marathon had 250+ runners in the 70-74 age bracket -- a feat accomplished by up to 100-year-olds.
Most supposedly energetic young parents are likely to fail at planking for say just 3 minutes or running a quarter-marathon, whereas 70+-year-olds out there are routinely displaying incredible athleticism. So how come this absurd belief persists at all - that being young is a requirement for having the energy to play with a toddler?
The true story is one of laziness. Most in their 20s have the luxury of being lazy about staying in shape. This immunity to beer, pizza, and immobility tends to nosedive with metabolic decline beginning in the 30s. Before your 30s, your body can get by without healthy habits, after your 30s it will not - making it a pivotal point in your healthspan. Not cementing habits of eating well and exercise during your 30s will increase the likelihood of not having an athletic body and high energy for the rest of your 40+ year lifespan. Surely many young parents struggle to make this leap early precisely because their energy is taken up by the all-consuming task of childcare.
But consider an alternative — what if you deliberately plan to have children in your mid-40s and decide to invest heavily in fitness in your 30s? What if you choose to gift your children the presence of a parent who's fit, athletic, and has great health habits, while you gift yourself a vastly more energetic rest-of-your-life?
Perhaps the dad-bod is not destiny, but a compromise of your choosing. A firm commitment to fitness, I believe, should be a core resolution for anyone who plans to have children later in life - and possibly one of the best reasons for making the choice in the first place.
5. Your Future-Children Might Thank You
Did you know that waiting to have children could make them smarter? There’s evidence that older parents raise kids with higher IQ, higher STEM grades, and better social skills. It’s worth exploring why this might be.
When starting at a new job you’d strongly prefer to have an experienced manager over a beginner. Parenting is a management and mentoring job. Wouldn't your future children, then, be better off being nurtured by an older you with twice as much adult life experience when in your 40s?
Consequently, you'll likely treat your children more like adults and let them learn from their own mistakes - the way a more experienced manager would. This could contribute to raising more confident, resilient, and emotionally healthier children.
Also, consider the stability of your primary relationship. How ‘sure’ are you of this by your late 20s or early 30s? The rush to find ‘the one’ before the ‘window closes’ might not be leading you to make the best choice. Even when you do, you might not be giving yourselves enough time to work on your partnership. You being in a delightful relationship is something your future children are likely to appreciate above all else.
6. But What About Grandkids
So are there any absolutely unavoidable downsides to being an older parent? One comes to mind - it’ll reduce the probability of you getting to see your grandchildren, at least assuming average human lifespans. While I’ve never personally had the thought "I want to see grandchildren", I’m certain many desire this, and there is hope - in living longer!
First, as alluded to above, there's evidence that people who have children later in life age better, retain their cognitive abilities for longer, and live longer. This means you will be adding years to your life, making it more likely you’ll live closer to 100.
Secondly, there's been enormous recent progress in longevity science. Some well-known researchers claim that humanity might reach longevity escape velocity by as early as 2035 - meaning if you are alive till then, you’ll live radically longer than past humans. Even without dramatic breakthroughs, there are therapies in clinical trials today that can enable people to reach the current maximum human lifespan of 120 years.
Bottom line is that if you are in your 30s today, a lot can happen in the coming decades and you might live significantly longer and healthier than you’d think.
8. Taking My Own Advice
So is anyone out there really planning their life this way? Well, I am!
Both myself and my partner are in our late 30s and we have made the conscious choice to defer having children to our 40s. We love life and have ambitious plans we want to follow through on. There's much more exploration and adventure we are looking forward to before the 20-year commitment of childrearing. We preserved our reproductive material in our early 30s and therefore are extremely likely to succeed at having children in the future if we choose to. We continuously invest in our health, wellness, and our relationship, and as a result, feel closer than ever to each other as well as our own bodies.
Children are an amazing experience, but one that does not have to be on someone else’s schedule. As scary as it is to not dance in lockstep with society, delaying the child-rearing dilemma and giving myself the gift of over a decade in time has been a great life decision personally, and I'm yet to come across a single substantial downside. According to some stats, I’m likely to live to about 97, meaning I’ll even get to know my grandchildren — and this is before all my longevity practices take effect, a topic for another time.
I have just one life, and so do you. In that time, both you and I fully deserve to realize all that we dreamt up since we were children ourselves. The world, of course, isn't set up to grant us all that with ease, as it takes decades of living, learning, and trying to do the things we want to do. So if the yearning, adventurous part of you isn’t quite ready to settle down — well, there's a fabulous alternative. Maybe one that is in fact the better life plan for yourself and your future children.
It takes a pinch of planning, but you can gift yourself a decade in time — to attain that fit body, the clear mind, and work on putting your own dent in the universe — while also having this really exciting event you are looking forward to a bit later in life, in your 40s.